Breaking news: Essex Girls are finally getting some good press!
Three days ago, it was announced that the Oxford University Press has decided to remove the term 'Essex Girl' from one of its dictionaries. Back in July, I wrote a blog post all about a local Leigh on Sea photographer - Mark Massey - and how he is using his camera to combat the negative associations that have surrounded 'Essex Girls' for far too long. At long last, it seems as though his work (and the work of many others) has paid off. However, there is still a long way to go for us Essex Girls...
THE HISTORY OF THE 'ESSEX GIRL'
The phrase 'Essex Girl' first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 1990s, and the term was defined as "a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterised as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic." The demeaning connotations attached to this definition have affected the lives of Essex Girls ever since. More recently, reality television programmes -- such as The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) -- have perpetuated this humiliating stereotype even further and changed the way that people all over the world perceive Essex Girls.
I first became aware of the Essex Girl stereotype ten years ago, when I was in primary school. At this time, TOWIE was at its peak and it was hard to avoid references to the show. The girls that featured in the early seasons would always be glammed up in little dresses and stilettos, accompanied by shed loads fake tan and huge hair dos. Very soon after TOWIE began to pick up, I started to notice girls from my hometown dressing in a similar way. However, wearing fake tan, white stilettos and having an Essex accent does not make a girl "unintelligent, promiscuous and materialistic" as the Oxford English Dictionary assumes it does.
Now, ten years since the first season of TOWIE, I am still reminded of the stereotypes that haunt Essex Girls on a day-to-day basis. Even when I visited Australia, I was met with good-humoured comments from tour guides: "Oi Oi! We've got some Essex Girls with us today" and some genuine disbelief from fellow tourists: "You don't seem like you're from Essex." I couldn't believe it!
CAMPAIGNS FOR CHANGE
It should come as no surprise that Essex Girls find the way that they are labelled in the dictionaries, and judged by the wider public, extremely disheartening and offensive. There have been many different projects and campaigns over the years to try and break the Essex Girl stereotype:
Essexism by Mark Massey:
Mark Massey is a local photographer and creator of the Essexism project. Mark photographs Essex Girls in an attempt to challenge the the way that we are portrayed. So far, he has photographed over 50 women and is still looking for more Essex Girls to join the campaign. Back in July, I was photographed by Mark and had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about what this movement means to him (read the full Q&A here.) I asked Mark if he thinks that the 'Essex Girl' stereotype will ever evolve into a positive image - to which he repsonded: "Yes, I hope so - hopefully this project (and other similar initiatives) will go some way to contributing to this" ... its safe to say that his project has contributed to the recent dismantling of the 'Essex Girl' definition.
One of the women photographed by Mark is Syd Moore, a local author and the force behind the Essex Girls Liberation Front. This campaign is entirely devoted to smashing the Essex Girl stereotype and they have successfully done just that. For two years, the women behind this movement have done all that they can to try and change the way that Essex Girls are perceived. They've organised exhibitions, spoken to newspapers and even bought the issue to the attention of famous Essex Girls. Gemma Collins spoke to Sky News about her feelings about the Essex Girl definition, and Helen Mirren publicly supported a similar initiative named 'Snapping the Stiletto.' Now, two years later, they can finally see their hard work paying off as 'Essex Girl' has officially been removed from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
THE FUTURE OF THE 'ESSEX GIRL'
The news of the removal of 'Essex Girl' from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary is a step in the right direction for us Essex Girls, however there is still a long way to go. The Essex Girl stereotype has been around for so long that it will be hard to erase it completely from public memory and day-to-day language. It is important for Essex Girls to keep fighting against the false perceptions of who we are and where we're from. Essex Girls today do not see themselves as "unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic." We are no longer letting the dictionaries call us these things, and its important to ensure that future Essex Girls will be blissfully unaware of the stereotypes that were once attached to them.