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October 14, 2013

What do we really teach our girls?

Last Friday I was invited to watch Dove's International Day of the Girl event. To tell you the truth I am not very big on this kind of events usually. It clashes with my innate cynicism. But I love Dove. I love their Real Beauty campaign, I loved their last commercial with the sketches. I think there should be more companies out there just like them - companies that use their power and influence and marketing budget for good. So when the opportunity came to be (a small) part of an event that is targeting raising awareness to the fact that 47% of young girls (ages 11-14) are opting out of daily activities because of poor body confidence, and making sure we stop it, I jumped at it. The event hosted 150 young girls aged 11-16, and was divided into three main parts - a speed mentoring session where the girls got to meet one on one with some very impressive women, and which I wasn't invited to participate in (any Dove people reading it, I am free any day next year if you also want unimpressive women), a workshop session about body-image which what I was invited to, and a discussion part which I wasn't in because although I can do anything I want, I still have to take the kids out of school first.
Orli, Just Breathe - What do we really teach our girls?
The event left me unsure. Not because of the message, or because of its importance, but because while I sat there looking at those young girls, the question that kept nagging me is, how much do they believe it? How much do those 16 years old listen to a thirty something woman telling them it's fine to be who you are? How much did they believe it when they were told that not all men are looking for big-boobs-small-waist-blonds? How much do they believe it when a fifty years old woman tells them they can be whatever they want? They nodded and laughed at the appropriate moments, and gave all the right answers, but do they really believe it?
My sad answer to myself was, probably not. The sad truth is that we, the parents, the adults, don't really believe it ourselves, so how can we make sure our daughters do? The event was at the Southbank Centre in London, and for me it meant I had to go through Waterloo Station. Which has a Krispy Kreame stand. With lots of doughnuts. I love doughnuts, especially the ones that have cream inside and chocolate on the outside. But as I went past it on my way back I couldn't make up my mind if to stop there or not, because I am supposed to be on a pre-holidays diet, but on the other hand I just returned from a "love yourself as you are" seminar, so what do I do??? In the end I didn't stop, mostly because there was a queue and I was in a hurry, but I kept asking myself the whole tube ride home - should I have stopped? What did it say about me that I didn't? The truth is I have been fat, skinny and everything in-between, and have never really loved my body anyway, so who am I to tell anyone to accept themselves? I am old enough and wise enough to know that it is a waste of time to chase the impossible standards that we see in magazines, to want to yell at the screen "eat something!" every time I see Posh, and to know that every single photo I see in a magazine has been photoshoped to death. And still I want to lose those 4 kilos I gained, I hate my hair and I have spent half my life wanting to be short and delicate. As if any of that would somehow, magically, change my life.
Orli, Just Breathe - What do we really teach our girls?
Raising our kids to believe they can do, and be, everything they want, is one of our biggest challenges as parents. And I applaud Dove for telling them exactly that. This is the most important message I hope those young girls got from the event. You have a choice. Do everything, be everything, choose who you want to be. Because it is enough that each and every one of those girls believe it, to make a difference in the world. It might sound naive, or idiotic, or childish to believe it I guess, but the power is in the masses, and if each and every one of us really believed she has a choice, we would change the world. I know it may seem I am more fortunate than others, and that choices are for the rich and white, but the truth is that choices are mostly about prices, and I've paid dearly for mine over the years.
Choices, it seems to me (and to the people at Dove), are about self-belief.
Orli, Just Breathe - What do we really teach our girls?
And so I got back home on Friday afternoon and happened to read a "how-to guide for the women whose partner got a relocation offer" (it's not called exactly that, it has a shorter name but this one is catchier) that I got through one of the thousand Facebook groups I'm a member of. The guide started with "dear woman" and continued with the explanation of how "women are the one who sacrifice everything and every time. We are the ones who understand and catch everyone's anger, we are the ones that give up our lives, needs and wants because our partner got a job offer abroad". I didn't stop reading, and I can assure you it doesn't leave the fifties and by the end of it I half expected it to read something about "and don't forget to wait at the door holding your husbands slippers in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other".
Maybe you don't find it as offensive as me, but I hope you see the ridiculousness of it, the chauvinism, and the lack of choice it advocates for women. That guide is for mature women, mums, career women, and tells them that the base assumption is that they have no control or choices in the progress of their lives. To be honest it made my blood boil. I am still finding it hard to write about it without using profanities. And it made the event on Friday all the more important.
I hope each of those girls, I hope everyone who reads this post, believe that she has a choice. That she could be and do whatever she sat her mind to.
Because we all can.
Orli, Just Breathe - What do we really teach our girls?