Proctor and Gamble’s #LikeAGirl commercial aired during Katy Perry’s Superbowl halftime show, coincidentally (or maybe not) the only part of the Superbowl that most tween girls probably watched. The commercial presents a series of video snippets of men, women, and one young boy demonstrating what they think the phrase “like a girl” means by pretending to run, throw, and fight like a girl.
Seemingly unintentionally, their depictions are insulting and disparaging to girls. In stark contrast, girls ten and younger are asked to demonstrate the same things. The young girls are fierce and confident, showing strong, athletic and determined movements.
And then the commercial reached through the TV, grabbed me, and shook me by the shoulders when a single sentence flashed across the screen.
“A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty.”
It’s true. I’ve already seen subtle cracks in the confidence of my two fifth grade daughters. Over the last year, I’ve heard remarks like these. “I’m not good at math.” “I’m not good at science.” “I wish I could change lunch tables.” “I can’t do anything right.” “I wish I had different hair.” “Everyone hates me.”
One daughter has been begging me for a cell phone and an Instagram account. Her latest argument is that “everyone cool has a cell phone.” I’m paraphrasing, but last night she accused me of wanting her to be unpopular as she painted a word picture of herself sitting alone and friendless while all her friends are on their cell phones. Yes, she’s overly dramatic. But underlying her drama is her real concern about having friends and having to be a certain way or have a certain thing to be popular. She’s already got the message that, “I am not enough.”
I am my daughters first and most influential role model. They hear my words; but they internalize my actions. How often do I show them strength? How often do they see my many insecurities? My dad often told me that his wish for me was to be self-reliant. I want the same for my daughters. What can I do to erase that single sentence? “A girl’s confidence plummets during puberty.”
While I can’t control the messages that society throws at my daughters, here are some things I can do.
I can lead by example. I’d be a better person if I paused just for a moment to consider what message my actions or words will send to my daughters. But I’m human. I’ll continue to say things I’ll wish I could take back, do things that I shouldn’t or fail to do things that I should. There are also many days that I am strong and brave and kind. Knowing that two pairs of eyes are always watching me, and considering that as their mother, I have the greatest opportunity to shape their character, motivates me to try harder every day.
I can support their interests. This means being open to their interests, even when they are different from mine. I can encourage them when they have a particular affinity for a subject in school. I can get them help with school work when they need it. I can foster their interests in art and theater, enroll them in sports, and allow them to try different activities. I can work on striking a balance between pushing and guiding them. I can allow them to quit an activity to try something else.
I can stay plugged in. This means spending more time listening than talking. It’s amazing what you can learn by just listening to your children. Sometimes listening means silent observation. Children tell you a lot by what they don’t say. Our best conversations are almost always in the car.
I can nurture their faith. I can take them to church and give them a solid foundation in their faith. At times they may complain and roll their eyes, but their faith will serve to guide and comfort them throughout their lives.
I can give them roots. Our immediate family is small, but our extended family is large. Staying connected to family gives my daughters a sense of belonging and makes them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Family provides love and acceptance.
I can love myself. This one is difficult because like many women, I am my own worst critic. I am learning to cut myself more slack, if for no other reason, to set that example for my daughters. I need to work on accepting compliments with grace instead of deflecting them and putting myself down. I need to place a value on “me” time, whether it is for a pedicure, dinner with friends, or time spent on hobbies.
I can talk to them honestly. I ask my daughters for their opinions and do my best to consider and respect their feelings when making decisions that impact them. I tell them the truth, or as much of it as I think appropriate at their age. I don’t think I’m always right and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I do this because it’s the truth, and so that they will feel comfortable with uncertainty.
I can just be present. Sometimes, all they need is to know that I’m there. While at times they ignore me, I know that they take comfort in my presence. I’ve watched both my daughters anxiously scan the audience at school events until their eyes rest on me. We lock eyes for just a moment and they smile and look away, relieved. Because I’m present.
I can love them unconditionally and remind them of that every day. Like all mothers and daughters, we have our less than spectacular moments. But at the end of the day, my daughters know that I love them no matter what and that they can always count on me.
I Can Be Aware.