There’s a joke that does the rounds every now and then about “gingerism” being the last acceptable form of prejudice. It’s one of my favourite ginger jokes (and I’ve heard them all, many times) – because for once, it’s actually true.

I, like about 10% of people in the UK, have ginger hair. Not fake neon red hair; just plain ginger. I was born with a fair amount of it sticking straight up like an orange loo brush, and it just kept growing like that – although thankfully gravity kicked in and it eventually started growing down, rather than up. I love it now. But life as a ginger wasn’t always easy.

School was by turns annoying and upsetting. There was only one other ginger girl in my class, and for five solid years, all our teachers mistook us for each other on a daily basis. Apparently our only defining feature was the fact that we had red hair. Never mind the fact that we were totally different people with totally different faces, interests, and lives – we were ginger, and that made us interchangeable. I learned early on to respond to both her name and my own, and gave up trying to correct them. It just wasn’t worth the hassle.

After all, the teachers weren’t deliberately mocking us. At least, I assume they weren’t, although I wouldn’t put it past some of them. The deliberate, and often cruel, mocking came mostly from the boys’ school next door, whose pupils would take great pleasure in yelling insults and ginger jokes through the chain-mail fence that separated our two schools.

My own brother – a pupil at the school next door – really got in on the teasing. For years, he thought he’d been lucky and dodged the ginger gene that clearly ran in our family. His hair was thick and brown, and he really, really took advantage of that fact. But then puberty hit, and he grew what can only really be described as an electric ginger beard, and promptly shut up. I, meanwhile, am still laughing.

Unfortunately I couldn’t rely on everyone who ever teased me growing a ginger beard, so I had to find other ways to cope. And one of the most effective I found was to go in for some self-mockery.

If I cracked the ginger jokes about myself before anyone else had a chance to do it, then my would-be tormentors lost interest pretty quickly. After all, what was the point in mocking someone who was already in on the joke? That wasn’t going to have any impact. It’s the same logic that Fat Amy uses in Pitch Perfect, and I’m here to tell you that it works in the real world as well as in films about acapella singing troupes.

But when I wanted a more dramatic solution, 13 year old me decided that there was only one thing that I could do and that was to dye my hair and get rid of the entire problem. Unfortunately, I immediately found myself dealing with another problem – the lovely shade of brown I’d picked turned a strangely murky browny-green on my hair, and my friend’s application wasn’t that great, meaning there were still patches of ginger shining through. Then it started to grow out and I had a lovely stripe of bright orange root right down the middle of my head.

I wasn’t put off, though. I’d found a solution, and I was going to stick with it. I just needed to get better at applying hair dye, and then no-one would ever tease me again. And so, over the next few years, my hair was every colour I could think of. Bright blonde. Black. Auburn. Bright red. Purple. A strange yellow colour that was meant to be “golden blonde” but didn’t quite work. Basically, if it was anything other than ginger, I went for it.

But, strangely, I wasn’t out to totally deny that I was ginger. Whenever I met someone new and they asked what my natural colour was, I always told them that it was “BRIGHT GINGER” – just to hear them tell me that it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

I used to boast that I hadn’t seen my natural hair colour since I was 13, but at age 27 I finally decided to give in and see what it actually looked like. I’d love to claim that it was due to some new-found self-confidence, but really it was because I’d dyed my hair so much that it was starting to snap off, and I was more scared of ending up bald than ending up ginger.

And that’s how I discovered that all the people who told me my hair couldn’t be that bad were actually right. In fact, it’s not just “not bad” – it’s pretty nice. My natural hair is far more distinctive than any of my out-of-a-bottle colours ever were. It looks absolutely brilliant when teamed with green clothing. Or blue clothing. Or any clothing I want to team it with, really, because who cares about the “rules” of what redheads are and aren’t supposed to wear?

So, instead of hiding my hair behind layers of dye, I’ve decided to be ginger and proud. After all, if Emma Stone can do it, why can’t I? Sure, I still hear the ginger jokes, but I don’t let them get to me anymore. I know they’re not actually based on anything other than ginger hair apparently making you an easy target, and that if I don’t pay attention to the jokes people will stop making them.  So now my ginger hair and I shine like a lovely orange beacon, and my hairdresser has stopped telling me off for destroying my hair for no real reason.

