IE Grapevine Updates

Sweeney: The radical notion that we are not raising our girls right

We live in an era where we are starting to see a surge of more proactive women in celebrity, political, and local leadership platforms taking a stance of becoming empowered and educated. However, little girls are still harboring the idea that their priorities are pretty first, smart second (if at all).

I am conscious of the fact that this argument may sound strange because of the heightened dialogue that is taking place lately about feminism, strength in womanhood, and anti-misogyny organizing. These discussions are sprinkled across our Facebook news feeds, popping up in classrooms, and even in random conversations with friends.

I am encouraged to see more individuals keen on talking about the tough subjects rather than just what is on E! News this week. Men and women alike are taking a proactive interest in female empowerment and gender equality. More celebrities are talking about confidence and empowerment.

But I am concerned that little girls, and our younger sisters, may not be getting the same girl power re-education that we are.

The other day, I was speaking to a girl approximately 12 years of age. The conversation started off in one direction and eventually drifted into a discussion of another individual’s appearance. The little girl made a comment about how the other girl was so skinny and pretty, muttering how unfair it was. When I responded with a compliment on how she was thin and pretty as well, the little girl’s expression twisted into a frown and she said, “I wish.”

The exasperation on the little girl’s face has been engrained in my mind for about a week now. As a woman that has struggled with weight and appearance insecurities for at least 15 years, it troubles me that another little girl is convinced that you have to be small and attractive to be of value. Her expression looked a lot like I am sure mine did when I was her age, and how it still looks on the tough days.

When I was little, I did not know what being body confident felt like. I did not have an understanding of how I was placing more emphasis on my appearance than I should be. I did not know who to look up to that had a firm grasp on being confident in the body they were in. Everywhere I was looking, I heard the phrases diet, exercise, cleanse, and healthy.

But the problem is, we are not healthy. The same magazines that are boasting celebrities with body confidence are also talking about summer diet ideas for the average woman. Many of us are anxious about not only trying on a bathing suit, but we consider what people will think when they see it on us at the beach. It is more common than we realize to hear sentiments like “ugh I’m so fat” or “I need to lose weight.” We forget that a lot of times, our little sisters and other little girls are in the surrounding area when these things are said.

As an older sister myself, I was only conscious recently of how much my siblings pick up on. Exact sentences, styles of dress, and mentalities on various social issues have trickled down to them without me even realizing that I was giving them the information.

We are not intentionally conditioning little girls to adopt these body self-conscious mentalities or wrongful perceptions of beauty. The little girl I spoke to was absolutely beautiful, and the people surrounding her were perfectly wonderful people. But over the course of three or four conversations I had with them, there was a mention that they “did not care” about feminism, women’s issues, or empowerment, and also multiple criticisms of celebrity body types.

Now I am not trying to criticize any of these individuals or claim that if you are a feminist that you suddenly will be free of perpetuating these body shaming conventions. Like I said, they are all great people. But they are an example of the trap that we fall into. It is excruciatingly difficult to break these habits, a problem that I still deal with on a daily basis.

The female body is seen as an ornament for juxtaposition. Critique is utilized so that the onlooker feels like they are bringing the individual down to their “level” so that they can feel better about themselves. Thus, the body shaming cycle is perpetually painful.

Even if feminism, women’s issues, and getting angry at societal conventions that promote body shaming aren’t your thing, this is still important. Think about your younger siblings, both male and female. Little girls needs to be reminded that they are worth far more than their waistband in the same way that little boys need to remember that girls are not just “pretty.” We need to abolish the mentality that women are only capable of the social either/or praxis: a woman can be either pretty or smart.

Women are far more multidimensional than that. We are athletic, pensive, leaders, resourceful, collaborative, and attractive even. But we are more than symmetrical face structures and slim waists. We are more than the world gives us credit for, but soon society will catch up to what women have already known for centuries. And it all starts with teaching the next generation of women that they have power.

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