‘the girlness project’ is a very special initiative designed to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of young girls and women. Founded by Pippa Richardson after she spotted there was a need for more preventative work to combat the rise of mental health issues in teenagers, girlness offers classes and workshops that encourage girls and young women to develop self-awareness and emotional self-regulation. Yoga and meditation lie at the heart of the offering as does group discussion and journaling. Pippa aims to create ‘nurturing spaces for girls and young women to tune in – away from the ‘noise’ of our external environment and pressures (social media, exams etc.) so that participants can pause and care for their most precious asset – their relationship with Self.’
As champions of all women, it was an initiative that immediately became close to our hearts. We caught up with Pippa soon after the one-year anniversary of the project to discover the vital work she’s doing in supporting girls and young women.
Lets go on a trip down memory lane. What inspired you to start girlness?
The journey starts with my own journey! During my teen years, I sadly developed a toxic relationship with my body and food. It was driven in part by a number of stressors that at the time I didn’t feel able to talk about. I had a deep sense of not being enough; smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I suffered in silence for about ten years with body dysmorphia and an internal dialogue that was deeply troubling. As a ‘high achiever’, I was also really good at masking a lot of what I was experiencing. It had a profound effect on my life. I was continuously striving for ‘perfection’. It was this and my unhealthy obsession with the body that led me to study Fashion and then I went on to create a career in Beauty PR – you couldn’t make it up! It’s no surprise that working in these industries only amplified my internal struggle but it also became the catalyst that inspired me to examine my own relationship with my body and Self. I left the world of beauty and went on to complete my two-year yoga teacher training in London. After teaching for 5 years, I had worked with thousands of bodies and I knew I wanted to find a way for my teaching to serve girls and women, so I set to work on mapping out what that could look like. I realised that there was very little on offer for preventative care for the specific challenges that girls face. Ultimately, I set up the girlness project because it’s something I wish I had had access to as a teenager – that’s the short version of the story!
You have spoken openly about your first hand experience of being immersed in an industry that places our worth on our external appearance (and profits from it in the process). Was there one particular moment that exposed the unhealthy nature of this?
There were many moments. I remember watching women’s bodies being manipulated in front of my eyes on Photoshop, so much so that they no longer looked like the models I had worked with the week before. In particular, I remember one shoot where the model we worked with had freckles on her face and I watched every single one be removed in the post-edit. I was really upset by it. I had a sinking feeling in the realisation that none of what we see in the media is real and that I was measuring myself against ideas and images of women that simply don’t exist. At the time, I worked for one of the worlds largest cosmetic companies. It was my ‘dream job’ and yet it was only perpetuating this deeply unhelpful belief system that my value was based on the way that I look. When I look back, I can see that my path had to take me onto the front line of the industry to see how it worked with my own eyes so that I could then wake up and make a different choice and help others do the same.
I imagine that the storytelling and insights from this chapter of your life provide the foundations for girls to connect with you as I’m sure it’s a story many young girls resonate with. Does this come with a big responsibility?
Absolutely. I never take for granted the very privileged position I am in when I talk to girls. I am not their mother or father and I am also not one of their school teachers. Because of this, there is often a receptivity that I know many parents and teachers strive for but struggle to access. This, plus the fact that I worked with many celebrities in my past life, seems to capture teenagers’ attention! I see my role and the girlness project operating as a wider support team alongside the pastoral care and wellbeing education that is already in place in schools and at home.
What can students expect when they come to a girlness workshop?
I teach and speak on a variety of topics but our key themes are self-compassion, resilience, the art of relaxation, body image and media literacy. All of my workshops involve group discussion, journaling and yoga practice, as these reflective practices have been invaluable in my own development and awareness. My work is underpinned by principles from body psychotherapy, which I have studied. My intention is that every girl feels seen and heard and I’m striving to ensure every girl leaves feeling empowered and inspired with practical tools that she can take out of the classroom and into real life that support her in her ability to draw healthy boundaries and self-soothe.
You mentioned that yoga was a key part of your own transformation. How has your yoga practice evolved over the years?
For me, yoga is not about getting into shapes or poses (anymore!). It’s about deeply listening to my own body and then finding a way to get behind what I need – it’s this that I try to facilitate for my students. I worked with my own teacher, Kate Ellis, 1-2-1 for about 5 years. It was a life-changing experience. Kate taught me about deep embodiment and every week, she offered me a safe container, her presence and non-judgement. I was ‘seen’ and this was deeply therapeutic for me. It taught me that the body can be a difficult place to call home and I have learned that this is especially true for teenagers. When I teach teens yoga, it’s really important to me that our class is not another place where they are told what to do, or are told what’s right and wrong. Our yoga practice is a way to safely celebrate and explore the uniqueness of our own body and learn to trust our own body wisdom.
How do you think we as adults can do more to support the teenagers in our world?
We all have a responsibility to look at what we are modelling for young people. I think we have to look at the way we relate to our own body and mind. We need to ask ourselves, how do I talk to myself when things don’t go my way? Do I extend self-compassion to myself in the way I would to somebody I love? How am I modelling self-care, positive body image and embodiment? Telling young people how to take care of themselves and then in the same breath, displaying actions that are not in alignment with this devalues our well-intended advice. Simply, I think we have to lead by example.
What’s next for ‘the girlness project’?
There are so many exciting things in the pipeline! I taught my first international workshop last year in Byron Bay, Australia and this year, I will be doing more travelling and teaching. I hope we can reach as many girls as possible, so I’m looking to translate some of our content online so that the work doesn’t rely on me being face to face and is more widely available.
Every girl is born with limitless potential. This is one of the underlying beliefs of ‘the girlness project’ and we couldn’t agree more. As Pippa states, it is through community (coming together), conversation (opening a dialogue) and consciousness (developing a relationship with self) that this incredible potential can be nurtured and flourish.
What a world it would be if more girls developed the capacity to be more comfortable in their own skin and more confident in their own identity. It could revolutionise society as we know it.
We think ‘girlness’ is a revolution and we want to be a part of it!
To find out more about the girlness project, please visit www.thegirlnessproject.com or contact Pippa directly at email@example.com. Follow Pippa and the project on Instagram at @thegirlnessproject / @pippa_yoga
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