It just took me a really long time, and an awful lot of L’Oreal Feria to realise that the hair colour that suits me best is the one I was born with.

@JackiBadger

Image: Laura Callaghan

Growing up, I was always a teensy bit jealous of the way my male friends handled their disagreements. They’d have an argument, sometimes a shouting match, sometimes even a bit of a scrap, and then that would be that. They’d move on; friends again, as if nothing had happened.

Now I’m not saying I wanted to go around putting my friends in headlocks (well… maybe it seemed tempting sometimes) but the boys’ method looked so simple compared to the way I tried to handle things. Brought up to always be ‘nice’, and scared my friends might ditch me if we argued, I avoided telling people that I disagreed with them, or that the face they had pulled at my new (totally awesome by the way) school bag had upset me.

Instead, I’d sit there feeling cross and upset until eventually the feelings faded away. But, looking back, I was probably pretty sulky and snappy in the meantime. No fun for anyone. And lot of girls I’ve spoken to have told me they feel the same.   

Emma Gleadhill is a speaker and coach who helps young people to manage their relationships. She says it’s not surprising that girls can struggle with conflict, especially given how we’re often raised and what we deal with in society.  

“Everyone is different, of course, but research shows that parents are more likely to stop girls who are getting a bit rough with each other than boys. So girls grow up less practised at dealing with conflict. Also, if you look for female role models in the media who are assertive and powerful but also kind, there aren’t very many. The media often portrays strong women as nasty – like with Hilary Clinton in the US election. Girls feel like they’re walking a really fine line: trying to speak up about their feelings and get what they need, but not come across as aggressive.”  

Emma also says that fear of friends ditching you is also very normal among girls. “When they’re going through puberty, girls tend to seek out very close best friendships, and those friendships are so important to them that they don’t want to rock the boat. So tensions underneath the surface bubble away and what started off as an honest friendship can become quite a fake one, where both people are actually pretty unhappy.” 

As I’ve grown up, I’ve gradually become more comfortable with conflict. Now I see it as something healthy and empowering. I stand up for myself and what I believe in. I even tell my friends if they’ve upset me. And guess what? Nobody’s ditched me yet. In fact, my strongest friendships are with the people I feel I can be totally honest with.  

But getting to this stage has taken a fair bit of practice. And man, do I wish I’d started earlier. It would have saved me a whole lot of upset (not to mention all the hours I wasted secretly fuming). 

So, just in case you fancy getting a bit better at it, too, Emma has shared her top tips for dealing with conflict in a healthy way. Go on, give it a go. You deserve to be heard. 

1. Practise being assertive

The skills we use in healthy conflict, like quick thinking, responding thoughtfully and speaking up, can be built up with practice. It’s a bit like exercising a muscle. Set yourself little targets that will develop your skills and confidence. You can start really small, like putting your hand up in class to answer a question.

2. Learn from the best

Conflict doesn’t always have to involve difficult conversations or emotions. Some people debate with others just for fun. Find those people and watch how they go about things. It could be your relatives having a passionate discussion about the best way to make the Christmas gravy, or the members of your school debate team arguing about a hot topic in the news. Take note. 

3. Stand up for yourself in the moment

If someone says or does something you don’t like, try saying ‘Ouch!’ or ‘Ooh – can I have that in writing?!’ It’s a small comment, so it probably won’t cause a huge fight, but it immediately shows the other person that you didn’t like their behaviour. This is a great way to start setting boundaries with your friends without being too heavy about it.

4. Don’t let things brew

Unless you can genuinely forgive and forget the comment, it’s best to talk to the other person about it sooner rather than later. Take some time to process how you’re feeling but don’t leave things for weeks on end. The longer you bottle up your emotions, the more likely you are to lash out at the other person, and the worse they’ll feel when you reveal how long you’ve been upset for. 

5. Have a plan

If you’re nervous about the conversation, it can help to really think through what you want out of it and how you’re going to make your points. If you have a good relationship with a parent or somebody older, share your plan and ask for their thoughts or advice.

