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#LikeAGirl: Chatting pressure, periods and puberty with Hannah Witton

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Cast your mind back a few years to when you hit puberty and ask yourself this: "how confident did I feel?”

If your answer is "not very", you're amongst a huge 64% of women who say that their confidence completely dropped as they transitioned to adulthood.

The recent study by Always also revealed that a massive 94% of young girls say they succumbed to a fear of failure during this time, with the main reason being the 'pressure to be perfect'.

Always have teamed up with dancer Alesha Dixon, Girls Out Loud's Jane Kenyon and YouTuber Hannah Witton to stop this common drop in confidence, launching the #LikeAGirl campaign today. 

“The campaign is about recognising that failure is okay,” explains Hannah, who is regarded as one of the UK’s most prominent young voices at the moment.

“It’s about encouraging girls to persevere through failure and take those risks and not be so scared, because that’s where the excitement is and where lessons can be learnt. I’m really excited to be involved in it because of a lot of the work that I do in terms of working with young people and building confidence around puberty.”

Statistics gathered by Always show shocking numbers of girls completely changing their attitudes during puberty. 49% of girls felt paralysed by the fear of failure during puberty, and 47% agreed that society simply rejects all girls who fail.

Describing possible reasons for these statistics, Hannah suggests “It’s such a mad time in general. Your body is changing. Your mind is changing. It’s a huge time of uncertainty.

“It’s when you can see the differences between boys and girls become more apparent. When you’re younger, there isn't that much difference but when puberty happens you’re like… oh! We’re different! That's also when young people are most vulnerable to gender roles, which can be internalised by a lot of young girls and they become less confident, less daring, and less sure of themselves.”

Hannah has run a popular YouTube channel since 2011, and mainly creates videos for a young demographic focusing on sex and relationships. She currently has 368,000 subscribers.

“I get loads of comments all the time from my viewers saying that they really wanna start making YouTube videos or they want to start a blog or whatever it is, but they don't do it because they're so scared of their videos being bad or nobody watching and it’s that - it’s this fear of failing that stops them from starting or doing something that they really want to do.”

“It’s important to not say ‘oh, try and you’ll never fail!’ but ‘try, and maybe you’ll fail and maybe you won’t’ and either way, whatever that outcome, there’ll be success in it. There’ll be a lesson learnt.”

The young girls currently hitting puberty will have been born in the social media age, and will never have known a world without Twitter, Facebook and maybe even Instagram. It’s so often stated that social media places a huge pressure on young girls, never mind those only just getting their first period or noticing changes to their bodies.

There’s a lot of pros and cons to social media, in terms of confidence building. That's not something that I had to deal with when I was in school and going through puberty. On social media, you see people’s highlights and so, if your life isn’t as good as the things that people are sharing then that might make you feel less worthy.

“On the flip side social media can be a hugely positive place. Things like the body positive community on Instagram and loads of these movements; if we encourage girls to curate their social media in this way… you get to pick what you see online and so you can create a really positive, uplifting and confidence building space if you want to. I think it’s about encouraging girls to look beyond magazines - that’s what you’re being given. But actually on social media you can see real people.”

To what extent does sexism, and ‘double standards’ also play into these results? For example, if a man went out tonight and slept with ten women he would be seen amongst his friends as a ‘legend’ but if a woman did the same, she would be branded a ‘slut’.

The objectification of women in the media, too, combined with even tiny things like the tampon tax all can play on the confidence of a young girl coming out of her childhood. Such overt displays of women being seen to be lesser than a man surely cannot boost confidence. 

Hannah agrees: I think sexism does play a role. When you’re at puberty, you’re kind of being told ‘girls should behave like this’ and ‘boys should behave like this’ and that is very easily internalised. One of the things encouraged by society for the way girls should behave is for them to be quiet and polite, whereas boys are encouraged to go off on adventures and be the hero.”

The #LikeAGirl campaign will next month launch a series of podcasts focusing on perseverance through failure, inspirational role models, overcoming the fear of failure and confidence techniques. In March, the #LikeAGirl Academy launches where young girls will be invited along to workshops and mentoring sessions. As part of the campaign, Always and the Squad are urging people to join the conversation on social media: share a post, image or video to show how you try, fail, learn and above all, keep going.

But social media can’t fix everything, and more needs to be done.

“It would be great to see in schools to break down taboos about periods. I just remember in school hiding sanitary towels and tampons in bags and having a secret code amongst girls if you needed them and I don’t see anything wrong with a girl just whipping out a sanitary towel.”

So what do young girls have to look forward to when they come out the other side of puberty?

“One of the great things about being a woman, and as you get older, is that you just care less about what other people think. It’s really liberating and kind of exhilarating because you can just be yourself and do what you want to do.

“And you get to have boobs.”

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