Thursday, August 25, 2011

To Be A Girl


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

30 comments:

  1. i'm not only shocked. i'm horrified. like you... i was privileged enough to be allowed to be a child during my childhood. i don't know what we're doing to these children... but i know they're being robbed.
    love and sadness,
    tammy j

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  2. How awful.

    It's hard not to shield the young from media imagery like that, because it's everywhere; even in their t.v programmes. Hopefully there are parents out there who are strong willed and don't pander to the will of the child, who will, no doubt, want what is being sold to them.

    Childhood is precious.

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  3. I had a situation this afternoon having to do with this very subject! And I am certain I am speaking for many others!!! Wonderful post as always.

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  4. Oh Pamela,
    It is so very worrying isn't it? It won't be long before little girl babies will be emerging from the womb in bras and high heels !!
    My childhood consisted of climbing trees, riding our bicycles, getting dirty and skating, with no thoughts of what we wore.
    It really makes you wonder what the future holds. XXXX

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  5. Hello Pamela:
    We are hardly in a position to make a judgment as we have not had the experience of bringing up children, although we do recognise that it cannot be easy and, most likely, far more difficult today, with so many outside pressures, than in the past.

    That said, we are from time to time appalled at what appears to be the norm for so many young children, both boys and girls, and do wonder at what exactly parents are thinking when they permit so much which, in our day [oh dear!!], would have been considered completely unacceptable.

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  6. Well.....I do have two teenage girls, and I am very lucky that neither one is over the top with makeup, dying their hair, or into lingerie like that! It is truly shocking to see these toddler and tiara moms, and a new program recently about girls who dance and how their mothers behave. I too had stubbed toes from going barefoot all summer at the beach and worried much more about my grades than what I wore to school (uniforms, in retrospect, were a wonderful thing!)

    What I do worry about is the time my girls spend on facebook and just on the computer in general. What a time waster and a distraction from actually DOING something. But then they point out that I am blogging....oops.

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  7. The rate at which the world has accelerated is frightening; and the age of menarche continues to drop, some as young as fourth grade?! I wish that young girls would be allowed to stay young girls as long as possible. Wonderful, thought-provoking post~

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  8. I thought this post was absolutely wonderful. It reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago. One of my neighbors, a girl kindergartener, was telling me about her Halloween costume. She was going to be a rock star and her costume was a bit inappropriate (in my opinion). It had low pants and a high cut top - the kind of thing that wouldn’t be at all aloud in school. And as she was describing it to me I wondered- “How is it possible that her parents would let her wear that?” As I listened I remembered my Halloween costume from Kindergarten- I was Harry Potter. I am still very proud of that costume; I had worn it at a time when I still belived that I could open doors by shouting sobet flavors or make things float just by waving a stick. Remembering all that makes me remember that imagination is one thing that should be encouraged with young girls. Sometimes I wish I was still 5 years old, because back then anything was possible- When I was little I was convinced I was a witch, and that was one of the things that made my childhood wonderful.

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  9. Oh, Pamela - you always have such thought provoking posts. I, like you, grew up with dogs, horses and skinned knees. Even though within my immediate world there wasn't the focus on making little girls look like mini-women, the pressure of what the super-structure deems attractive was always circling the peripheral, like wolves and injecting little messages like whispers constantly into the subconscious of all girls. The covers of magazines, the commercials on Television, the song lyrics, the clothing store ads, the displays in the shops - and girls growing up now... with the Zoe project, the clothing stores that don't carry above size 4 ... It is a lot. All I can say, is I love the article you pointed us to, and saving the world one little girl at a time is powerful stuff. Every little bit counts. What you say to a child, well, it very well could resonate throughout their entire life. Take the time. Make the difference. Love to all of us. :)
    xo isa

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  10. Good article. When you teach, it makes sense to tell youngsters (girls&boys) that they are way too smart not to practice every day. They do get younger when starting to wear makeup. My friend R was shocked when her 11 year old wanted a makeup lesson. We played football and went biking when we were 11.

    One of our professors in med school said that botox is nice - if you want an expressionless face. The problem is, you need maturity to understand that the pressure of mammon to buy and buy and buy is not what is important.

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  11. I thank my lucky stars that I never had a daughter, Pamela. Sons are so much easier. I wonder what is happening these days to little girls - that childhood seems to have disappeared.

