Growing a girl

I have an 8-year-old son, who is a wonderful little human. He is caring and compassionate, helpful and kind, energetic and social, and these are just a few of his great traits. I’ve always loved being a “boy mom” and all that it entails, but I never considered what it would mean to be a mother to a girl.

Now here I sit, 18 weeks pregnant with a baby girl, pondering what life will be like with her. I watched a video clip this morning of a little girl comparing girls clothing to boys clothing. She was so frustrated because she felt the boys clothing was promoting free thinking and adventure, and the girls clothing was promoting a beautiful physical image. She said “It’s disappointing because everyone thinks that girls should just be pretty, and boys should just be adventurous.” Whoa, she nailed it. A girl at approximately 10 years of age has just interpreted, through clothing, one of our country’s greatest issues: gender inequality. Why do boys HAVE to be adventurous? What if they want instead to be a stay-at-home dad or a fashion designer? Why do girls HAVE to pretty? What if they don’t care about their appearance? What if a girl wants to be a CEO, or a mechanic, or a FREE THINKER who does not conform to society’s expectations?

I continued to explore the internet and found a report recently published by the World Economic Forum outlining the gender inequality issue in America. I was shocked to learn that the US ranks 26th out of 144 countries in economic gender equality, and has been steadily declining over the past decade, when we used to rank 3rd. (We’re ranked 45th in overall gender equality.) Why am I so shocked? I’ve always known that we have a serious issue in this arena. I guess I just didn’t realize how bad it actually is.

When I look at social media, it is so full of advertisements for beauty products and clothing companies who are targeting women in a way that makes us feel that in order to be successful, socially or professionally, we must be a certain size, dress a certain way and look beautiful all the time. I see women posting provocative photos dressed scantily bragging about their bodies while their young daughters follow suit, teaching them that their worth is in their physical appearance and not in their brains. It’s no wonder that young girls feel a crushing pressure to fit society’s mold of beautiful.

So today, as I think about the daughter that I will soon have, I think about how I will empower her to rise above the pressures she will face, and instill in her a sense of self worth that goes far beyond her physical appearance while still making her feel beautiful. How will my husband and I define her beauty? How will we define her worth? How do we make damn sure to separate the two? How will my words and actions reflect on her?

So often, I hear people greet young girls and immediately compliment their appearance. “You look so pretty in that dress” or “Your hair looks so cute today”. I’m guilty of these types of compliments myself, and I plan to improve that each day by complimenting girls and women alike on their physical abilities, their successes, their inner beauty and their intelligence. I want my daughter and all the women in my life to know that I appreciate them for their true self, and not their reflection. This is already the way I feel, but I know that I can do a much better job of conveying this through self-reflection and practice.

Next time I see my dear 5-year-old friend Harper, I plan to tell her that I love the way her whole face lights up when she smiles, and that I think it’s amazing how fast she can run… if she will slow down for a moment to let me tell her. When I swim with my favorite 3-year-old fish named Millie this summer, I will tell her how brave she is for swimming out into the middle of the (very calm) river while I swim next to her. Next time I see my friend Roselle, I plan to tell her that I am amazed by her ability to run her business and her home like a boss, and that because of her amazing friendship she makes me feel like a million bucks. That woman is raising her two daughters the way that I hope to raise mine.

I’m excited to have a daughter. I want to raise her up to be a passionate wildling who is intelligent and fierce. A force to be reckoned with, a woman full of love and brains and wit and humor who is not afraid to chase her dreams and will let nothing and no one stand in her way. I want my daughter to know that she is capable of anything that she puts her mind to. If she wants to be an astronaut I will encourage her to be the best damn astronaut she can be. If she wants to be a hair stylist I will support her 100% in following her passion, and I’m sure I’ll end up with a few terrible haircuts in the process. But what I want for her most of all is to feel worthy of love and equality and kindness, and to be able to give these things in return. I want her to build other women up, to know that to be a woman is a very special thing, and that she is worth FAR more than the image that stares back at her in the mirror.

(Top two photos are of my friend Holly Fiske and her daughter Nevada. The other photo is of my swimming buddy Millie, 3 years old. Her mom is Liz Stone.)

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