On Tuesdays, poet Kelli Russell Agodon does a post called “Confession Tuesday.” Confessions are about writing, family, travel…just about anything. This past Tuesday’s post, the Respect Our Girls Edition, resonated with me so deeply that I wanted to post it here today.
Growing up, I encountered a lot of mixed messages. Heck, these mixed messages still come across my consciousness. They’re just easier to filter out now. But for adolescent girls, they’re especially confusing. And it doesn’t seem like it’s getting easier. So here is Kelli’s insightful take on the subject:
I confess I’m not thinking about writing or creativity today, but the mixed messages we send our girls.
Here’s something I don’t write about much because I like to keep my family life separate from from writing life, but I’m the mother of an incredible daughter who constantly amazes me in all she does.
Recently, she’s been having a lot of questions about being a girl, a middle-school girl, which honestly, maybe be one of the hardest times in a girl’s life because they’re at that “mid” point–not women, but not children either.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about the mixed messages our societies gives girls–of all ages, we so want them to grow up into smart, kind, strong women, but right now, as kids, we’re kind of messing with their heads.
We tell them to love themselves for who they are, while grown women complain about their thighs, wrinkles, tummy fat, or gray hairs. Some women go out and get plastic surgery, botox. Some women diet constantly, skip dessert.
Then Dove comes out with a huge campaign about loving ourselves and our natural beauty, while selling us anti-aging cream on the side.
We tell our girls “don’t dress sexy,” then sell them padded bras and padded bikinis.
We say “it’s important to be smart,” then make a snide comment about another woman while browsing a tabloid magazine in the checkout line.
We tell them “be empowered and be yourself,” but if “yourself” includes something that doesn’t fit our definition of beauty, sometimes we freak out a bit.
We tell the girls not to “dress provocatively,” instead of telling boys not to rape.
We tell them not to be bossy, then tell them to stick up for themselves & be assertive (though we rarely tell the boys not to be bossy).
We say “it doesn’t matter what other people think,” then live a lifestyle above our means to fit in or impress people ourselves.
We make dress codes for the girls so they don’t “distract” the boys, instead of teaching boys that you respect a girl whether she’s in a scoop neck t-shirt & short skirt or a button-up polo shirt & long pants.
And we don’t do all of this all the time, but we do it enough that I can see in the faces of these girls, the what-the-heck-is-going-on? look, the who-are-we-supposed-to-be?
And I know, this middle-place is hard for girls, their bodies feel as if they are part of some sort of hormonal experiment, but their bodies are theirs, their styles are theirs, and really, our girls are trying to figure out who they are.
Just as each of us at times in life, re-evaluate our life and values.
So in this time of change and crazy hormones, ease up on the girls, especially the ones in the middle, they are just muddling through this time as did we. And help them support other girls who are also just doing the best they can and making the best choices they know how to at this very moment.
Love them for their baggy t-shirts or skinny jeans. Their long crazy-colored hair or their short, this-will-do cropped style. Their raccoon-eye make-up or their struggle with forehead acne. Love them for their good and bad choices, their mistakes and what they learn from them.
Thank them when do something kind, no matter how small. Girlworld folds in on itself and it can be hard to realize life is going on throughout the world and not just on your corner of the universe.
Let them know that no, they aren’t crazy, our culture is giving them mixed messages constantly.
Remind them how much they are loved and valued for who they are not how they look. And that we as grown women will continue to try to make the world a better place for them by what we do and say. In certain ways, these girls are a compact mirror of our who we are and the struggles we still have as women, so we need to love them and love ourselves, while constantly trying to make things better for generations of both girls and boys to come.