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  12. Yes its sad..The times they are a changin...!

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  13. I agree with all the others..it's such a shame that children cannot be children but have to be mini-grown-ups. It's ridiculous! It is down to media and the way it portrays things and then it's peer-pressure. No Mother wants to be the person refusing their daughter and then having them be an odd-one-out. What's to be done? Lord knows.. we used to be told, 'No! That's for Grown-up's' I wonder where that phrase disappeared to?

    I expect this topic will run and run dear Pamela.

    Hope your week-end's a good one and sending hugs from England,
    Jane

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  14. With two young grand-daughters you can be sure I will emphasize to them the qualities of a virtuous woman over outward beauty....

    Your wise thoughts resonates throughout the land my dear!!!!

    Oh that children could be allowed to just be children, childhood is too short to be wasted trying to be 'grown ups'. There is too much PLAY to be had! Bring on the mud pies and swings and catching bugs, running with pets and laying in the grass gazing at clouds!!!

    ~ Violet

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  15. Excellent post. For years now, I've gloried in the fact that my little girl had a wonderful, make-up-less, free-wheeling childhood and that I don't have to mother a little girl in these horrifying days of beauty pageants and image.

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  16. What a great article by Lisa Bloom. I always like to ask children questions like that - about their favourite author and what they like to read - as I'm genuinely interested (and kids can always tell phoneys.)

    That lingerie range is shocking and so inappropriate. I don't envy children these days, what with the Internet and relentless push on 'celebrity' it's a tough world.

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  17. Pamela, I just put down the new book "This Beautiful Life" by Helen Schulman, I'm on page 80. I was just thinking about the very topic you have raised. And that is what this book is very much about. Kids being exposed to very inappropriate material at an early age. I highly recommend the book because it is dealing with some very scary stuff amongst our young people, they are growing up much too quickly and girls are truly suffering because of this. The internet is a big part of the problems that ensue amongst these characters. Thanks for such a thought provoking post!

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  18. Excellent post! Why can't kids be kids? Who are these people that beleive that an adult woman would purchase a line of adult clothing because it ws medeled by a teenager? Who thinks that a little girl should be wearing sexy lingerie? And what parent would buy it? Having no children of my own I too receive the look that you described, which I find to be funny because just because I do not have children does not mean I cannot form an intellegent thought about raising kids or for that matter what is wrong and right. Honestly, I fell sorry anf afraid for little grils and the parents who raise them, these are strange uncharted waters. But at the end of the day, mothers and fathers, let little girls be just that...little. Make the decisions for them, no little girl needs to be dieting at 5 or dying their hair at 11 or going on a date at 12!

    Have a great week. Be safe from the storm.

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  19. Pamela, it is so very sad, I have three granddaughters and do my best to make a positive influence in their lives.

    So many outside pressures and media. Movies for preteens with so much sexual innuendo and grossness.

    Time will tell.

    xoxo
    Karena

    Art by Karena

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  20. I have a daughter of ten, nearly eleven and spend my time trying to innoculate her against the throwback, sexist, consumerist, harmful, image-driven drivel that is just about everywhere. It amazes me that this all seems to have just grown and grown without some kind of backlash against the companies that peddle this trash to children. Am off now to look at the article you mentioned.

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  21. I am the mother of three grown daughters and grandmother of three granddaughters 24, 22 & 18. I was not afraid to say, "NO" whilst raising my daughters. I didn't find it hard at all. And funny, they all thanked me when they got older. As for the granddaughters, my daughter has done a good job. Some things I find annoying but on the whole very polite, intelligent, lovely young women.

    Mother's of today, say "NO" and mean it!!!

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  22. I have four young granddaughters and I agree with what you say Pamela. I too am glad I grew up when I did and my appearance didn't worry me and I had no need to be wearing the latest fashions. I am off to read the article you mentioned. I think I recognise the girl in the pic, she is an actress here and a great one too, she is in a series called Outnumbered where she adlibs a lot.

