Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Better Advice for Girls

Sometimes spontaneous lady snuggles are the perfect solution.

If there is one piece of advice that I remember hearing non-stop as a kid - from parents, teachers, television, princess movies, happy meal boxes - it's "be yourself".

As a kid, people telling me this was roughly equivalent to throwing a raisin at my face. Raisins aren't bad, and certainly won't hurt you if someone throws one at your face, but chances are that it will just bounce off and you'll be confused about what happened.

Be myself? OK done. I'm pretty sure that I am a small blonde child. I will continue to be that.

I'm not saying this is bad advice, but as a kid my understanding of what that meant was pretty limited. Even as an adult, the phrase makes my head spin a bit. Am I being me? I think so. I'm eating pizza, which is a thing I like. But also I'm wearing peep toe shoes. Are they me? Who am I???

Maybe there is better, more specific advice we can give the rising generation to help them find happiness and carve their own place in the world. Or maybe the rising generation is smarter than me so "be yourself" is all they need. But when I was a kid, I would have appreciated more specificity. "Oh, so you would like me to NOT buy New Balance shoes just because Brittany Durin has New Balance shoes. That makes sense, I guess."

1. Everyone looks different.

Really, there are not two people who look the same. It may seem like everyone around you looks the same and has the same perfect body/hair/skin/cardigan/whatever and that you are the odd man out with your different-ness, but really: everyone looks different. Coming to understand this has helped me to better appreciate what I look like.

You're not surrounded by identical beauty queens -- everyone has different size and shape of thigh, different length of torso, different color of hair. And none of these sizes/shapes/colors are the "right one" or the "perfect one". You are part of the heterogeneous group - a super cool club called "everyone in the universe."

So just appreciate what you have. No one else looks like you. And no one else looks like each other. Plus physical appearance isn't really that important anyway (unless you want to be a Victoria's Secret model, but do you really?).

2. You are not special - you are capable.

You are not special. Sad day.

A while back I read an excellent article about how we do a disservice to little girls by telling them that they are "beautiful" and "smart". Little boys are more likely to hear things like "your figured it out" or "way to stick with it". The former implies that these little girls are naturally gifted or inherently smart. The other one praises children for their ability to overcome challenges and figure things out.

This means, if a child in the first category finds something difficult or fails at something, they might believe "I just wasn't meant to be a _____" or "I'm not a math person (art person, dance person, etc.)". A child in the second category, conversely, might think, "I haven't figured it out yet." See the difference? It's significant.

There are people who are inherently geniuses or naturally gifted with certain things, but you're probably not one of them (don't worry, neither am I). Furthermore, even if you are born with craze-mazing abilities -- imagine how much further you can get by relying on your ability to figure out tough things and stick with projects when they get hard. That is when "You can do this" becomes relevant and beautiful advice.

In Amy Poehler's book Yes Please, she talks about how she got where she is. The answer was pretty simple. Many years of very hard work. Anyone can do that. There are some lucky breaks and yes, some people have life handed to them on a doily, but we underestimate ourselves when we say, "I could never be on Saturday Night Live/write the next Harry Potter book/run my own engineering firm (is that a thing?)." Because yes, you could.

You are capable. You can do unlimited things.

3. When girls feel insecure, weird things happen.

While watching The Bachelor this week (as one does), I was fascinated by the ways the participants manifested their insecurity. The Bachelor is a FANTASTIC case study on what women do/say when they feel insecure. Some women shrink and become quiet, some women get loud and attention-seeking, some women cry, some women get really mean. Some women do all of it. One thing is for sure - it brings out the worst in us.

I'm so sorry this happens and I would love to say that I have never fallen into the "mean girl" category, but I have. When I have felt unpretty or uncool or undesirable, I have made crappy decisions to try to compensate for my insecurity. Because women are social creatures, they often band together to seek validation and make themselves feel better. Sometimes, to distract people from looking too closely at them, they talk negatively about others. This sucks.

It's important to know where this comes from, though. That way, when you find yourself feeling insecure ("I'm not very good at bowling", "My thighs touch at the top", "My dress was hand-sewed by my mom instead of purchased at Neiman Marcus") you can address it in a way that won't tear others down. Go back to numbers 1 and 2 on this list. Everyone looks different. Your capabilities are limitless. Believe those things.

Understanding how girl-brain works can also help you feel less crappy when you are victimized by the whispering witches. When mean girls are mean to you, it's because they feel crappy and are trying to use you to make themselves feel better. It's not about your thighs, it's about their thighs. I'm not saying this will make it go away, but it might help you shake it off.

Be careful not to do the exact same thing as a knee-jerk reaction. "You think my hair looks gross? Look at YOUR hair! It looks like a bird's nest made of poo!" is not a good reaction. All you've done is allow someone to make you feel insecure, then allowed your insecurity to turn into nastiness. It's a vicious cycle.

I think this is where a lot of bullying comes from. Maybe if we all had a better understanding of how to cope with feelings of insecurity and how to build others up instead of tear them down, we would see a decrease in bullying.

P.S. Grown-ups, you do this too. Let's all work on it together.

4. When someone compliments you, just say "Thank you."

I don't know why this is so hard for some people. I've even been one of them. But really, just say "Thank you." Don't argue. Don't seek more compliments. Just say, "Thank you." Every time. Just do it. Reprogram your brain right now. Let's practice.

Complimenter: You sang so beautifully in the choir today!
Bad responses: Ugh, really? Yeah right, like you could hear my ONE voice in the whole choir! My voice is a mess, I've been sick for ages.
Good response: Thank you!

Complimenter: Your hair looks nice today.
Bad responses: It's a mess! Really? I'm trying to grow out my bangs. At least it's clean!
Good response: Thank you!

Complimenter: Congrats on making the team!
Bad responses: Not very many people tried out. It's only junior varsity. The uniforms are so ugly!
Good response: Thank you!

Do we get it yet? Every time. "Thank you." "Thank you." "Thank you!"

So if you feel like people just keep throwing raisins at your face, maybe these nuggets of wisdom will help you sort out what "be yourself" can really mean for you. Then, pick up the raisins and make ants on a log because hello? Delish.

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