Thursday, 15 October 2009

Please girls, pick a role model - not a topless one

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like Tammy.
Tammy was my Mum's Canadian cousin. She was pretty (long straight black hair), very cool, happily married (to Dermott, who carried off his mid-'70s facial hair SO well), and as smart a cookie as you could hope to find. Oh, and she worked as an Editor for The Toronto Star. Not a bad role model, eh?

These days, there seems to be a bit of a problem with role models for young impressionable girls - and that worries me. Most of the public figures young girls are inspired by seem to be admired simply for being famous, rather than for any significant acheivement or talent.

"Girl Power" should be a declaration of independence and dynamism. However, all too often it seems to be be more about emaciation than emancipation. Perhaps it's simply a code for overt sexuality, usually supported by stick-thin bodies, surgically enhanced boobs and an almost psychotic need to air their dirty laundry in the pages of the tabloids.

"She's such a good mother - you can see she really loves her kids" is also an oft-quoted justification for someone being held up as a role model. Fair enough, but the same applies to thousands of other mums - including my own - who face much greater challenges than those "yummy mummies" (I shudder at that phrase) the next generation of girls aspire to aping.

I'm not saying that we should deny our feminity (I'm as attached to my lipstick and mascara as the next girl). I just feel there's so much more to women than these two-dimensional role models represent. Isn't it better to be known for something you've done rather than simply slotting into a tabloid cliche?

That's why I was heartened this week to read about 22-year-old Emily Cummins, a Business Management student at the University of Leeds, who has been named one of the Women of the Year for inventing a 'sustainable' fridge. Her prototype fridge, which does not need electricity, was designed for use in the developing world and was refined during a gap-year visit to Namibia. It works by harnessing energy from the sun to cool medicines and other small items using evaporation.

Emily has been making things since her grandfather handed her a hammer when she was four (go, Grandad!). She has been an inventor since the age of 15.

Judging from her photo, Emily is a pretty girl (which is nice). But most importantly she is a girl with a brain and a conscience, and she is willing to make the effort to do something that could - even if in just a small way - change the world. (You can read more about her at

Now, who would YOU prefer your daughter or neice to be inspired by - someone like Emily Cummins or some woman whose private life we know intimately through the pages of junk 'celebrity' magazines?


  1. She actually proves that you can have looks as well as brains, make a difference by being useful instead of just a decoration for highlighting the plights of those who are needy.

  2. Very nice post. She's definitely role model material. I was floored last year when I was watching 'the Girls Next Door'... (yes... I know...)but anyway, I was floored when a woman brought her 2 teenage daughters to an autograph signing. As they received their autographs the mother spouted out, "my girls adore you, they want to be just like you, you're so inspiring." The girls of the Playboy mansion. That's all.
    Thanks for bringing Emily to my attention!

  3. Thanks to both of you for commenting. It's so reassuring to know that I'm not the only one to simply NOT GET this whole zeleb-worship thing that seems to be everywhere these days.

    As a mother of a teenage son, maybe it shouldn't bother me the way women are portrayed and the prototypes young girls have to live up to. But it DOES bother me because surely it skews his vision of the world. And anyway, I AM an auntie to three neices (one of whom quoted ME as an example of soemone she admires, bless her heart), so it does count.

    Thank goodness that despite all the pressure for girls to conform to stereotypes, wonderful women like Emily are not deterred from doing what they do....

  4. You're welcome & it's really great that your niece admires you, it must be a wonderful feeling. Have a nice weekend!