I’m not one to judge another woman on her appearance. How we choose to present ourselves to the rest of the world is our choice because it’s our body. However, I can’t help but be concerned for the young, impressionable girls out there who see women who modify themselves to the extent that society expects them to. This became very real for me when my 12 year old cousin asked me a question. We were in the car with our aunt and her partner on our way to a family dinner. The conversation wasn’t more than 3 minutes and went something like this:
Cousin: Elle, when did you get your first boyfriend?
Me: (like the good cousin I am I lied outright) College, why do you ask?
C: A lot of girls in my class have boyfriends. And they wear make-up and do their hair and have cute clothes.
Me: Oh wow, in the sixth grade? (Attempting to hide my shock and judgment) Well do you want a boyfriend?
C: Not really.
Me: What do you like about school then?
C: I really like my math class. And science is fun too.
Me: How do you feel about clothes and make-up?
C: I like high heels! But I’d never wear them to school. My friend says I don’t have style (I can’t remember what she was wearing exactly but it most certainly clashed).
Me: Don’t worry about your friend. You dress how you want. And if you’re more interested in books than boys right now that’s just fine, too. In fact it’s great! Boys and clothes and make up will always be there, trust me. The best thing you can do right now is focus on what you find interesting. Like math! That was my favorite subject.
And that was that. She didn’t say it but I could tell she felt validated by what I said because… well,
I’m kind of a big deal.
No really, I am, but just to her : ) She has 3 older female cousins on my side of her family and we rarely get to see her so we’re like celebrities to her. I was the same way with the my older cousins. So I know what I said stuck with her. Shortly after the visit, I got a text from her showing me the acceptance letter she received to be apart of a college prep program… in the sixth grade!
My little nerd, I was so proud.
That was over a year ago now and although I think I gave her the right message I’m back to being in a panic. I can only imagine being her mom. The latest issue between them was regarding Cousin getting her own Instagram account. Cousin and Mom were fighting about it and Mom finally caved but also got her own account so she could keep an eye on Cousin. I can understand both sides completely, but I would not want to be in my aunt’s shoes.
If you consider the bombardment Cousin’s brain is getting from these images compared to any positive influences she’s getting, it’d worry anyone. Although I grew up in a less technological world, I can completely understand my parents desire to shelter me for as long as possible. Granted, I don’t condone it, but I can understand. Absolutely! Cousin’s not even my daughter and I want to keep an eye on her at all times.
I know the children are our future, but I think we can get more specific:
girls are our future.
It’s really quite simple if you think about it. When you build up one gender and confine another, you limit society overall. This is perpetuated by the built-up gender once it reaches adulthood and has progenies of its own.
So the solution?
Easy. Encourage both young genders to do and be whatever they like regardless of [INSERT SUPERFICIAL IDENTIFIER]. This, of course, includes any aspirations children might have. Cousin, after finding out that I’m applying for law school, said she wanted to either be a lawyer or forensic anthropologist (we both like the show Bones on FOX, where the main character is a crime fighting forensic anthropologist).
I told her those were two very good professions to aim for and she could do anything she set her mind to.
I think I read somewhere that you shouldn’t tell kids that but I disagree. My parents told us the same thing and that allowed us to try every new idea we had. It also showed us that sometimes when we tried really hard we failed anyway. I think that’s an important lesson, too. You can try your best and still not get the results you were hoping for, but guess what? That’s life. My parents also told us many times that
life’s not fair.
That might be the most important thing a young girl needs to understand: life’s not set up to be fair to you. They should know it young so they’re prepared down the line. Pessimistic? Sure, but the best offense is a good defense! Maybe if they realize that early enough, they’ll be more prepared in the future. So when they get their first big-girl job (as my Dad put it, as well as “child who is finally off the payroll”) and notice that her dude co-worker who is doing the same job is getting paid more, she doesn’t think less of herself because of it. Which is something that can happen easily.
Just because we’re treated a certain way by others and society doesn’t mean we should internalize it.
This is SO easier said than done.
When you’re a teenage girl, it doesn’t matter how many times your parents tell you you’re beautiful and special and loved. Teenagers never listen to their parents! They turn to friends and what they see in social media to validate themselves. So all we need to do is find an equally powerful mechanism to counteract the damaging influences of social media and the like.
Ok so that’s out. What else have we got? Society is too big a beast to tackle. Hell, even a city or small town is too big. The only thing we can do is be the change that we want to see. I do this by mercilessly stalking Cousin on social media and maintaing a close relationship despite our distance by being penpals. Oh, and investing in things like this blog and organizations that seek to strengthen our girls.
Changing the world is a monumental task. But if we go one person at a time, it’s more than a possibility. It can be reality.