That’s What She Said: an Open Letter on Navigating Being a Girl

Dear World,

I feel like when people find out what I do they expect me to be this super human woman that does not feel any of the pressure to conform to Societies’ ideals. This is so far from the truth. Hello, my name is Izzy and I’m insecure. I hate my thighs and my womanly hips. I often feel like I could be reduced to tears when trying to get ready for a night out on a particularly bad day. I have struggled with eating disorders and self-loathing all my life. Even with a boyfriend, I often dress for the male gaze, whether I am directly aware of it or not. I do not feel good enough; I don’t remember a time I ever did. Even writing this now, I feel like I am somehow letting down feminists, and myself, but the fact that I feel this way is another example of a woman putting blame on herself for something that has happened to her. I am being honest and considering the image-obsessed world in which we have grown up, can you blame any of us for feeling this way?

It can sometimes feel like as women working within feminism, especially with young girls, we are expected to have figured it all out, almost like we should be ‘over it’, over the hardships. The fact that I still struggle with the things that I am talking to young girls about is exactly what puts me in the best position to help them because I feel it too. I feel much of the pain they are going through, even though I cannot begin to understand some of the issues that have developed from growing up with the Internet. I often feel like that thirteen year-old girl that I am interviewing. Going through what I have and experiencing the struggle of being a young girl is what drives me to create change and stand up for them. The difference between these girls and me is that through reading about feminism and social conditioning, I am lucky enough to have developed some tools to allow me to protect myself. I once read a great quote in a Buddhist book that said—something along the lines of—“We cannot remove all of the negativity in the world but we can try and learn how to live happily among it.”

I graduated from university last year after studying a fashion image making and styling course, where I had gone on a very personal and liberating journey using all this feminism and philosophy to guide my work. I had all this information and ideas and was having a particularly awful time as a faceless fashion intern, so I realized I needed to do something about it. This is when That’s What She Said (Thatswhatss) was born.

Thatswhatss is a photography based project that aims to be the middle-man between young girls and society. We go around the UK, documentary shooting young girls (13-18ish) and interviewing them about being a young girl now. We also have a ‘She Said’ section for submissions and shoots/interviews from young women. The topics are about everything relating to girlhood.

When I started asking the questions, everything became a little bit clearer; almost like I had discovered a handbook that could save us. ‘Why is it almost impossible to find a young girl, or even woman, that feels good enough?’, ‘Why do I never feel happy with my body, however much weight I lose?’ ‘Why after I read a fashion magazine, do I feel worse about myself?’. All of this allows you to start thinking in ways you were never previously encouraged to. No one told you not to, but they damn well did their best to not help you there. I knew that this type of education, which is not considered of great importance even though it is very connected to public health issues, was essential to teach girls BEFORE they had been conditioned to the extent they believed it was themselves that were the problem.

We are conditioned to believe that we are now equal, we have never had it so good, and this can turn what seems like liberation into self-objectification. There is a lot of self-blame around being a girl because we are conditioned to believe everything is our ‘choice’, but when something as strong as society is questioning you every day, then making a ‘choice’ isn’t as black and white as it seems. I want to encourage girls to question society and to make a project that will force the issue, so people understand there needs to be a change because we are bringing up a generation of girls that hate and don’t believe in themselves, and are, more importantly, silenced.

Starting Thatshatss, and watching it grow, has been exciting, scary, tiring, depressing, invigorating and liberating. I have felt that I don’t have enough confidence myself to take on the world, the industries, the anti-feminists and the people that have seen me at my worst. Being a girl, who–yes–sometimes feels she is not good enough and taking on such a challenge has been hard. When I started Thatswhatss I could hardly take a work phone call, I took the countless unanswered emails personally, I cowered when people asked me what I did for fear of not explaining it well enough, I was scared to post anything on Facebook in case someone called me out for not ‘having it all together. I used to not want to go to meetings as I felt I looked too fat, or dorky, or young, or I wouldn’t be taken seriously but then isn’t this all the point? Isn’t me tackling my insecurities because of Thatswhatss all part of my fight to reclaim a generation of girls’ self esteem? 

Figuring it out one hour at a time,