It was a grey and rainy Tuesday. One of those mornings where I’d picked an extra ten minutes in bed over putting a single scrap of makeup on my face. The dress I was wearing was at least three years old. But folks, when your friend texts you asking if you want to go to a woman empowering event hosted by GAP and Glamour Magazine, there’s nothing to do but say yes.
A sneaky lunchtime trip to Boots and a quick swipe of lipstick in the work bathrooms, and off we set. I shouldn’t really have worried about having no makeup on because the freezing, blustery walk ensured that I arrived with that nice “frozen snotter” look that’s so hot on the catwalks right now.
I feel like real beauty bloggers don’t use phrases like “frozen snotter”.
Fortunately, GAP was filled with waiters carrying around trays of cocktails, mini hotdogs, burgers and cupcakes that had me warmed up in no time. I think I ate about 17 hot dogs. You can take the girl out of Glasgow…
The event saw Glamour editor and general badass Jo Elvin chat to some seriously inspiring women about what keeps them going, what makes them successful and what advice they would give to other women. The panel included journalist and TV presenter Jane Moore, director of GAP’s P.A.C.E. education programme Dotti Hatcher, DJ Annie Mac and founder of the charity Kids Company Camila Batmanghelidjh. That her name contains the word “Batman” goes a little way towards describing how excellent she is.
Camila founded Kids Company in 1996, to help provide practical, emotional and educational support to children and young people throughout the UK. Love and compassion shine out of every single pore in her body, and when she speaks, she can’t hide her passion for helping young people to achieve their potential. She didn’t patronise or victimise, she inspired, and I could well believe that she could help these young people, who have often been through multiple horrifying traumas, to see the chink of light in their lives and to stand tall and seize it with both hands.
I’ve lived an incredibly charmed life, with every bump along the way serving only to make me who I am today (yes, yes, I know, but cliches are sometimes cliches for a reason). I can’t imagine what some of these children have gone through, but what wouldn’t I have done for a Camila in my life when I was 14. When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, she responded “To be mad sooner. It’s such fun.”
I genuinely sleep better at night knowing that there is a multicoloured superhero of a woman telling kids that they don’t need to live up or down to anyone’s expectations of them.
Dotti was equally amazing, exuding absolute warmth and gentleness. She is a woman who has dedicated her life to improving the situations of other women who were born with less resources and luck than the rest of us. She opened the presentation with a video showing a young woman’s journey through the PACE programme, from working in one of GAP’s garment factories to dreaming of starting her own headscarf business. I broke out in goosebumps as she uttered those awful words:
“I didn’t realise women had the right to have rights”.
In a world where women are still silenced and stepped on, often violently, we need Dottis to shake us up and say that no, you don’t have to accept your lot. You can be so much more than what you are supposed to be.
Self confidence was a running theme throughout the night, with both Jane and Annie also touching on self belief as one of the most valuable qualities that a woman can have. But this was tempered with a great big dose of perspective. When asked how they manage to do everything that they’ve done, and how they keep going in the face of adversity, the answer was simple:
They just get on with it.
They never underestimate the power that they hold (that sounds a bit more magical than intended), but they are aware that they are not the biggest or most important person in the world. That might sound a bit depressing, but actually, it’s the most freeing thing. If you make a mistake, who cares? It’s really not the end of the world. Realising that you’re small takes away the fear of messing everything up, and ironically, ends up pushing you to do something much bigger than you ever would have if you thought you were the centre of the universe.
Jane was an absolute woman of steel, and I mean that as the utmost compliment, not in a scary Maggie Thatcher kind of way. Everything she said was steeped in the biting humour that has seen her become such a successful journalist. She was the perfect example of how being strong doesn’t necessarily mean being cold, or hard, citing her children as her greatest achievement and saying that all that life really comes down to is the people who love you. So maybe steel wasn’t a good metaphor. Pat on the head for someone who can name me a substance that is strong, but not cold or hard.
Listening to Annie speak was like talking to an old friend, which is of course why she has made such a brilliant DJ. She blew the idea that successful women have to fit a certain mould straight out of the water, confessing to a lot of bumps along the way, including a tragically shortened acting career, a very dramatic haircut and more recently, overwhelmed tears in a meeting. I was lucky enough to get chatting to her after the presentation ended, and I think I might have gushed at her a bit. Must learn how to be cool and aloof.
Me being not at all cool and aloof. Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.
So what did I take from the event? Well, really rather a lot. Let’s do a rundown. Love a rundown.
- You don’t have to be anything but yourself. Your “imperfections” are your greatest strength, because they set you apart from everyone else. If people can’t see how wonderful you are, that’s on them. Ignore them, and get on with being excellent.
- You are not the most important person in the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do great things. It means you have to. When you don’t have laurels to rest on, you need to get off your ass and create something.
- Don’t overestimate yourself, but don’t underestimate yourself either. You have the power to really shake things up. Sometimes changing the world isn’t about fanfare and applause and massive progress. Taking a scared little hand in yours. Telling a woman you believe in her. Being an inspiration to others. Don’t tell me that these things don’t change the world.
- Don’t let anyone else define what your success is. I learned this one the hard way. I allowed myself to be miserable, because I thought that as long as no one knew that I was hurting, I would still be A Success. Success is happiness. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. No one gets to judge your happiness and you don’t get to judge anyone else’s. Do what makes you happy. Create a great career, if that’s what you want. Work nine to five and build and amazing life outside of that. Do both. Do neither. Happiness is all that matters in the end, everything else is just filler.
I feel so very grateful to have seen these women speak, GAP and Glamour – thank you so much for having me!
Me and the fabulous Kelly…you’ll be seeing more of her!
Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.
Click to donate to Kids Company and P.A.C.E.