Girl Power.

My post last week, Sammy, about my visit with Valerie from last year, sparked some more thoughts about girls. See, Valerie is one of those little girls that everyone comments on. Last year, whenever ladies came into my room to volunteer, work with students, drop something off, etc. anyone who saw Valerie would comment on her appearance. She’s just strikingly beautiful and people always noticed.

This is why I always tried to encourage Valerie to work hard and understand how smart she was (and still is). In my short time as an educator, I’ve seen too many girls, that for one reason or another (really, can someone explain this to me?) thought being ‘pretty’ or ‘cute’ was the most important thing in their lives.

Here are a few suggestions for the parents of little girls… I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here, but here goes.

  1. Spend as much time reading and writing with your little girl as you do combing her hair, teaching her about makeup, or talking about the way she looks.
  2. Remind your daughters they can grow up to be anything… I mean anything they want to.
  3. Actively listen to girls' voices, opinions, and ideas. Remember to recognize accomplishments.
  4. Statistics show young girls are more worried about being teased than being violently attacked. Talk about bullying. Know your daughter’s friends. Stay involved.
  5. A little less Britney and a little more Adele.
  6. Resist jumping to “fix” things for girls; empower her to discuss struggles, and problem solve; show her you believe she has the ability to handle her life; discuss ways to approach struggles, and ask what you can do to help support her through the process.
  7. I haven’t kept a record, but I see far more t-shirts that say ‘Cutie Pie’ or ‘Pretty Princess’ with cutesy pink and purple kittens and cupcakes on them than t-shirts that say ‘Girl Power!’ or ‘Anything boys can do girls can do better’ – although for the record, one little girl in my class this year owns both of the latter and she rocks.
  8. Compliment your daughter on her reading, writing, athletic abilities, friendships… things other than looks.
Obviously, our society places a high value on appearance and parents have an uphill battle ahead of them. Teachers and other adults in the lives of young girls can help too… it really does take a village and we owe it to our girls to show them the value of what real beauty means… it’s on the inside.

Resources for empowering girls (and sites that helped me with this post):
Girls Know More
Girl Scouts of America


ChiTown Girl said...

DUDE!!! What an AWESOME post!!!

At the risk of sounding like a bitch, I'd say the explanation you're looking for has a lot to do with parents (and the other adults in a child's life) constantly telling them how cute/pretty/beautiful they are. You actually hit the nail on the head with your list, especially the first one.

Maybe I'm a little biased because I'm the parent of a boy, but I do have 2 nieces. I've always focused on their talents and academics, rather than their appearance (even though they are both gorgeous!). I suppose this might also have a little to do with the fact that I'VE never been a girly-girl. I was always the big geeky bookworm, who had her nose in a book, and was always focused on school. To this day, I don't wear a stitch of makeup, or spend anytime doing anything to my hair other than washing it. (it's usually still dripping when I get to school) Ok, I'm starting to think I'm the wrong person to comment on this issue.... ;-)

Bottom line - kudos to you for encouraging Girl Power!!!

Katie Hellerman said...

Thanks for writing about this topic. I'm all for girl power. I went to women's college and had an amazing Mr. Mom childhood.
I might add to your list, one simple suggestion...create activities/lessons in your classes that help kids identify their true selves. Help them reveal their own passions and gifts. Let them decide who they are.
As teachers we can't really judge a pretty girl or an athletic boy as good or bad. We can't make students into who we think they should be. We can only help them understand they can be anything.

sarcasticnemesis said...

Hey, great post! Thanks for this. As the parent of a 9 year old boy, and an 8 & 3 year old girl, this post means quite a bit. My wife and I have always sought the balance between ensuring our daughters we see their beauty as well as encouraging independence and inner development. We comment on my eldest daughter's skills more than her looks and with her it is already necessary to ensure she does things for herself and that expresses herself rather than run to her room in tears.

Our youngest is a year and a half away from Kindergarten and these tips are a good reminder to stay focused on who she is as a person in prep for school.

As a teacher myself, I totally see firsthand some of what you discuss. I'm at the JR SR level and too many of the girls seem to care much more about their looks than anything else. Others though seem to allow their less-than-perfect looks affect their entire lives. Almost as though no one has reassured them that outward beauty is not everything and that they can still have a great life even if they can't be a super-model. In fact, they may have been told the opposite. Then there are those who seem to have a perfect balance: The beautiful girl who also strives for academic and athletic perfection much more than caring about physical perfection. The average looking girl who does the same. The beautiful girl who cares about her looks but wants to use them to promote her passion for rodeo and physical activity with others.

As a parent, I see the other side as well. The side that argues that in this "society that places a high value on appearance" I believe it is also important to build our daughter's self image to fortify her against the bullying that could come her way. Our daughter needs to feel beautiful despite what others say. She needs to know her parents think she's beautiful despite what others say. Failure to reinforce that, or perhaps worse, to teach her appearance is not important at all, could be setting her up for a devastating fall when her school "friends" begin to comment and prove appearances are a part life.

Balance. And thanks for the reminder.

This Counselor said...

This is a school counselor's dream post! Awesome. Perhaps, if you are willing, we can talk about using this as a guest post on my blog.

Have you read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher? I read it several years ago. It puts into perspective this very issue. Also, you may be interested in reading work done by Carol Dweck. She has some wonderful things to say about Motivation.

By the way, I am with you about Adele.

Shelley_Friesen said...

This post is a great affirmation of how I tried to raise my daughter. I never fit in the beautiful role, my sisters did, so I learned quickly that being funny and smart were strengths I could reply on.
Through that lens I saw the destruction of the preferred 'pretty girl' role, the one we have not yet let go of: a woman's role of pleasing men. Determined to help my child avoid this, I never commented on her looks more than passingly.
You should have every girl you know watch this Katie Makkai video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6wJl37N9C0

Shannon said...

My sister is about to have her first girl and I know she will appreciate these tidbits of advice. She is terrified :)


Anonymous said...

I, too read Reviving Ophelia. It's still relevant today, sadly. I think when we change our thinking, our language will change, but it sometimes the reverse is true, too? R.O. tells about the change from preteen to teen girls, from empowered, smart girls to dismissed, sexualized teens. It's powereful for women to read, too! One comment on the t-shirt messages, though. We don't have to put down boys to be strong, as in "Girls can do what boys do only better!" Let's affirm the worth of every child, please!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much anonymous! I love that you promoted the affirmation of every child! I am not very fond of the closed fist symbol either. How about- Let's encourage one another daily power! I wonder what a child thinks when they hear "Girl Power"?