To Be A Girl

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To Be A Girl

Dessert had been served and the talk around the lunch table had turned to children. I listened in rapt attention as mothers of little girls clued me in to the changing times.
“Kitten heels are everywhere, even for five year olds!”
“Oh, they wear makeup at eleven and twelve now, sometimes younger, where have you been?!”
“Oh yes, they’re dyeing their hair before they’re teenagers.”
“Don’t look so shocked!”

That last comment was directly squarely at me and, I suppose, justifiably so. I didn’t say much. After all, parenting a big white sheepdog doesn’t exactly qualify me to speak to the pressures of bringing up a little girl in the age of such paragons of good taste as Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, especially when my own role models had been the likes of Hayley Mills and Liesl von Trapp. It did cross my mind, however, that the job of raising a well-adjusted girl in the world we know today has to be incredibly difficult. For instance, the model for Mui Mui this fall is fourteen year old actress Hailee Steinfeld. The French company Jour Apres Lunes has just come out with a line of lingerie for little girls, complete with an ad campaign that would be comical if it wasn’t so disturbing. How are little girls supposed to digest these images?

Let’s face it, ever since Eve succumbed to a craving for apples, growing up female has not been an easy path to negotiate. Our current culture requests women to be beautiful and smart, maternal and ambitious, wasp-waisted and healthy, open and circumspect. If we don’t cry when we’re supposed to, we’re cold. If we cry when we shouldn’t, we’re emotional. And that’s all before we start to age. God help us then. One crow’s foot and and we’re expected to immediately inject eau de botulism straight into our faces. It’s a lot to deal with for a woman, impossible for a child.

I left the luncheon that afternoon feeling grateful for my childhood. Looking back, I can’t remember ever feeling pressure over my appearance when I was little. If my dress didn’t quite cover up my skinned knee, well so be it. All my girlfriends had skinned knees and besides, our thoughts were elsewhere. We were busy pretending to be spies, or pirates. We loved ghost stories and horses. And dogs. How we loved dogs! We watched The Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night. We wondered what sat at the end of a rainbow. When I was little, makeup was something we wore on Halloween to make us look scary. (And, funnily enough, it still frightens me to see it on the faces of girls far too young.) It was years before I realized how much emphasis society would place on my appearance and I am forever grateful for a childhood that gave me valuable time to discover my true self before that realization occurred.

It seems worthwhile to consider ways in which we can prevent little girls from allowing their mirrors to reflect their self-worth. For when the image that they see begins to change with time, will they even recognize the woman who looks back at them then? Will they see someone witty, someone kind - a woman with so many interests and passions in life that she laughs right out loud with joy at her options? Or will they waste the rest of their days in futile attempts to regain the face of their youth?

I recently read a wonderfully wise article by Lisa Bloom entitled How To Talk To Little Girls in which she discusses the vital importance of relating to girls in ways that have nothing to do with their appearance. I found it both charming and enlightening. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Image above pilfered from the lovely blog Castles, Crowns and Cottages