It is no wonder our daughters feel confused. They have every right to be.
Society delivers mixed messages every day about who we want our girls to emulate:
“Let it go, let it go,
That perfect girl is gone! “ declares the latest Disney Princess in “Frozen” — an anthem even toddlers are singing with abandon.
Elsa continues, and all our children and grandchildren sing along:
“It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!”
Of course, true for Disney and true for life, Elsa finds there is indeed right and wrong, there must be rules to live by and eventually sacrificial love conquers all.
But what of our real flesh and blood daughters in a “let it go and anything goes” society?
Today’s American girls live in a society of carefully legislated gender equity with high expectations for academic and athletic success. All the while ubiquitous magazine covers in the supermarket checkout make it abundantly clear that a woman’s value is about her body and her sexuality. Pervasive media messages extol “ideal” female bodies rather than a girl’s intellectual development: bigger breasts, smaller waist, visible thigh gap, pristine skin, whitest teeth, enticing scents, silkiest hair yet a carefully shaved “down there”. I’ve seen pre-teen girls (and their brothers) stare at these photoshopped cover girls while waiting in line. These kinds of images used to be hidden under mattresses a generation ago; now that we are an “enlightened” and “liberated” culture of open tolerance for all manner of public sexual expression, anything goes anywhere. And we call that progress.
As a Christian mother who understands Jesus as the incarnation of sacrificial love and servant leadership, did I raise our daughter to be certain, first and foremost, in her value and role as a child of God to trust in the mind and body she was given? As a physician who works primarily with older adolescents, I regularly see young women experience the typical developmental struggles over who they are and who they want to be, but a growing percentage feel entirely miserable inside their own skin. In comparison to what media portrays as “ideal” for girls and women, they do not like their bodies or themselves one bit and have a variety of ways of punishing themselves for what they perceive as inadequacy.
Recent ads from Verizon
and Always Sanitary Pads
pack a powerful message to pre-teen girls on what it is like to be dismissed as “like a girl.”
Then in contrast, the latest video in menstruation marketer HelloFlo’s monthly “special delivery” packages for a girl’s “hoo-ha”, comes complete with a snarky pre-adolescent narrator and her angry mother who gleefully gets back at her.
This is meant to be a “satirical and humorous” take on modern mother/daughter open communication but falls flat and farcical in my opinion. In addition, the advertised discrete brown box that arrives every month from HelloFlo, to take care of all those messy adolescent menstrual needs, contains candy and other goodies, just what every girl needs to console her cramps and monthly crabbiness.
Periods separate one sentence from another and menstrual periods separate the girls from the boys. Humanity’s obvious ambivalence about monthly blood flow extends back to pre-history when blood-thirsty predators were a continual threat (why else would any one who smelled like blood be separated from the household/community for seven days a month?) Although we are no longer threatened by sabre-tooth tigers, our species’ continuing distaste and embarrassment over the hassles of menstrual cycles has resulted in a modern demand for continuous suppressive hormone treatment to prevent bleeding altogether so girls and women can work and play unencumbered by leaks, odor, and accompanying uncomfortable symptoms. Eventually, we may find there are more problems with cycle and fertility suppression than the benefit of convenience. Only time will tell as have happened with other reversals in medicine after years of trial (i.e. hormonal supplementation in menopausal women to keep “bones strong and vaginal tissue young” is no longer advised).
Our daughters need not be confused about who they are and becoming — accepting themselves as they are, in all their diversity of size and shape, color and ability — while respecting their body’s natural rhythms and learning to cope with the ebb and flow of emotions and endometrium.
If we return to Frozen’s Elsa once again to paraphrase the final line in her now-famous song:
“Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
Nothing ever bothered me anyway! “