Keep twirling, Orla: A mother’s letter to her daughter on International Women’s Day

I just had one of those lovely little life coincidences happen. I’ve been building my new writing desk for the past two days. Finally got it finished, so I started gathering up all my old notebooks to put in the drawers. Found one that I haven’t used in ages and when I had a flick through it, I saw a letter that I wrote to Orla to mark International Women’s Day last year (or maybe even the year before, I’m not sure.)

Looking at her today, I still have the same hopes I did when I wrote this back then.


As I write this you are sitting on the floor, smashing your bulldozer truck against a colander you’ve pinched from the kitchen. You play LOUDLY and with abandon, exactly the way you should.

It’s International Women’s Day today, not that you know. You don’t even know you are a girl yet – but you will. One day somebody might tell you to lower your voice, because they say little girls aren’t meant to shout (or growl!).

One day you might be asked why you are ”dressed like a boy”. People have already, you just don’t know yet.

My job is to teach you how wonderful girls are, and to shield you from messages or expectations from others that might make you think otherwise.

You run like a girl; girls run fast and free.

You throw like a girl; normally with precision aim at your Daddy’s head.

You are fierce and stubborn, and seem to have inherited my quick temper. But like your Dad, you can also be laid-back. You like to build.

As your Mum, I wish I could tell you that being a girl is always easy. But it’s not. I’m dreading the day that you stop kissing your reflection in the mirror, delighted with what you see.

Right now, unaware of beauty standards and the weight of value that is placed on looking a certain way, you see yourself and smile. You marvel at your body; at the legs that let you kick a ball, the hands that help you build and the arms that let you hug.

When I give you food, you devour your favourite thing first (always cheese, if it’s on the plate!)

Ice-cream is smeared across your lips to be licked off. Making mess is part of the enjoyment. I love watching you live life the way we all should.

You are a feisty, formidable, lovely little girl. Who knows what you will grow up to be. It’s easy to be duped into wasting time when you are a girl so never let the world do that to you, Orla.

Never waste one second wondering if you are good enough, or pretty enough when you could be out there being awesome.

Some things you have to listen to your Mum about, sweetheart, and this is one of them. The secret to happiness isn’t chasing a number on the scales or in the bank. It’s in doing what you are doing right now.

Create things. Write a poem or a story. When music comes on – dance. Every single time. Don’t worry about how you look when you are doing the things you love. Get messy.

You know how right now you love to twirl? Keep twirling, Orla.

Life is amazing. Toddlers know this, adults try and over-complicate it. Don’t let them. Love the body that allows you to be part of the world. Love the legs that take you places.

Keep kissing the mirror Orla, and I’ll keep reminding you every day, of just how wonderful you are.

Kirsty Strickland is an award-winning writer and is a regular contributor to Commonspace and The National newspaper.