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  23. With one teenage daughter in the midst of make up and fashion experiments it is clear to me that with all my trying and coaching there is only so much I can to to prevent extremes. The girlfriends will stick together and the influence from class mates, magazines and popular fashion is strong. What I have learned though through the years of raising my children that in the end the good example and the calm acceptance of certain trials and errors will be enough. There is a good middle ground, a path wide enough for me to endure and for my girl to try out. So far we are not on a war path!
    And as I can see already there might never be one!
    She is, if all, rather too boyish and I hope one day the feminine side will emerge.
    Rather disturbing is the ueber sexed fashion for little girl's undergarments.I think I would stay far away from these. And not show them to a younger girl at all.
    But my daughter is 14 and has her own strong sense of whats appropriate.
    As with everything else there is so much disturbing development in the growing up times of our children that I often feel completely forlorn.
    The innocence is too early taken away!
    The window of opportunity to instill greatness and wonder is shrinking.

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  24. We should all be thinking about this, writing about it and talking with the young mothers in our lives. I find it so very disturbing that little girls are sexualised on TV and in print ads. We have become a very sick society, swinging between this unhealthy focus on little girls and teens while forbidding teachers to hug children because of worries about abuse. I don't know what the solution is, but I know that I'm glad to have not had much TV when my my now-twenty-four year old daughter was small. I'm glad too that she was somewhat isolated from media influence in a private school and that we focused on sports. Did it stunt her development as a woman or keep her apart from her peers? Not at all - but she is able to stand up for herself and knows her real worth.

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  25. I often say, that I am so glad to have spent my girlhood in a day and age when little girls played jacks, hopscotch and jump-rope. "Dressing up" meant a new bonnet and patent leather shoes on Easter Sunday. Tree climbing and shooting marbles were acceptable alternatives for tomboys and speaking of boys... we did'nt even care about "impressing" them until we were at least 13. It saddens me to see the innocence of childhood snatched away from little girls, and to what purpose?!

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  26. My daughter was a bookworm and could never be found when the dishes were to be done, she was writing poetry in the canopy of her favourite oak. My four granddaughters have always been too busy painting pictures rather than their faces, making music, reading books and getting black-belts in tai kwando or being engaged in gymnastics, dance or sport to be concerned about fitting in. The youngest, now 13, is a child of the old school with pigtails, a shiningly washed face and many accomplishments as lead French horn in her school orchestra, her first violin recital in a soiree and playing viola in the string ensemble as well as wildly playing soccer and hokey. Certainly no time for make-up or boyfriends and a very happy young lady.

    My daughter's interest in writing has resulted in her second solo book being in bookstores since July.

    Neither India nor I wear makeup and we both believe in who we are and growing old as gracefully as we can.

    I personally am amazed at the amount of unnecessary preening modern women indulge in

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  27. As a mother of a smart, funny, insightful daughter (who is growing up in Los Angeles!), I really appreciate Lisa Bloom's article. Sometimes I feel like we are constantly dodging superficial judgement landmines at every turn. It has gotten so much worse with all of these reality tv shows. Ok, I'll stop my rant now.

    Thank you for the reminder of what it means to be a mother of a girl...


    xo
    Brooke

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  28. I am heading right over, Pamela. As a mother to a little girl, I am shocked to hear that other mothers allow a daughter, who isn't even a teen, to wear makeup and kitten heels. And don't even get me started on the lingerie promoted to little girls. That, I find so sickening my stomach hurts.

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  29. I read this post and the article during the frenzied time of getting ready to leave on my trip and wasn't able to take the time for a response...it's such a huge and important topic and one that I'm so glad you and Lisa have brought attention too. Having just come back from LA, I saw this beauty queen mentality played out with unbridled abandon everywhere I went, mostly with girls ages 2-4.

    It is very difficult as Lisa says to not let them know how adorable they are but I did so and focused on carried books and art supplies, which in turn brought out more art supplies, all amidst many princess dress costume changes that were occuring about every fifteen minutes or so. None the less, the little one did finally sit and color for quite a while, and finally gave up the costume changing after we oohed and awed over her drawing abilities...it worked...I have a new awarness now as well as some new 'tools'.
    And a few skinned knees would be a wonderful addition to those princess dressed too!
    xo J~

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  30. Well said. I'm the mother of a gorgeous little girl who also happens to be the consummate tomboy. People send her clothes from all over the world because of her beauty, but she thinks only of sports. She loathes being told she is pretty. It is, at least for now, a burden she has to bear. As for me, I love that she has such a strong and unwavering personality. She knows exactly who she is and never tries to be like anyone else, and that is her great gift. She is unequivocal.

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