Just Being a Girl
I hate it.
Being a girl.
First, some facts:
– 42% of first to third grade girls want to be thinner
– 81% of ten-year-old girls are afraid of being fat
– 47% of fifth to tenth grade girls want to lose weight because of magazine pictures
– 91% of women at college have attempted to control their weight through dieting
– 95% of dieters regain their weight within 5 years
Second, a short story I wrote in high school:
Why do I wake up every morning and look in the mirror? I know I’ll be disappointed, but I do it anyway. I see my unruly hair and my oversized pores. I brush and brush and brush my hair, trying to make it lay flat. But all I manage is to make it frizzier. So I put it up in a ponytail and move on with my day. I pop my pimples, even though I know I shouldn’t, because then they disappear. For now. They’ll probably be back tomorrow.
I wake up late, usually, so that’s all the time I have. But if I slept less, I would probably do what everyone else does in this god-forsaken hell hole they call high school. I would coat my skin with a layer of skin colored paint and draw an outline of my eyes in black pencil to be filled in with color, like I’m a five year old in kindergarten. I would lengthen my lashes and trim my eyebrows. And then I would curl my lashes and straighten my hair. I would try on three different pairs of earrings to match my shirt, and start all over when I realize it’s Wednesday, and on Wednesdays we wear pink.
Third, a video:
(If you’re feeling short on time, or you just don’t care for dance, at least watch until 2:20)
I’m 21 years old. I don’t read magazines, I don’t spend time looking at all the pictures of the incredibly – unhumanly – skinny women. I don’t feel that, because I’m a size 10, I should be considered “plus sized,” even though that is exactly what the fashion industry thinks. I know that I’m smart and I’m beautiful and that my body may not be perfect but it is exactly as it should be.
So why do I wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and feel like I have to remind myself of that?
Because that story I wrote above – that story I wrote more than five years ago – may have been teenage angst. But it also speaks to the challenges of being a girl.
Because being born with breasts means you are born to a whole host of tests. Are your boobs big enough? Is your waist small enough? Are your legs long enough? Are your shorts short enough? Is your skin clear enough? Is your skin smooth enough? Is your skin tan enough? We fight every morning with ourselves when we look in the mirror. Those of us that are lucky – those of us like me – have parents that remind us every day that there are more important things than being pretty. But at the same time, they compliment us and tell us we are pretty. Because they know, if they didn’t, we’d think that meant we were smart but not pretty, or skilled but not pretty, or whatever, but not pretty. Society has ingrained in us the idea that everything else is irrelevant – we have to be pretty too.
There are so many things that keep us, starting from younger than we ever thought possible, from accepting ourselves. That keep us from Just. Being. Girls. And in response, we have bestsellers encouraging women to lean in. We have national movements to ban bossy. We have summer camps open only to girls, to encourage them to get interested in the stuff they were interested in anyway. We have raging debates over what feminism really means.
There are all sorts of places I want to go with this post.
I want to talk about the fact that Christina Applegate is officially my new favorite Hollywood star. That she has replaced Jennifer Lawrence for her beauty, Julia Roberts for her smile, Emily Deschanel for her devotion and, most importantly, revealed herself with that clip and that quote as the first Hollywood star I’ve noticed who actually has a cause she cares about because she cares about it, not because she thinks she should. (Remember, I’m incredibly cynical. And I don’t follow A-listers; I stick to … ummm … news?) I am incredibly impressed by how beautiful she is, but how down to earth she is. If I had to guess, I’d guess that her time on the stage exposed her to lots of people killing themselves to fit into a certain mould to get onstage, but I’m touched by her response nonetheless.
I want to talk about the brilliance of SYTYCD for a) knowing this was an important story to air, b) being willing to air it, in spite of the difficult subject, and c) for presenting it well. Add that to this heartbreaking dance about battling cancer and this tremendously powerful dance about facing addiction, and it isn’t hard to see why I find So You Think You Can Dance incredible for its willingness to take on hard realities of life.
I want to talk about my opinions regarding feminism, and the fact that I think the entire debate over the definition is merely pedantic.
I want to talk about all the times I’ve faced myself. The times I’ve wondered if I’m actually not hungry or if I’m just telling myself that, and the many times I’ve not eaten when I know I am hungry. Or the times I stood in my leotard and tights in dance, facing a floor to ceiling mirror and the reflection of a room of perfect bodies and felt like I didn’t fit in. Or the number of times I caught myself in those thoughts, and then wondered how many other girls in my dance classes found themselves there too.
But I think the most important thing to do is to recognize the people and organizations that are helping my friends around the country deal with eating disorders, general body image issues, depression, anxiety, and everything else. I know that this program at Stanford has helped people here in the Bay Area, and I know friends at Tufts who have benefitted from talking with Ears to Peers. A whole list of treatment options in the SF Bay Area can be found here, and anyone dealing with an eating disorder should contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237 for help in finding treatment.
Most importantly, all girls should remember that “just being a girl” is hard, and we don’t have to do it alone.