Within the Keep: Protecting our daughters

“I want the children to see that they don’t have to become these perfect robotic little people.” Photographer and mum of three Rachel Devine opens up about her powerful project helping tween girls to understand and value each other.

We’re all weird to somebody. We’re all awesome to somebody. We’re all these things rolled into one. But at some point, and I’ve been seeing it start at around aged 10, young girls start to fear these differences. And when these girls start fearing the differences instead of accepting them, they start building walls. 

“Within the Keep” is a project aimed at breaking down those walls in school aged girls, and I need your help with it.  

Kids today see people being celebrated for dubious achievements. Or being celebrated for nothing.  There are some celebrities, and I really can’t answer my kids when they ask me what these people are famous for. I don’t know.

As a mother of three school aged kids, my children are everything to me. But I’ve noticed these problems more so with the girls than I have with the boys.

Children can become mean, and the girls can become locked inside these walls. And I honestly believe it’s because kids get scared of being different. They don’t want to celebrate their differences, they want to push them away. 

"Children can become mean, and the girls can become locked inside these walls. And I honestly believe it’s because kids get scared of being different."

I want to show the kids, particularly the girls, that they’re all weird, they’re all wonderful, they can all be princesses, and their looks don’t define them. It’s all the little quirky bits of their characters which make them awesome. 

Even the popular kids, the queen bees, they’re weird too! To somebody, even the queen bees are annoying – and that’s OK. I want the children to see that they don’t have to be these perfect robotic young people. 

A ‘keep’ is a fortified tower built within castles, so the name “Within the Keep” is in reference to princesses being trapped within the walls of the castle. This is my opportunity to turnaround the princess phenomenon. I don’t think we’ll ever stop calling girls princesses, but we can start to value the other things which make them beautiful, like who they are inside.  
Rachel Devine and her daughter
So I started a photography project as a way of trying to do that. I’ve broken it down to black and white portrait photographs of all the girls, portrayed the same way, wearing the same basic black t-shirt. The older girls are asked not to wear any makeup, and I have asked all the girls to let their hair down which is a little nod to the princess when she’s free. I’m not trying to erase who they are, I’m just trying to even the playing field. 

I’m presenting really raw, clear crisp photos of who they are, but I only get about a 5 minute window to find out a little about their personality. I try to get them to laugh, but if they’re very serious I’m ok with them looking very serious in their portraits. I want their eyes to speak.

But the most important part of this project, is the WORDS.

Media defines girls all the time. The words let the girls define themselves. 

I’ve compiled a list of around a hundred words, all positive, and none which have anything to do with looks, or titles. Instead I’ve chosen words to reflect who the girls are inside. They include: imaginative, artistic, patient, sporty, supportive, hard-working, honest, fearless, funny and generous, and chatty.
Words for within the keep
The girls are asked to pick three words. And while some have had trouble picking just the three, it does break my heart a little to see other kids already having a hard time picking just three positive words to describe themselves. Their parents and friends are also asked to pick the words they think best describe them.

The first 200 photos have been shown as part of an exhibition, but they’ll go online too.

Every time the photograph is shown, it will be shown with the three words that the girl chooses for herself. She’ll never be known for her name, her age, just those three words.

I want this to become a website which is interactive. So that kids all over the world can click on a word and see the other people who are chatty. Or sporty, or unique, or strong willed, and see that they are not alone, they aren’t weird. There are other people out there who feel exactly the same way.

"Every time the photograph is shown, it will be shown with the three words that the girl chooses for herself. She’ll never be known for her name, her age, just those three words."

And this is where you can help.

I hope families, in all their quirky and different shapes and sizes, can sit around the table and spark conversations based around these words and who they think they are inside, and about what others see in them.  I think it’s really important to connect as a family, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, and celebrate what those words mean and celebrate seeing those traits in each other.
 
Already there have been some really good conversations. Words matter, and they can break hearts and souls so easily, so let’s start changing the conversation. 
 
Rachel's project won the 2016 Bupa Blog Awards Visual Category. For more information on 'Within the Keep', visit her website

For more advice from psychologist Dr Sasha Lynn on how to use words to start changing the conversation, check out our article 'The power of words, talking to keep our tweens strong'.
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