Words by Ceylon Andi Hickman, Head of Impact and Girls at Football Beyond Borders.
I was thirteen years old when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s seminal Ted Talk, “The danger of a single story” was published on YouTube, and remember watching it days before my fourteenth birthday. Her storytelling ability utilised to dismantle racist and colonial stereotypes in literature was one of the catalysts that shaped my canon as a teenager.
But as well as that, it also prompted me to consider the ‘single story’ that may have existed about me: a football-mad teenage girl growing up in Britain. There was one that immediately came to mind back in 2009: ‘girls don’t play football.’ That story presented itself in multiple ways to me throughout my childhood: whether it was at 6-years-old watching the paramedics laugh at the boy injured by my tackle, or at sixteen, when the elite footballing set-up I’d been a part of for years suddenly closed down, when no boys equivalents were. These events only served to remind me of the narrative that existed about girls like me: ‘we shouldn’t be here.’
The stories that we hear the loudest are the ones that dictate what our reality is. As a teenager, it was paramount that I was surrounded by a louder story that contradicted the more popular one that dictated those incidents I experienced. Thankfully, my parents were pretty loud in their reciting of a new story: ‘you belong here, you’re good at it, and you can keep playing this game for as long as it makes you happy.’
That story still guides me everyday, and is something that I now have the privilege of passing onto teenage girls through my work on the FBB Girls programme. It’s a story to counter the stories of girls dropping out of sport at twice the rate of boys when they reach the age of fourteen. And thankfully, it is a story that is ever more present in society: no more so than in our first ever all female photography book: “FBB Presents: Herstories.”
The book is a portrayal of the lives of teenage girls and women in Britain. It was curated during the third UK lockdown in 2021, with our practitioners and photographers arriving at the doorsteps of our participants, armed with the mission of uncovering their hidden stories from the past 12 months and beyond.
The beauty of the book is in its diversity. There are no single stories to be seen. They are personal, intimate stories of joy, love and courage, and of hurt, loss and anger. The book is the moment for teenage girls to reclaim their narratives, centre themselves and present their own stories to the world, on their terms. It is their worlds in their voices, accompanied by the women who have played integral roles in their lives. It is the story of their relationships, and of shared womanhood that cuts across two or three generations. You may notice that the words of Bobbi’s Nan, Ann, and FBB Practitioner, Debra, are words that echo the story that my parents were so adamant to tell me all those years ago, but critically: this time it is their words, in their terms, for their eras.
Shining a light on these stories is essential for two reasons: firstly, the range of stories will provide you with an insight into the complex lived experiences of teenage girls, and hopefully debunk any ‘single story’ stereotypes you may hold about them. Secondly – as with my experiences at the mercy of a single story surrounding girls and football – these stories will shape what reality is and can be in this society. The voices of teenage girls are rarely heard, and this has a damaging impact on what their reality becomes. Whether it’s being prevented access to opportunities their male counterparts enjoy freely or assumed generalisations about the challenges they face, we know that reverting to single stories about teenage girls is a damaging pattern with material implications.
That’s why this book is a critical piece of literature: it rejects the single story, and to use Adichie’s words, when we do that, “we regain a kind of paradise.” That paradise – for me – is one where every teenage girl is listened to, learned from, and loved for who she is. It is a paradise where she knows that she belongs in any spaces she chooses. And who knows, that might just be on the football pitch.
You can buy the book here.