6. Choose the perfect place

Try to talk to the other person face-to-face and somewhere relatively private. There’s no risk of either of you losing face in front of your classmates, which means you should have a more honest conversation, and you’re more likely to find a solution together if you’re just concentrating on each other.  

7. Be flexible

Once you get into the conversation, you probably won’t be able to stick exactly to your plan, and that’s ok. Healthy conflict is as much about listening to the other person as it is about getting your own points across. They might have a good explanation for their behaviour (maybe their family is going through a tough time) but you won’t get to hear it if you’re ranting at them. Try to think of the conversation as an opportunity to work the problem out together. *Try*.   

8. Be real

If you’re confronting a friend who you want to stay on good terms with, tell them you value their friendship and that you want to sort things out so you can stay friends. But don’t be afraid to let them know the consequences if they don’t change their ways. You could say something like: “I need you to understand how I feel because the future for our friendship isn’t looking great if this sort of stuff keeps happening.”

9. Stick to the facts

Focus on things that the other person can’t argue with, like an example of what they did and how it made you feel: “When you said my hair looked stupid this morning it made me feel self-conscious.” Try to avoid insults (“You were such a cow this morning”) and generalisations (“You’re always making fun of me”), as they’ll only get the other person fired up. Plus, they’re easier to deny than actual facts.

10. Stop things escalating

If you feel like a situation is about to get out of hand, take five deep, slow breaths. This will help to slow your heart rate down, meaning you’re less likely to lash out. Next, try to look at the situation from a different angle. Is it really about you? What’s going on with the other person? If you’re too overwhelmed by your emotions to act calmly, make your excuses and get out of there.

11. Stick to your guns

The other person might try to brush off the thing that you’re upset about, but it’s important to keep making your point until you feel you’ve been heard. Try something like, “You might have meant it as a joke but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it made me feel upset.”

12. Look to the future

Always try to end conflict with a plan for how you’ll move forward together, listening to each other’s needs and being good friends to each other in the future. Congratulations – you’re now a confrontation pro. 

@LucindaEverett

Emma Gleadhill runs workshops in schools helping young people to handle their relationships.

I’ve done plenty of things I’m not proud of. There was ‘Christmas Shopping Gate’, when I flipped out after one too many shoves from passers-by, and started barging through the crowds shouting ‘EXCUUUUUSE ME!’ while accidentally-on-purpose bashing them with my bags. (I blame PMT). Then there was the day I teased my friend so mercilessly she kicked the wall in frustration and broke her toe.

But if there’s one thing that truly makes me shrivel up into a little shame-raisin (how gross would they taste on your granola?), it’s this: I was a bully.

I know. Disgusting. It didn’t last long (just a few months, aged 11) and I wasn’t the worst bully I’ve seen (not that any level is acceptable) but I was pretty horrid. Psychological bullying was my thing: humiliating and excluding anyone I saw as less cool than me, which was pretty much everyone, since I thought I was ‘it’.

A few years later, I got a taste of my own medicine. My bully taunted me for about a year, and I had to work hard to rebuild the confidence she knocked out of me with every sneer. But I got there.

These days, I’m nice. Promise. I give people hugs and cake and shoulders to cry on. I even smile at people who bump me in the street… sometimes. But I can’t undo my bullying days. And that still makes me ashamed.

But there is one thing I can do: help you if you’re being bullied. Because I probably know a bit about how you’re feeling, and your bully too. So here are some tips from a former bully to you, with a big old dose of sorry, and an even bigger hug.

“Oh… it’s nothing”

Bullying can be anything from a push in the corridor to a whispered insult. Don’t brush it off, worrying that you’re overreacting. You’re not. If you’re regularly being made to feel scared, uncomfortable or upset, it’s ‘something’.

It’s not about you

Seriously. I know it’s hard to believe; when someone’s picking apart everything that makes you you, well that kiiiind of feels like it might be about… well… you. But trust me: most bullies are going through stuff themselves. When I was a bully, it was tension at home. My own bully was about to move schools. It’s not an excuse, but it might help you realise that their nastiness isn’t about you not being clever, funny, or nice enough. You’re all of those things. And more.

