Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Story Of A Girl

So I bought the latest issue of Psychology Today, and came across a really good article. And it reminded me of some stuff I have been researching lately. And it's all about girls. The pressure and expectations on girls in modern day society. It's a topic I've actually researched for a while. From reading books about the initiation process that girls have when joining a gang, to the expectations put on girls for big events like Quincineras and Sweet 16 parties, to girls bullying girls in school. The subject really interests me, mainly because I've been in those shoes, and I have a feeling that if you're female and reading this post, you've experienced some of the crazy "expectations" put on girls by society, and even our own families.

I remember a time when I was in like, the 4th or 5th grade when I was over at my aunt's house because all the fam was having their annual poker night. Me and my cousin were just running around the house playing and then I went to get a snack from the kitchen. And my grandma made the stern comment, "Look at you. You're getting so fat. You need to lose weight." I remember just feeling so disgusted with myself. I was just a kid. But for the longest time, those words stuck with me. And it took me what seems like FOREVER to be able to look at myself in the mirror and actually be in love with the person staring right back at me. To be able to look in the mirror and say, "You are beautiful." But now that I can, and do frequently (and totally mean it!) I realize how freeing it is to be completely unique, and completely okay with the person that I am.

I am finally comfortable in my own skin!

So it makes so much sense that I have this desire to help mentor girls of all ages who have low self-esteem and who deal with major stress issues and to give them encouragement and hope and love and life. I recently was doing some research on some various song lyrics of songs I've heard here and there and just made notes to look up the lyrics and meanings to. Tori Amos wrote a song once called CORNFLAKE GIRL, and it's this really obscure song, and a lot of her stuff has some crazy meanings, so I looked into it and I was really really inspired by what she said about the song:

"I read the Alice Walker book, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and there's umm, in that book, the mothers take the daughters to the butchers to have their, let's say their genitalia removed. And even though it's a patriarchal culture that she's talking about, and that this custom was put into practice a long, long time ago by the patriarchy, it's the mothers that take their daughters. And, what I was singing about was, it's funny how from generation to generation women really betray each other in the ladies' room. There is a whole secret society that happens, and a lot of times a mother will say 'I'm doing this for your good' whether it was binding the feet in the Eastern cultures or whether it's marrying your daughter to this gangrene, smelly-breathed, old, decrepit, rotting scumbag that's 80 years old with dough. 'You know, this is really the best for you,' when the truth is, it's the best for everybody else. And, that's an extreme of women's relationships brought to just like, your girlfriend that you're hanging out with, but betrayal is betrayal, and I was thrown in to many situations as I was reading that book where girls, my girls, we were just dissin' each other. The things that we were doing, umm, it's like I would have never imagined that we could be so unsupportive of each other, and it was just happening while I was reading this book, and Cornflake Girl is the betrayal really of girls."
-- Tori; 99X Radio Interview, 08/05/94

And after reading that, it just reminded me of so many things I've researched where it all comes down to this innate societal expectation and feeling of women trying to be better and to be the best and to be the prettiest this and the cutest this and the smartest that, and all the while, failing to just be comfortable in their own skin.  And knowing there are parents and older and younger sisters judge them depending on what they look like, or how popular they are in school and how many boys are interested in them.  And I just can't help but be so angry with that.    

I realize that to a lot of people, my niece is just darling.  But when I talk to her and hang out with her, I think it's so important for me to remind her that she is beautiful.  That she is smart.  That she is amazing.  That she is loved.  And I make it a point to let her know that no matter what, she is all of those things.  There was a time when I was visiting in November and she wanted to wear a dress and it was REALLY cold outside, so I told her she should put on pants.  And she started crying and said, "but Daddy likes this dress!"  And she was so distraught.  4 years old, and stressing about what to wear already!   So I told her she could wear both, but that she should know that no matter what she wears, she's beautiful and daddy will love her anyway.  

After reading the article and reading some statistics, I thought to myself, how I wish I could hug every girl out there and tell her that.  That no matter what, just because she is, she's beautiful and she deserves to know how wonderful she is.

Here are some of the statistics I've come across:
- Only 2% of women around the world describe themselves as beautiful
- 81% of women in the US strongly agree that "the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can't ever achieve."
- 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members
- 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities, such as eating disorders, cutting, bullying, smoking or drinking when feeling badly about themselves (Compared to 25% of girls with high self-esteem)
- 57% of all girls have a mother who criticizes her own looks

In the Psychology Today article, Steve Hinshaw, author of a soon-to-be-released book titled:  THE TRIPLE BIND, states:

"...girls today are subjected to unrealistic pressures from society and the media, and their once-private identity struggles are now public, thanks to the internet.  Girls are still socialized to be nurturing caregivers but are now  pressured to excel academically and athletically as much as boys- all while remaining thin, sexy and beautiful."

Through the years, girls have been subjected to the magnifying glass of society more and more, and have been made to live over-scheduled, overtaxed, over-sexualized lives and they tend to take it out on one another in traditional competition style.  And to add insult to injury, some are even finding it easier to take it out on themselves.  I believe that it is our responsibility as human beings to care for one another.  And if that means simply telling someone genuinely that they look beautiful, or that they are smart, or that they are worthwhile, let's do it!