It's been a while since I was a little girl... A very long while for sure! I grew up in the 80's, when it was safe to spend the whole day out of the house, go for lunch in friend's homes without my mum knowing and then turn up for dinner, exhausted and happy. I grew up when riding my bike to the bakery was very normal and opening a "shop" on the road outside our home was fine too...
I played with lego, I had some dolls too, but my main preoccupation was cycling and playing "chase" and "hide and seek" with the other kids in the neighbourhood. Life was good. I felt safe and looked after, not just by my parents, but by the older kids, by their parents and by the community.
It never occured to me, at that age, that I was too fat or too thin or in any way not "just right". It never crossed my mind that I was not pretty enough, or that my tummy was too big. Maybe it is blissful ignorance or maybe rosy retrospection, but I don't think I thought about my body as anything other than what it was - a tool for me to do things with -I played basketball for a local team for years- and a vehicle for the rest of me: my mind and soul.
Maybe I am forgetting things, but I cannot imagine that the most important thing about me was ever my looks. And yet, almost three decades later, I see it everywhere and it really upsets me.
It upsets me when I ask little girls what they want to be when they grow up (by the way, I wanted to be a pro basketball player for years, before I realised that 5'7" was not going to cut it) and the answers is overwhelmingly: models and singers. (And let's be honest, most female singers that these girls see are, in my opinion, at least glorified models/strippers.)
I am a teacher of young kids (7-8 year olds) and every Friday we spend sometime doing 'circle time'. It is a social activity, where we sit in a circle and discuss different things. This time I simply wanted each child to say something positive about the child they were sitting next to, and so on, until everyone had heard something positive about themselves.
By the end of it all I sat there in complete shock: the girls had overwhelmingly received commenst such as "you have pretty hair" or "you are so beautiful", while the boys had been told how fast they were, how good they are at football or at maths. It really saddened me, but I am not sure how to fix it.
We are soon to become parents (hopefully soon, anyway, I cannot stand this wait much longer) and it is something that is so often on my mind. How do I help to change this, in my pupils and in my kids? How can we value girls, not just for their looks, but for all the other things they can do? How do we change this idea that looks come first and everything else is secondary?
I have few answers at this stage...