Summon your squad

Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and ask them for support. That could mean feeding you an endless supply of chocolate or dreaming up creative nicknames for your bully. My personal fave is Trunchtrump: the unfortunate lovechild of Donald Trump and Miss Trunchbull. Don’t actually call your bully names, though – you don’t want to be as bad as them.

Be assertive

Childline says assertiveness is ‘being able to stand up for yourself without being aggressive.’ Stand in front of a mirror and practise saying what you want or don’t want, calmly and clearly: ‘That’s my bag and I want it back’. Next, write down everything you’d like to ask or tell your bully. Then, if you want to, tell them for real. You definitely don’t have to – it’s not your responsibility to ‘solve’ the bullying – but it could make you feel like a major girl boss. Plus, it’ll give your bully some food for thought. I bullied people I knew wouldn’t challenge me. If they had, I’m not sure I’d have picked on them again.

Tell an adult

I know, I know. The thought of your parent or teacher stepping in is as awks as having your first kiss in front of your nan. While she livestreams it to your whole school. Then there’s the fear your bully will find out you told. But, as Kidscape explain, ‘schools can put a stop to bullying without the bully learning who told, especially if the bully has several targets.’ Take a breath and tell someone you trust. Like… now.

Know you’re not alone

SO many people are going through the same thing; you just have to find them. Search YouTube for people sharing their stories, or join Childline’s message boards – a great place to chat and get advice.

Boost your confidence

Find things that make you feel better about yourself. Help someone with a problem, write down your best qualities (come on, you know there’s something), or try something new. Joining a club outside of school can give you a real confidence boost and a whole new set of friends. When I was being bullied, I joined a theatre group. It was super-fun and, the next time my bully called me boring or fat, I found it that little bit easier to see that she was lying.

It won’t last forever

Remember that this will be over eventually and won’t hold you back in the long run. Ask older people you look up to whether they were ever bullied (I bet at least one says yes) or read the bullying stories of celebs like Obama, Emma Watson and Ri Ri. And don’t just wish the time away. Plan the amazing future you’ll have and get cracking on achieving it. Working towards some goals will boost your confidence and keep you distracted. And when you achieve them, it’ll feel even sweeter.

@LucindaEverett

This week, we’ve looked at bullying pretty darn throughly. We know all the forms that bullying can take and the effect it can have on you – but what should you do if you’re being bullied? We talk to Childline counsellor Helen about what you can do if you’re being bullied.

Need to talk to Childline? Visit the Childline website, or call them for free on 0800 1111

When Rebecca Reid was at school, she was in a group of friends who would spread rumours about people and freeze them out if they weren’t cool enough. Years later she realised that what she was doing was bullying. In this video she looks back at what she did and why, and the advice she’d give her teenage self.

Sophie was always bullied at school, but when a new girl joined her group of friends they started leaving her out and making her feel bad for not being “cool” enough. In this video she talks about how she felt, what she did, and why it’s important to be friends with people who make you feel good.

Author Alexia Casale was teased at school for everything from her clothes to her name to her eczema to her way of saying hello – but a simple twist in how she thought about things meant that she never really felt like she was getting bullied at all. Watch her story in this video.

It’s Anti-Bullying Week 2016, and we’ve got a week of bullying related videos. In this first one, Jazmin and Lily chat about what bullying is, how it can affect you, and what to do if you think your friend is a bully.

It’s Anti-Bullying Week from the 14th to the 18th November, and that’s not something we were about to ignore.

Bullying is something that most people will experience at some point during their lives, whether that’s because they’re being bullied, one of their friends is being bullied, or even because they’re being a bully themselves. It’s a huge issue that can really impact on your life, and it’s important that we talk about it.

This week on our YouTube channel will be an Anti-Bullying Week special, with five new videos tackling the many different emotional and practical aspects of bullying. On Monday, Lily and betty writer Jazmin talk about the different ways bullying can affect you. On Tuesday, author Alexia Casale talks about how a simple change in how she looked at her bullying helped her cope with it. On Wednesday, Sophie talks about how a change in her friendship group resulted in her standing up for herself, and what happened after that. On Thursday, Rebecca talks to Amy about her experience of actually being a bully. And on Friday, Lily talks to Childline counsellor about what you can do if you’re being bullied.

