From a very young age I decided that being a girl sucked.
We were forced to wear restrictive skirts, tie our hair into painful pigtails and play with baby dolls or kitchen sets whilst boys were given action figures and remote control cars which they could chase in their dungarees, without fear of getting their hair knotted. How I envied them…
What’s more is that there were very few people us girls could look to, particularly in the media. Although I grew up with some amazing female figures, ranging from Hermione Granger to Mulan, I couldn’t deny that they were always overshadowed by their male counterparts. Growing up in the late nineties, it was scarce to find a leading woman. The closest you had were sassy female supporting characters who would usually end up falling in love with the male protagonist or Disney princesses. Even Mulan couldn’t save China without falling into the arms of a hunky soldier.
As I grew up, my theory turned into fact.
As a teenager, I had to deal with catcalling, the stigma of starting periods and body image hang ups, along with every other teenage girl on the planet. As I got older, this escalated into dealing with contraception, having to pay the ‘pink tax’, putting up with groping on nights out and being afraid to walk by myself after dark, to list a few major ordeals.
Everything seemed to reiterate what I believed: In life, it was better to be a boy.
Until I discovered the Spice Girls, that is.
Baby, Ginger, Scary, Posh and Sporty exploded into my life when I was nine years old, when they announced that they were uniting for a reunion tour. Although I was too young to join in with the original Spice Girl hype, I was no stranger to this colourful, quirky quintet with their brash laughter and mile-high platform boots. Victoria Beckham, in particular, was at the height of her WAG era, gracing the pages of the weekly OK! which I sometimes flicked through in waiting rooms.
The reunion tour piqued my interest, and with the help of YouTube (which was quite young back then) I discovered, for the first time in my life, that being a girl didn’t always have to suck. The first time I watched the music video for Wannabe I had a major impulse to grab my girlfriends and run to the nearest hotel we could find to create chaos, and if I’m honest, that impulse still resonates with me ten years later when I listen to it.
Here were five young women, all with different styles, shapes and personalities, singing about clingy boys, world domination and the importance of friendship. However it wasn’t just their songs that enthralled me, it was the fact that each one of them was quintessentially different. The early 2000s saw a range of girl bands whose members were barely distinguishable from each other except from the fact that they were all ridiculously skinny and pretty. However in the Spice Girls, each member was unique and relatable in her own way, ranging from the loud, fierce Mel B (Scary) to the poised, quiet Victoria (Posh). My personal favourite was tomboy Mel C (Sporty), who preferred to perform in comfortable tracksuit bottoms and enjoyed discussing football as much as singing about girl power. Growing up in an environment where gender was strictly pink or blue, it felt rare to find someone who could both be a tomboy yet enjoy girly things, let alone someone from one of the most iconic music groups of the twentieth century. In fact, it didn’t matter whether you identified most with Ginger, Baby, Scary, Posh or Sporty, the Spice Girls’ message was clear: be yourself and be proud of it.
For me, the Spice Girls were living evidence that being a girl could be fun. They didn’t let restrictive skirts or baby dolls get in their way: they roared with laughter during formal interviews, clumsily bounded onto stages without caring if their dresses were in immaculate condition; by no means were they the perfect princesses many girls grew up admiring. Yet this didn’t stop them from selling millions of albums, becoming charitable ambassadors, and being honored guests of Prince Charles and Nelson Mandela (both of whom have stated that meeting the band was one of the greatest moments of their lives).
Indeed, it is quite a stretch to say that the Spice Girls were the world’s answer to gender inequality. However, their impact on girl power cannot be denied. At the heart of their laughter and frivolity was the serious message that women needed to be there for each other. This, if anything, is the band’s greatest legacy. At a time where women are constantly pitted against each other, where a misogynistic bully is the leader of the so-called free world and less than forty per cent of the United Kingdom’s elected Members of Parliament are female, their call to support other women cannot be overstated.
I’m not lying when I say that I screamed at the news of their reunion last Monday. Cynics can gawk all they want at how it’s merely a publicity ploy for the four members who didn’t set up a multi-million pound fashion label, but for those of us who grew up in Spice World, it marks a well needed burst of colour in an increasingly grey world. The Spice Girls filled a vacuum in the central media for young girls trying to find female role models who weren’t defined by their relationship to other men. Their reunion comes at a time where far right, conservative governments are restricting women’s access to healthcare and the extent of institutionalised sexual harassment is only just beginning to be recognised. Their arrival could not be timelier. Now more than ever, we need a little bit of girl power.