Monday, September 23, 2013

Is It Okay To Be Pretty When I Grow Up?

I read a blog a couple of weeks ago that was linked to my friend's Facebook account, and I've been stewing ever since.

See, in this blog a woman talked about how she helped her sons cull their Facebook friends - a process that was based on the 'seductive bra-less pajama pictures' young women posted (the harlots! - gasp).

I won't even start to talk about the fact that her rather judgmental post was littered with pictures of her teenage sons, shirtless. I doubt she saw the hypocrisy of adding those 'family fun' pictures to this particular post.

What I really want to address is the fact that she is extremely biased against young women, something that she learned from the culture around her.

Let me back up for a minute here and tell you what I mean.

My 17-year-old daughter dances on her high school drill team. They dress in costumes that, well, aren't always extremely modest. There are people who judge her for that - but that isn't where I'm going with this. Thankfully, she knows who she is, and their judgment, though unwarranted, will not harm her self-esteem (I hope).

So last week the Excaliburs (her drill team) had a Mini-Excalibur Camp. They taught nearly 70 younger girls a dance over three days, which was performed at the halftime of the high school football game. And it was so much fun to watch.

Baelee is a senior, and in the previous two years, she has worked with the youngest group of girls, three to six. This year, however, Baelee worked with the oldest group, those who were twelve to sixteen.

She complained to me that it wasn't as much fun as the last two years.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the little girls are just there to have fun. They dance. They laugh. They don't care if they make a mistake. Every minute is joyful for them. The older girls are so worried about how they look, how other people will judge them, that they aren't enjoying themselves as much."

And then she added, "Why can't we just be happy and enjoy what we do? Why does society take that away from us as we grow up?"

What followed was a wonderful conversation with my daughter about how the way people treat us can lead to insecurities and fears, and the fact that self-esteem is too linked to what other people think. I'm glad she talked to me about this. And I truly wish every girl could talk to a parent about things like this.

See moms and dads, our daughters are growing up in a culture that sends mixed messages at them. Constantly.

You're lazy if you weigh too much.
You're a diva if you're proud of your body.

It's a bad thing to have acne or a uni-brow.
You'll look easy if you wear too much make-up to cover up flaws or pluck too much.

You're likely to 'get in trouble' if you date just one boy.
You'll be considered a 'slut' if you date too many boys.

You're an outcast if you wear the wrong type of clothing.
You'll be raped (and deserve it) if you wear popular clothing that's more revealing.

You're smart, you should be in college.
You're supposed to be a mom, not a productive worker in society, so don't expect to make as much as your male counterparts.
And if you're a mom and a worker outside the home, you can't do it well enough. Your kids will suffer.

You're too fat. You're too thin. You're too young. You're too old. You're too smart. You aren't smart enough. You don't wear the right clothes. You don't hang with the right crowd. That color looks bad on you. Your hair isn't cut right. Your hair would look better straight/curly/short/long - whatever it isn't. How horrible that you're pierced or tattooed, or both. Get a life, you're a goody-two shoes.

And I'll promise you that our girls HEAR these things. They REMEMBER these things.

 Negative, packed on negative, packed on negative. You just can't win.

The compliments they get won't undo the sharp jabs that come at them from every side. (And we've trained them to shrug off compliments, anyway.)

And then maybe, just maybe, your daughter goes to school one day and a friend approaches her.

"Hey, didn't that Hall boy unfriend you on Facebook?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Well, his mom wrote a blog about how she makes her boys unfollow trampy girls."


Some girls might spill an expletive. Some girls might cry. Some girls might not say anything, but will internalize the insult. Some might even ask themselves if they've ever acted in an inappropriate way around the Hall boy.

Way to go Hall mom.

You've just knocked a teenage girl's self-esteem down. You win.

Or how about the girl who hits the 'like' button on a Facebook post. Something simple like 'hey, can't you respect your friend's house?', only to be attacked by a group of other girls on Twitter.

"Who do you think you are?"
 "Why do you think you're better than us?"
"You're just a (fill in the blank with the meanest word you can think of)."

It's really easy to say hurtful things when you don't have to see the reaction. And we wonder why bullying is such a problem.

Or worse, how about a young girl who makes a bad decision to drink at a party and is raped by the boys in attendance, only to be told by many people that she 'deserved it'? And to add insult to injury, people post pictures of the assault on social media?

She ends up moving because the people in town are upset the football players got in trouble. After all, she's the 'sleazy' girl who got drunk and was wearing seductive clothing. The boys had absolutely no control over their own behavior, right?

And if you don't think all the previous negatives and a post by a kinda well-meaning mom contribute to the problem of rape culture that we're facing, well, you need to think again.

We are constantly telling girls that their bodies are sexual things, that boys will be boys - and if they aren't careful, boys will assault them. Then we tell them that sex is bad. That good girls wait. Good girls don't have feelings of sexual attraction. And all the while they are hitting puberty, hormones raging.

And their self-esteem takes another hit.

'I must be a bad person because I feel sexually attracted to someone.'
'I'm bad because I'm curious about sex.'
'I'm not a good girl because I like to see boys without their shirts on.'

Is there some unwritten rule that says we can't teach our girls that attraction is normal and natural? Can't we teach them (and their male counterparts) that they have the ability to choose a course that is right and healthy for themselves? That no boy has the right to choose for them? That waiting is healthy? That choosing not to wait is a decision best made when taking responsibility for safety? (Yes, I know that parents want their children to choose based on their moral guidelines, but shouldn't they be prepared for any situation?)

Why do we do this to our girls? Our children?

Why do grown women set an example of gossip and judgment for their kids?

Why do we tell our daughters that whatever it is they are is not right?

What do we have against being happy with ourselves?

To my daughters and sons, I say, "You are amazing people. I love who you are becoming. Keep your chins up. You have great worth, no matter what you hear from the world."

To the world I say,  "To hell with 'dancing like noone can see you. Dance like the world is watching, and you're proud to be yourself."

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