True Face – Siobhan Curham on Empowering Books for Women and Girls
April 9, 2015
When I received an email recently from Faber, offering me the chance to read True Face by Siobhan Curham, and to host a guest post, I jumped at the chance. The effect of the media on young women (and men), in the twenty-teens, is huge – not only is there a bombardment of images telling you what you should look like and how you should act in TV and magazines, but our total immersion in a world of social media means that your appearance is constantly up for discussion and distribution.
While I – thankfully – didn’t have to cope with the combined effects of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and tumblr aged 12, I definitely felt that pressure myself as a teen, and one of the big things that helped me feel positive and empowered was reading about some fantastic female characters and the amazing things they were able to achieve. I asked Siobhan if she could share some of her recommendations of empowering reads for women and girls, and I’m glad to say she’s obliged. Read on, and discover them for yourself… Kate x
My book,True Face, is all about helping women and girls remember who they truly are. We’re living in a society where it’s all too easy to lose sight of our true selves. There’s so much emphasis on the superficial over the real; so much attention to image and so much pressure to fake it to fit in. And this in turn is causing an epidemic of self loathing, with 28,000 young people in the UK hospitalised for self harming last year. I believe there needs to be a revolution in the way we see ourselves and each other and I wrote the book in a bid to help people get back to dreaming boldly, loving fearlessly and living authentically.
I think books can play a vital role in helping women and girls feel good about themselves. Here are some of the books that have helped me remember my true identity and made me feel proud and excited to be a woman.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Back when I was a child Pippi Longstocking was my idol. Just take a read of the blurb on the back of the book and you’ll see why: Pippi Longstocking is nine years old, lives all by herself with a horse and a monkey, and does whatever she likes. And she’s very, very strong! Now there’s a feminist manifesto if ever I saw one! I loved the fact that Pippi was free to do whatever she liked. I loved her vivid imagination and hilarious way with words. And I loved the fact that she was so strong she could pick up a horse. Recently I was in a publishing presentation on books for young girls and I couldn’t believe the sea of pink and princesses. Personally, I think publishers should be ashamed of producing such insipid crap and get back to promoting proper heroines for young girls – heroines like Pippi – who teach girls that the world is theirs for the taking and that the secret to true happiness does not lie in a frickin’ sparkly tiara!
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
I read I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai last year and I was blown away by her courage. From the age of eleven, Malala had been fearlessly campaigning for the rights of girls to an education in her home country of Pakistan, writing a blog for the BBC about life under the Taliban. In her book she talks frankly about how she knew that doing so was putting her life in danger but she carried on anyway. Then one day, her school bus was boarded by a couple of Taliban gunmen asking for her by name. When her friends instinctively looked at Malala, one of the gunmen shot her in the head. Despite almost dying, Malala has fearlessly continued her campaign from Britain where she and her family now live. I love the courage and defiance of her book title in response to the Taliban gunman’s demand: I Am Malala. Throughout the book, Malala speaks movingly of her love for her home in the Swat Valley, Pakistan and how much she misses its beauty and seeing her friends and family. Seeing what she has sacrificed in order to promote the rights of girls to an education is so humbling and inspiring to me. Malala is a fantastic example of how powerful girls can be, even when they’re being brutally oppressed.
Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
I read this novel recently and it’s still very much on my mind. Only Ever Yours is set in a dystopian future where women are produced for the sole purpose of pleasing men, with all the focus on their appearance. At The School, where main characters freida and isabel are being reared like cattle for market, there are constant photos, constant comparisons, obsessing over food and of course, the resultant self loathing. And therein lies the unsettling power of this book – the realisation that we are already living in O’Neill’s dystopian creation in pretty much all but name. Personally, I think every woman and teen girl should read this book as a wake-up call and a way of countering a media and society constantly demanding physical ‘perfection’. It’s incredible – in a very dark and thought-provoking way.
Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This is one of my favourite books of all time and one of those books that you can dip in and out of whenever you need inspiration. The idea at the heart of the book is that within each of us, there is a ‘Wild Woman’, who is filled with passion and creativity and wisdom. But over centuries, our natural instincts as women have been repressed and more recently, dumbed down by a culture that values the superficial (see Only Ever Yours) over the real. When I first read this book I felt a surge of relief and recognition as I started to remember who I truly was as a woman. I love the notion of being a woman who runs with wolves – just as I loved the notion of a little girl who lives with a horse back in my Pippi Longstocking days! This book came into my life at just the right time and gave me permission to be my free-spirited self again. Reading it inspired me to live authentically and boldly, which ultimately led to me writing True Face.