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  • Writer's pictureAbigail Haresign

Free Being Me

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has a really engaging and important program called Free Being Me. The program is focused on the importance of fighting for a world free of appearance related anxiety. Through a multi-day training, those participating in the non-formal learning experience have the opportunity to develop their beliefs and adapt their behaviors to recognize and challenge beauty standards. Through doing this, we are able to challenge gender inequality. Often in society, internal value is linked to external appearance, the impact of is that people lack motivation to take part in new activities or feel welcome in spaces. This can have a disproportionate affect on women+ and they are less likely to take on leadership roles because of this.

Facilitating in Ghana

Through the process of cognitive dissonance where one is able to grow through their beliefs over time by changing behavior and mindset. The Free Being Me program facilitators work to ensure learning environments are relevant, exciting, accessible, and learner-led. As facilitators we focus our practice on supporting others to learn and develop in ways that are relevant to their lives, and we are fortunate that we too learn so much along the way.

Reflections after facilitating FBM to ages 11-13 in summer 2014

In the program, we discuss body talk. This is the process of comparing our own or others bodies to beauty standards. Before we do that we establish that beauty standards are impossible to achieve. Read that again and say it out loud, BEAUTY STANDARDS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE! Together we practice identifying body talk, explaining why it is unhelpful and spreads false idealistic standards, then we strengthen our practice of celebrating what our bodies do for us rather than how they look.

Facilitation during staff training summer 2014

I first heard about this program in 2014 after seeing it being run in the UK and implemented it during our staff training for Girl Scout summer camp on the East Coast of USA. We then began running it with younger Girl Scouts throughout the summer. This past summer, before returning to Heritage Academy, I asked the Headmaster which programs he would like to see facilitated for the new Girl Guide Unit we were starting up. His first choice was Free Being Me, the program with a focus on body confidence. I was glad this was his choice since I was already familiar with the program. However, the program has evolved drastically in nearly 10 years (thankfully). Now it is more diverse and includes representation across the five regions of WAGGGS and includes non-binary people as well as women and girls, of course all genders can benefit from the program and are welcome to participate. When I began facilitating this, I mostly figured it out from the resources online. This past summer, I was fortunate to learn from and facilitate alongside my sister Naa Stephanie from the Ghana Girl Guides Association. She is excellent at expanding other facilitators understanding of ways to adapt learning experiences to be culturally relevant to the communities participating.

Naa Stephanie with the new guides.

The program is a good challenge. It encourages one to uproot deep seated beliefs they may be harboring about what makes a "good body". Over the course of a couple of days, we were able to identify beauty standards and body talk. As we moved through the modules we practiced saying positive affirmations about why we each love our bodies and how to address others if they say something negative about us or others and stand up to help break the cycle.

Through the practice of writing down our learnings, putting post-it notes on our mirrors with affirmations we can see and say every day, and mirroring each other while we said things we loved about what our bodies can do for us we strengthened our body confidence.

To celebrate earning our first badge we took a field trip to Kakum National park. Before the tour we stopped at the bathrooms. Can you spot the beauty standards being upheld? Why are these standards harmful? How might this contribute to gender inequality? Feel free to leave your answers in the comments.

Beauty standards affect women, men, and people of all genders. It is important that we bring everyone into these conversations because they harm us all. Think about how much more we can accomplish when we are not so worried about our appearance? We should not compare ourselves to anyone but ourselves.

Together we climbed high up a hill into the tree tops. The stairs were steep and at the resting point we discovered a mother and daughter from California who were Girl Scouts. It was so exciting to reinforce for the young guides that Guiding is global and they can always find leadership sisters.

The Kakum hanging bridges are very safe and yet, if you have never crossed them before it is normal to feel a little scared. A perfect opportunity to expand our comfort zones and challenge ourselves to grow a little more confident in trying new things.

The first half of the Heritage Girl Guides group gripped the ropes on either side with tight knuckles. They took each step with trepidation and small squeals of terror. I crossed first with them and paused at the first bridge. Moments later, I heard joyful laughter, "AAAAYYYY I want to be a Girl Guide!" they sang. Stomping and clapping and giggling their way across, the second group was fearless. It was uplifting.

Free Being Me is an important and challenging curriculum. I emphasized to the Heritage Girl Guides that guiding is a lot of fun, although it can be hard work, and of course adventure is an essential part. I am so grateful to have experienced and learned alongside of them. We followed up our nature excursion with a stop at the beach and a closing ceremony.

Our time at the ocean was simultaneously brief and eternal. I felt calm, confident, and present. Watching the girls splash around in the water soaking their jeans without care or worry about the next hour in the bus (which we wound up singing and laughing the whole ride) was so precious to share with them. I love the work that I get to participate in and the people I get to meet along the way.

Saying goodbye is always hard, but I hope to return again. In the meantime, I am in touch with Facilitator Naa Stefanie, Heritage Academy Girl Guide Unit Leaders Augustina and Constance, and Assistant Principal Evans while we work together to sustain and develop the Girl Guide program and Free Being Me.

I am now writing this post from the next chapter of my Free Being Me Journey while I attend an Expert Facilitator Training for the program from Nuestra Cabana, one of our world centers. I look forward to being able to continue sharing this program on Body Confidence so everyone can feel Free to Be themselves.

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