Growing a Girl – Book Review and Guest Post by Kristen Allred Ridge
What does it mean to grow a girl? I have often compared my daughters to flowers blooming, and so the title of this book fits right in with that beautiful imagery. Today I hope to persuade you to read Growing a Girl at some point, but more than that I hope to share some of my thoughts on one of the book’s major points, and to take a look at your own style of mothering and see what you can improve about it.
I now have three daughters to raise, and I think a lot about how I can raise them to be strong individuals, strong women, that aren’t overly affected by America’s stereotypes of women.
Before you read further, let me explain one thing. This is not a book written by a woman who does not like men, or who thinks that girls should be like boys, or who thinks that girls are the same as boys, or who thinks that girls are better than boys. None of the above. She feels that girls should be girls.
I have purposely never aligned myself with the ideologies or movements of feminism, either liberal or radical, because of the polarizing, negative connotations most people associate them with. I also don’t believe in trading one set of stereotypes for another, which is what I feel the feminist movement does.
That said, I have the desire to raise girls who are self-reliant, competent, smart, energetic, who can “wear a velvet dress to the ballet and still climb to the treetops,” and who have been taught to recognize and counteract our culture’s gender bias. In a nutshell, I want them to know what true beauty is, for knowing that will make all the difference in their lives.
If all of this makes you think, “Ummm…what other type of girl is there?” then this post may not be for you. Raising daughters like this with complete and utter ease, at least to me, would have required me to have had a mother who was at peace with her femininity and beauty and helped me obtain a healthy gender identity. That, I did not have. So has begun my quest to figure this mystery out for myself, so that my daughters don’t have to fight tooth and nail to obtain it when they are grown.
The author of this book offers dozens of strategies, and practical, useful counsel for how parents can help their daughters develop their identity, and thus their femininity, by developing a strong individuality. Her basic argument is, “Let Girls Be Girls.”
Here’s the outline of her book:
1) Why the biggest difference between girls and boys is how we treat them—and how to help your daughter find joy in being a girl.
2) How to listen to the story of a daughter’s life—and teach her to honor what she knows and feels.
3) How to champion a daughter’s self-reliance and teach her to be safe—without scaring her.
4) How to find and use role models to enrich a daughter’s sense of self.
5) How to show and tell the story of sexism–and counter our culture’s narrow views of women and men.
6) How to teach your daughter to see beyond ideals of perfect beauty–and celebrate her beautiful self.
7) How to discover your daughter’s strengths as a learner and build on her natural interest in math, science, and computers.
Points 2, 3, and 6 are the most important ones to me at this time–I have a four year old, two year old, and three month old–all girls.
Since Hannah’s blog has a major theme of beauty, I choose # 6 to discuss for a few moments: Seeing beyond ideals of perfect beauty and helping your daughter celebrate her beautiful self. What a task!
My four-year-old is constantly dancing, singing, and performing. She insists that a real lady never wears pants. As you can see in the picture above…she is wrestling on the grass in a dress. She asks me daily if I will put make-up on her. She is always talking about being beautiful. This is not the little girl I was—so at times I look at her and think, “Who ARE you?”
In a nutshell, to her, beauty is most definitely skin deep. While she is too young to really understand much yet, I have found a few ways to teach her what beauty is really all about. I share two of them today.
Use stories. Some already illustrate a healthy sense of beauty, others don’t. Whether you pick one that does or not, you can almost always easily share your message with your daughter, even if it is by helping her to challenge what the story appears to teach.
Cinderella is one of our favorites. My daughter loves to discuss how Cinderella was dressed in rags and dirty clothes while her stepmother and sisters were dressed in fancy, beautiful clothes, yet Cinderella was the beautiful one because she was kind, patient, and resourceful. Even when Cinderella is able to finally be dressed in a gorgeous gown that outdoes everyone else at the ball––it isn’t her outward beauty that Prince Charming remembers.
In fact, he remembers so little of how she looked that night that he has to use a shoe to find her. And once he finds her, she is once again dressed in tattered rags. Is he disappointed with her because of her ugly clothing? No, on the contrary, he is ecstatic to have found the girl who captured his heart, likely by her personality and spirit.
It is commonplace and easy to read traditional fairy tales and see only the negative, but I have learned that a story can mean so many different things–so much depends on what you focus on. There are not many pieces of literature out there that can only be interpreted one way. Use the stories that your daughter loves, and explore them!
Let your daughter help you with her photo album or scrapbook.
It is really delightful to have your daughter participate in building the story of her life. The many faces, activities, and every day events that are recorded with photos are perfect opportunities to talk about her own, unique, beautiful self.
I hadn’t really thought about the implications of the search for Cinderella after the ball, those are very good talking points.
One of the things I try to do with my girls is to say they look “fancy” when playing dress up and that I look “fancy” when I do wear make up. We tell them they look “beautiful” or “pretty” or the like under various real life circumstances.
Thanks for these tips, sounds like a good read!
Thank you for this post. I have 2 girls who love to dress up, play dolls, etc. Yet they also like to play rough with their brothers. I think it’s o.k. to be who they are, but still know that they are strong, capable young girls. I also love that they LOVE their dad and that he takes the time to play with them.