Months ago, the magazine Science published an article that talked about how girls learn to devalue their own gender around the age of 6. Being an age in which stereotypes arise and stick, a series of experiments showed how girls were more inclined to choose boys or men as more successful and brilliant. One of the tests consisted of the read of a neutral description of a successful individual. When asked if the description belonged to a man or a woman, most girls aged 5-7 decided this person had to be identified as someone that wasn’t their same gender, but rather a boy or a man.
Stereotypes aren’t real and don’t fit every girl, which means little girls can become just as successful as little boys. But this devaluation of their own gender can imply that their aspirations in life may differ from what they should be. Making it easy: when you are 6, you don’t aim to become a neurologist because you don’t know what that is. You aim to be a doctor, which you are familiar with. We wish to become what we see, what we are around. So if we are never taught that there are women who are awesome scientists, we won’t work to become a scientist, simply because we don’t think of that as a possibility for us. Little girls learn to hate themselves at a very young age, just like they learn these gender stereotypes. They’re constantly bombarded with perfect Disney princesses whose waists are unrealistic, perfect photoshopped models whose abs are impossible to achieve and perfect actresses whose long legs without any stretch marks or scars are a result of editing. No doubt: these girls will become obsessed with their appearance, with looking like these unreal role models, with being skinnier, toner, prettier.
I must say I have never been the skinny type, I was always more of a big kid. When I was 12 I was pretty overweight, but came across a basketball coach who took my fear and 20 pounds of my weight. After that, I have fluctuated. I gained a bunch of weight back in the US, lost it all during my stressful senior year. I have always been self-conscious, but now I’m happy with myself and I believe I’m beautiful. Still, I struggle with thinking my weight is healthy and okay, which leads to not always making the best choices when eating, working out, etc.
Three days ago I was in the gym’s locker room, after an awesome workout which had me feeling very motivated. Two little girls, who looked about 5, came inside to change their clothes for their athletics class. I heard them whispering (well, what you believe whispering is when you are 5) and I couldn’t help but listen. They were talking about me, well, more specifically, about my body. I’m pretty pale, and with the whole weight change, I have a couple of stretch marks that I have learned to live with. But they were commenting how I had some purple scars, how my legs looked bigger than the rest of my body or how I had very small boobs but a very big butt.
I must say, these comments didn’t hurt me like they would have hurt me when I was 15 and hated the body I have. I don’t think they were mean comments, just a simple observation any five-year-old could make. This time, the only thing I could think of was how two little girls have in mind such unrealistic body standards that they thought my body (which, I believe, it’s a normal, okay body) was so unperfect. Obviously, it’s far from Cinderella’s body, but pretty close to the body of any 19-year-old.
I thought how sad it was that these girls will probably go through the same self-hate I went through, for way too many years. I thought how they will look in the mirror and cry thinking of all the things that are wrong with them. I thought how they will probably starve themselves, or workout till they’re exhausted, or stay home instead of going to the beach because they can’t stand the vision of themselves in a bikini.I thought how I want girls to be raised on radical self-love. On believing the only thing they have to be is healthy; not skinny, not curvy, not anything. I thought about how I wish I could tell those two five-year-olds that they are beautiful, that they matter, and that it is important they remember that forever. That their worth isn’t on their weight, on how many guys like them or on how many followers they have on
I thought of how I wanted girls to be raised on radical self-love. On believing the only thing they have to be is healthy; not skinny, not curvy, not anything. I thought about how I wished I could tell those two five-year-olds that they are beautiful, that they matter, and that it is important they remember that forever. That their worth isn’t in their weight, in how many guys like them or in how many followers they have on Instagram.
I wish I would have told them that because what I deeply wish the most is that someone would have told me that when I was their age.