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Sophie Kane is a very promising young writer who has written for the National Women’s Council and the Journal amongst others. Here, she writes about how when you be yourself, yourself can be anything! Thanks Sophie. x

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In Ireland today we face so many obstacles, a homeless crisis, a woman’s right to her reproductive health , the fight for equal pay and representation across all sectors in society, down to the pressures put on our young girls to act, look and behave a certain way. It isn’t easy being a young woman, but my message is to never be afraid to be your true authentic self .Whether you want to shout from the rooftops or quietly express yourself to friends and family, if you express yourself through art or make up, poetry or dance; never stop creating because you’re afraid of what your peers might think ! My teenage years, I felt awkward and unsure, the pressure to fit in and conform distracted me from who I really was. Now at 22 and three quarters I’m finally at a point in my life where I speak openly and express myself how I want to.

Being a girl is great, but what I wish I knew as a teenager was that it shouldn’t define me as much as I let it. It’s a very important time in your life, your mates are your world, they listen to you moaning about your parents, about school and teachers, they understand that all you want is to be free. Yet I found that I was in fact the most confined I’d ever been in those years. I was told how I should act in front of boys, what they think is attractive, how to dress and what people will say about you if I didn’t conform. We grew up Slut shaming other girls, we didn’t know any better. We threw around offensive terms not really knowing how hurtful they were. We policed each other, you can’t do that, you can’t say that, you can’t feel that. I started wearing makeup and waxing – even today the amount of time a week I still spend waxing , shaving and plucking myself bald !! It’s really quite ridiculous when you think about it.

‘It has taken me years to realise my physical appearance should not and does not affect my ability to do what I want to do,’ says 22-year-old Dubliner Sophie Kane. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

So let’s stop conforming and just do what we are happy and comfortable with. You want to shave your legs? Do it girl, just make sure you don’t cut the legs off yourself like I often do! Don’t kiss that boy because you feel pressured, don’t kiss him if you aren’t attracted to boys but are too afraid to say it! Stand up for yourself, anyone worth having in your life will respect you more for being brave than just conforming.  Read your books, play your sports, put on your make-up or your fake-tan. Be yourself as often and as much as you can.  We evolve and change a lot throughout our lives that we have to embrace who we are, as we are.

The point I want to make, what I wish I knew when I was younger is this: your friends are important and you should love and respect them, but it has to be mutual. Never change yourself to fit in or belong. Fake friends and fake love is how you lose yourself. Real friends let you be yourself.  What I wish I had in those years was feminism. Feminism thought me to treat others and myself better. Feminism thought me that I could be who I am. It teaches us, as girls, that we are worth the same as our brothers, no matter how we act, what we wear or who we like. Instead of taking turns telling each other what we don’t like about our bodies, let’s take turns talking about our hopes for the future. We can be whatever we want; teachers, electricians, scientists, politicians, mothers, Taoiseach, artists, writers! Let’s have open conversations about our unique journey as young women. Speak up about the pressures we face, how we look shouldn’t and won’t be the first thing we are judged on. Our words, our intelligence and our wisdom are what matter.