Guest Response: Raising Girls
I believe one main point that should also be considered in raising girls, is that of “appearance”; and unfortunately girls learn very early on that there is a link to their value or worth and their appearance. Our girls need to understand there are other (more tangible) paths to power, happiness, and success separate from “appearance”. We can show them this by choosing media, language, products and activities that expose them to a wide variety of appearances. For example, we shouldn’t hate Barbie; after all, we still want to have fun with dress up, right? But it’s important to consider the associations we make when we give our girls toys. Do we really want to give her a figure modeled after a prostitute? Barbie was first introduced in 1959, and modeled after a German doll/cartoon prostitute, named Lilli. Barbie was purposefully made to resemble a full-grown woman, enabling young girls to act out their fantasies of the adult world: shopping, buying clothes, wearing makeup, and jewelry.
It’s no secret that for decades women could only gain power through their appearance (with little consideration given to skills or education)… and their value was based on this for thousands of years. The famous Courtesans during the Renaissance Era were prostitutes, and in fact the only women allowed to enter male only libraries. Females were forbidden to enter the library unless they held this valued “role”.
Today, we obviously have more options. But even our own Sarah Palin went through the Miss America pageant, which has been criticized for their swimsuit portion not being about health, but rather appearance. Women could climb a rope, for example, or something else to show they have physical health, if it was really about health.
It is very important we show young girls there is more to life than appearance, even though we live in a very appearance-driven and media-saturated society. When the focus is on appearance (because we don’t want to hate aesthetics) we need to offer multiple views on what is “beautiful” in order to have a full range of options, sizes, ages, ethnicities, and roles for women. Since appearance has been tied to female value for thousands of years it would be safe to say it doesn’t change quickly. It is a slow process and each person can choose through their daily actions, language, purchases, and activities to show a wider spectrum of what is considered beautiful - and that the value and worth of a woman is not tied to appearance. And I didn’t say not ONLY tied to appearance, but really not based on appearance at all. She is worthy as a person not worthy as an appearance.
We can support moving into adolescence as a time of joy and a time to build confidence and self-esteem instead of the downhill trend for many young girls as they realize their appearance is not good enough.
Dr. Rachel Dilts Associate Professor Northwest Christian University