If you’re being bullied, just remember that it’s not your fault and you don’t deserve to be treated that way by anybody. Talking to an adult like a parent or teacher can help, but if that’s too scary you can always talk to Childline.

We hope you find this week useful and interesting. Want to join in the conversation? Find us on YouTubeTwitter, Instagram and Facebook @bettycollective.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

I always felt like a bit of a chameleon when I was growing up.

I had lots of different groups of friends and I felt really happy moving between them. I could be arty and into speaking about paints and new projects with one group. I could talk about music and boys and shopping and clothes with another. I could talk about dyeing my hair and getting a nose piercing and listening to lots of loud music with some others. And my friends who loved poetry and losing themselves in the library made me feel calm when the whirlwind of first crushes, so much homework and a changing body made me feel quite scared.

But when we hit 14 things began to change. It didn’t seem so easy to move from one group to another. I was listening to rock music and wanted to wear baggy clothes, but one group called me names. I decided I really wanted to fit in, so I dressed more like them. I listened to the music they listened to. And I spent a lot of time talking about boys, parties and clothes. I wasn’t part of lots of groups anymore. I was part of one.

At first, it felt good to be part of one group. We were all very close, they invited me everywhere and we did everything together. I didn’t speak to my other friends much anymore.

But soon I realised that I didn’t really fit into this group as much as I thought I did. I was hiding the music I listened to at home. I was getting all my homework done when they weren’t. I still wanted to audition for the school play and they wanted to go sit in the park on a night instead.

One day they told me I couldn’t come to lunch with them anymore. “…Why?” I asked, assuming it was some kind of joke. “Because if you love homework so much, you have all of ours to do as well,” one of them answered.

So, I did. I sat all lunch time doing six different sets of history homework. I didn’t have my other groups of friends. I didn’t have this group anymore. And I’d never felt so alone.

That weekend they invited me to a house party. I’d never been to a house party before. I felt scared, but also excited. And happy that they’d invited me to something. Maybe I wouldn’t have to do their homework for them again?

I arrived at the party and met my friends outside. They didn’t seem to want me there, but I followed them in anyway. We sat in the front room of the house, loads of boys that were much older than us sat around us. I felt really uncomfortable. Suddenly my friends got up and ran out. “You stay here,” they said. I waited a few minutes and then decided I just had to get out of there. I tried to move and knocked a lamp over. Everyone in the room laughed.

I ran outside to see my friends talking to a bunch of older boys. They were all smoking. “Oh here she is, Little Miss Geek,” one of them said. “Little Miss Goody Two Shoes Goth!” said the other. I looked at them both and turned away to walk back home. I felt sad. I felt lonely.

But I also felt free.

The next day, I went to audition for the latest school play. I thought I might have missed the last chance, but my favourite drama teacher let me give it a go. A lot of my old friends were there and I felt shy around them. Luckily, they invited me over when they could see I was on my own. We all auditioned and I felt happy to stand on stage. To speak loudly. To do something I loved and to see people who didn’t need me to be someone I wasn’t.

Over the next few weeks I spent a lot of time with the drama group. We all got brilliant parts in the play. We all bonded over old, sticky stage makeup and big, billowing costumes and dancing about behind-the-scenes before rehearsals. I didn’t feel scared about being part of a group this time, because I knew this group appreciated a big bit of me.

And I never had to do anyone else’s homework ever again.

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Happy Friday!

Autumn is here which means leaves crunching underfoot, pumpkin spice lattes and our cosiest coats being pulled out from the back of our wardrobes.

But while we hibernate, the world has been busy. Find out what we’ve been reading, loving and doing this week at betty.

EU, we bid you adieu 

The Tory party conference was this week and amongst many other things (reprimanding big companies that dodge tax, the NHS and dissing Labour) T. May announced that she would trigger article 50 (the one that kicks off the whole Brexit palaver) by March 2017. There are only five months left of our European love affair, so let’s make the most of it.

Zalfie turns four 

Even though Brangelina are over, it doesn’t mean the end of true love for all of us. Zoe and Alfie celebrated their four year anniversary this week and he bought her the most beautiful bunch of flowers. Swoon.

