“Remember in grade school when the boys would snap your bra strap against your back?” Several of the other ladies looked at me with a knowing glance. Yes, they remembered.
Recently, a friend was talking about how excited her niece was to get her first training bra. My mind immediately transported me back to that awkward time of adolescence when I was half fired up to begin wearing the badge of womanhood and half totally embarrassed. The latter feeling mostly stemmed from the fact that the boys in my class were also noticing this milestone. And their way of letting us girls know they were clued in was to come up from behind, grab and pull back our bra straps, then swiftly let them go so they smacked against our backs as they ran away laughing.
If you have read my twenty-five random facts about myself that I posted on the “About This Girl” page, you may have seen that I have this hypothetical party to which I invite celebrities I’m infatuated with. To be clear, the “invitation” consists of me simply saying, “I like him/her. He/She can come to my party.” I have no intention of having said party or expecting any of the guests to show up. Anyway, on the guest list was “Oprah’s best friend Gayle (but not Oprah).” It’s not that I didn’t like Oprah; I’m sure she would be a very polite party guest, and I did for a split second think about hiring her to announce each celebrity as they came in (Jooooel McHAAAAAAAALLLLEEE!). But she always just struck me as a bit too much of a name-dropper (I get it, she’s your “good friend Maya Angelou”), and Gayle just always struck me as the kind of girl who would travel to St. Louis for the sole reason of trying some fried chicken at Sweetie Pie’s. I’m down with that.
However, my view of Oprah changed the other day while watching her special, “Oprah Builds a Network” on the OWN channel. We all know Oprah has done countless works of charity, changed people’s lives all over the world, given people cars…you name it, she’s done it. But on that television special, I saw her do something that immediately made me see that she can literally change a life with the simplest of gestures that come from a place of authenticity. And it was all in a few words she said. She had just arrived someplace and came across a little girl, probably around my daughter’s age. I wish I could remember her exact words, but she looked at the girl and said, completely unprompted, something like, “I didn’t know YOU were going to be here! I had no idea I was going to meet such a beautiful little girl with such beautiful freckles. You have just the perfect amount of freckles.”
Simply, it made me smile. All Oprah had to say to that little girl was “nice to meet you,” if even that. Instead, she seized that brief moment to build a little girl’s self-esteem, to let her know she is enough to impress even Oprah exactly the way she is. For the rest of her life, that girl can remember the day Oprah Winfrey told her she was beautiful and that she had the perfect amount of freckles. If that doesn’t warrant giving Oprah an invitation to my party, I don’t know what does. I have certainly invited others for much less…like Pee-Wee Herman for teaching me there is no basement in the Alamo.
Being that I have a young girl of my own who has already felt the sting of low self-esteem, I might be hyper-sensitive to this issue. And so are a lot of other people. The assault against the positive self images of girls is a hot button topic. But as much as I agree that something needs to be done, I am often left feeling that so many of these “true beauty” campaigns seem too contrived, too inauthentic, too commercialized. Are girls really going to start feeling better about themselves because a soap company tells them they are beautiful, buttering them up so they will buy their soap? Maybe instead of making a special point to say the average girl is beautiful like some public service announcement, it just needs to become part of our normal rhetoric. And maybe we should throw in some other even more important attributes, like strong, capable, creative, worthy, and intelligent. Then maybe we can continue to raise generations of girls who will feel empowered enough to pursue the roles they choose, and be confident and proud in the choices they make for themselves, whether they want to be a politician or a stay-at-home mom.
Eventually, hopefully, the media will catch up. There ARE media sources out there trying to make a change (check out a new magazine called Verily). And I’m not talking about magazines who use one plus-sized model and then make a big deal about how they are using a plus-sized model because they “want to represent real women.” I don’t get that phrase. Does that implicate the other models as unreal women just because they are skinny? And pointing out that you are doing it in the first place automatically implies an inferiority of the plus-sized model AND the women she represents. Like please make sure you realize we are doing this to make you feel better about yourself, otherwise, we wouldn’t likely be doing it.
In the meantime, we can’t wait for the media. And we shouldn’t be letting the media raise our children anyway. WE are responsible for making our daughters feel good about themselves, and teaching them to look inside to find their self-worth. Let’s all be a little more like Oprah, saying and doing things to make our daughters feel as though they are enough to impress us just as they are. That’s all Oprah really had to do to impress me.
But if she wants to give me a car too, I wouldn’t stop her.
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” – Irina Dunn
My friend Karen made reference to that quote the other day, and I smiled when I read it. I immediately had a flashback to my sophomore year of college when my dorm mates and I adopted it as our unofficial slogan, since all four of us had hopeless crushes on guys who either barely knew we existed or were masters at mind games. We were even going to make tee shirts emblazoned with the phrase, complete with a drawing I had made of a fish riding a bicycle, toting the four of us along in a side car. We never actually made the tee shirts which, in the long run, probably helped my future dating life, lest I be branded a man-hater.
And I have to admit now I sure need my husband a whole lot more than a fish needs a bicycle. In my case, maybe I could change the analogy to “A woman needs a man like a fish needs that little snail who eats all the crud off the walls of the tank and makes the place a little less lonely.” But the spirit of sisterhood the original statement implies is still something I believe in…probably now more than ever. A woman needs her girlfriends. Period.
I have amazing girlfriends. Funny, intelligent, big-hearted, supportive, do-anything-for-you amazing girlfriends. And I am lucky to not just have a few of them…I have a lot of them. For some reason, I must have been at the right place at the right time on several different occasions to acquire all these groups of women who at any given point in my life fill my bucket when too many things have been dipping into it. And they can each do it in a way that is special and unique to the certain bond that we have, be it our nostalgic high school or college experience, having kids in class together, our family ties, our shared love of music, all being married to fraternity brothers, or having worked side by side as colleagues. But they can also do it in a way that can not be matched because they are women, and we all share bits and pieces of a larger conscious, like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s over-soul: a conscious that allows certain things to go unconditionally understood.
Yet that does not keep us from sitting around a table of margaritas and Mexican food, talking about anything and everything for hours on end. My average girls’ night out dinner runs about three hours, and probably would go longer if we did not get such dirty looks from the wait staff who are trying to close up and go home on a Tuesday night. My husband has said on more than one occasion, “What do you talk about for that long? How do you sit in one place? I’d shoot myself in the eye.” Well, that’s how I feel about football, which is equally as long, not nearly as funny, and no one is wearing anything that I care to know where it came from so I can go get one for myself.
So yeah, girlfriends rock. To all my girlfriends, consider this my love letter to you. I thank each and every one of you for being in my life, for making me laugh way too hard, for talking me through things, for listening me through things, for having my back, for making me feel normal, for making me feel special, for inspiring me, for giving me role models to look to, for loving me for who I am, and for letting me know who you are. Because you are all beautiful. I feel honored to swim in your schools.
And to my husband, lest he feel slighted by this post: This fish may not need a bicycle, but I have never been a strong swimmer, and I much prefer the ride offered by your wheels.