We live in a world that teaches girls to judge their worth based on looks rather than abilities. In addition, girls get the mixed message that they should be themselves but be perfect too. Sara Rimer, author of a New York Times article about the pressures young girls face, says, “[Being] an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.” According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by the age of 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate boys do.
I have to wonder, when will we stop putting pressure on girls to be perfect? When will we stop judging them based on their looks rather than their abilities? When will we stop expecting every girl to embody a perfect blend of sporty, pretty, popular and smart? Will we ever let girls be good enough?
According to Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, if you were to walk in a girl’s shoes for a day, here is some of what you might find:
1. As girls mature, they become keenly aware of how much is riding on their school performance. Stress levels skyrocket when they feel like every single test score, grade, invitation, or sports victory gets scrutinized.
2. Over the past 40 years, the women’s movement, Title IX, and other things have leveled the playing field for girls; however, many feel obligated to take advantage of every open door, rather than pick and choose what fits with them.
3. Our culture continues to raise the bar on standards for achievement. As a result, schools are accelerating curricula and many girls are taking honors level classes at an earlier age. Many find the work levels nearly impossible to manage, particularly in combination with all of the other activities on their plate. Girls are expected to excel at everything.
4. There is looming pressure, often starting as early as age 10, to not only get into college, but to get into a really great college. According to Cohen-Sadler, “by middle school, one third of girls say they “usually” or “always” worry about getting into the “right” college.”
5. Due to the college hype and pressure, many girls feel like they need to stand out at something. The message they are receiving is that being “poorly well-rounded” doesn’t matter.
6. Social pressures abound for girls. They have to have the right friends and worry about having or not having a boyfriend. In addition, in the United States, the media is one of the most persuasive forces shaping cultural norms. The message being sent is that a girl’s value lies more in the way she looks rather than in her power to lead. Finally, girls are expected to look a certain way, and their appearance counts.
7. Buying into the unattainable world of perfect does a number on girls’ self-confidence and resilience. Girls slowly become disconnected with who they are at their core. One girl describes the stress as “like falling down a big hole.”
It’s not a bad thing to want our girls to do well and achieve, but when the message becomes “be perfect at literally everything in your life,” the pressure can be overwhelming and the cost to a girl’s well-being is high.
Stay tuned for my next blog post which will offer more in-depth solutions on raising powerful and resilient girls. In the meantime, though, what are your thoughts and suggestions to this multi-faceted issue?
Paula Davis-Laack is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who specializes in writing about stress, work, and lifestyle issues for high-achieving women and girls. Please connect with Paula via:
Her website: www.marieelizabethcompany.com
Cohen-Sandler, R. (2005). Stressed-out girls: Helping them thrive in an age of pressure. New York: Penguin Books.