4 years with the bae ❤️ I'm one lucky girl!

A photo posted by Zoella (@zoella) on

The Obamas continue to be adorable

Zalfie, the Obamas see your four years and raise you another 20. That’s right, the ultimate power couple celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary this week. #relationshipgoals

Happy Anniversary. ?

A photo posted by Barack Obama (@barackobama) on

A plea to end bullying

The mother of 17-year-old Felix Alexander wrote an emotion open letter on the effects of bullying this week, after her son tragically took his own life. Felix was bullied all through high school, both physically and online. In the letter, his mum Lucy urged other young people to consider how they use social media and to be kind to one another, saying: “Be that one person prepared to stand up to unkindness. You will never regret being a good friend.” Let’s remember to take care of each other and if you need advice on bullying, check out the Childline website.

Solange Knowles drops her new album 

Solange may be the lesser known of the Knowles sisters, but she is an incredible artist in her own right. Her new album, A Seat At The Table has some really important things to say about race relations in the US and around the world.

Over the rainbow

Sure, no one really uses pencils anymore… but maybe they should have a revival? These pencils look like a rainbow when you sharpen them, and surely we could all do with that bit of pure colourful happiness in our day.

rainbowpencils_1

Rainbow pencil, Ohh deer, £5.95 for a pack of three

We met Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates

The awesome Laura is the brains behind the Everyday Sexism project and one of the lead campaigners for Sex and Relationship Education in schools. We chatted to her this week, so keep an eye out for the video which will be up on our Youtube channel soon – and make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a thing!

‘Scuse me mate

A butterfly photobombed a koala during a photoshoot at Symbio Wildlife Park in Australia.  No, this is not a joke. Yes, it is adorable.

Watch the koala video at least twice and then go and enjoy your weekend!

When people say Australia, you probably think of beaches and bikinis and the Hemsworth brothers. You might even think of deadly snakes and spiders the size of your fist. But this week, in Reasons Why We Still Need Feminism, news has emerged from south of the equator that’s scary for a whole other reason.

Melbourne high school Kambrya College has been under fire, for ‘slut-shaming’ its students.

The news follows on from last week’s horrifying story that female students in 70 Australian schools have been targeted for a website set up by men and teenage boys to swap sexual images of schoolgirls. Kambrya College, one of the schools targeted, responded by calling all of their female students into an assembly and telling them to check the length of their skirts.

But Year 9 student Faith Sobotker hit back at the message the school was sending: that this whole situation was somehow the girls’ fault.

Holding up a crumpled piece of paper that read, “The length of my skirt or dress does not matter,” Faith then delivers a beautifully eloquent speech that has since gone viral.

“My self respect is doing what makes me happy,” she says. “You can’t tell me what ladylike is because we don’t live in the 50s any more. I am looking for equality.”

A chorus of “preach” and “yes!” can be heard in the background from her peers.

Following the backlash, one of the students’ mothers posted an open message on Facebook to condemn the school’s attitude:

“At the assembly my daughter and her friends said they were told they had to check the length of their skirts, and that anything that doesn’t touch their knees or below by Monday morning would be deemed inappropriate. They were informed that this was to ‘protect their integrity’. They were also told not to post photos of themselves online, and to refuse any request from a boyfriend for a ‘sexy selfie’, as their boyfriends will only be around for a couple of days; maximum a year; but definitely not in ten years’ time. They were told the boys are distracted by their legs, and that boys don’t respect girls who wear short skirts.”

Obviously, the problem is not with girls and the length of their skirts, it’s with the boys (and grown-ass men) who chose to share these images online. This is not the fault of young girls and women who trusted their privacy would be respected, only to have it thrown back in their faces. The real issue here isn’t the length of anyone’s skirts, or that girls are sending these photos in the first place – it’s about boys and their lack of respect. The way they talked about their peers as if they were animals to be ‘tracked’ and ‘hunted,’ rather than the real flesh and blood humans who sat next next to them in History class or let them copy their Maths homework.

Kudos to Faith, for spreading the message that slut-shaming and victim-blaming is never ok.

You’re our Shero.

Image: Getty