Lisa Miller: Empowering Your Daughters…And You

“I’m not eating this weekend because the girls at school want to be skinny.”  Emily, 9.

In 2004, after years of processing my own body image issues, and with a determination to have things be different for my daughters, I didn’t expect my own child to begin that steep slide into dieting misery so soon, if at all.

I took a few hours to recover from my little girl’s statement of deprivation, and then I came to the conclusion that if I really wanted things to be different, I would need to take action myself, and fast.

The conversation and research that followed opened my eyes to several truths:

  1. Kids  talk.  And they are all affected by media messages (billboards, commercials, print ads, Hollywood glamour) about protruding stomachs, fat thighs, and jiggly arms.
  2. Women talk.  We do, and it’s a lot of self-criticism about protruding stomachs, fat thighs, and jiggly arms. And, we talk about other women in relationship to all those things, and about how she looked in that outfit.  Constantly, constantly, constantly.  Conversations overheard about appearance become messages about what  is  acceptable, desirable, worthy of love, and they are more potent than any billboard costing 1,000’s of dollars to print, because they are personal—about real people we know—about ourselves.  And, our girls are listening closely, all the time.
  3. The seeds of self-esteem and self-image are planted long before girls approach puberty.  Though criticism may be directed at others, and even if we only ever compliment our little girls, they grow on the reality that criticism is just around corner if they grow into women of stomachs, thighs, and arms, of any type.

So what’s a mother to do? I wasn’t certain, but I was sure that I wouldn’t allow one more generation of women in my family to struggle with the self-hatred that comes from a legacy of criticism, peer pressure, never ending dieting, and debilitating low self-esteem.

I did have a hunch that in order to help make changes for my daughter and her friends, I needed to help make cognitive and emotional changes for moms, too.   Because after all, we were all once girls who grew on those very messages.  No one ever told us to stop listening.

And so, with mother-bear determination, I called health and wellness professionals in my Lexington community who seemed to carry some authority: pediatrician; nutritionist; psychotherapist; police-officer.  And I asked them to become a part of the community that Hillary Clinton talked about in, It Takes a Village, where everyone helps raise healthy children.

Click on image to purchase book

With professionals on board, Girls Rock!:  Workshops for Girls and Moms, was born.  We would all come together, pre-teen girls, mothers, and professionals, for a big empowering day of programming that would make all of us responsible for healthier language, relationship to self and friends, and habits at home.

But still, the kids in attendance would need real, up-close and personal role models to emulate—people they could think of as big sisters—the ultimate role models of omniscient authority to a girl.

So I recruited a diverse team of teenagers with leadership potential who seemed to defy what Mary Pipher identifies as one of our culture’s greatest tragedies when she says, “Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and to display only a small portion of their gifts.”

When Girls Rock! Teen Mentors stood with confidence in front of girls, moms, and professionals in attendance and said, “We are different sizes, shapes, and ethnicities, with a wide range of hobbies and goals for ourselves, and this is what normal looks like; This is what pretty looks like”, younger girls listened closely, but the mothers and professionals were moved to tears.

And then it was clear.  Hearing for the first time from people who represented our own youth, that beauty was never meant to be one-size-fits-all ,  opened the blinds and let the sun shine on the truth that we always were, and are right now, pretty enough and good enough, and that we are so much more.

Isn’t that all we really want for ourselves?

It is exactly what we want for our daughters.

One workshop led to another, and another, and we became a non-profit and published a book (Click here to order), and I can report that my daughters now teens themselves, are Girls Rock! Mentors, today.   Hallelujah.

Looking back now, it’s amazing to me that this has been so easy to pull off—recruiting and training teen leaders, finding passionate professionals and generous keynote speakers, and reaching out to moms and girls who would attend.  Technically, I didn’t know anything about running this kind of thing—I was driven intuitively, and I found that woman both young and old could relate.

Year after year, Girls Rock! continues to be one big community of volunteers and families showing up just because we have all been affected, are still affected by a ridiculously unfair standard.  But most of all, we gather because we care about the developing self-esteem of girls.

What’s become clear to me over the years is this:  Though there is undeniable strength in pervasive cultural messages especially saturated by media, there is something more powerful at play when women come together.  It’s the profound realization that we have always been a part of something that is much bigger—it’s called Sisterhood, The Women’s Lodge, the Feminine Divine.

This is a place anywhere and everywhere on this planet where females of every age, status, and background can gather to nurture one another with acceptance.  That’s it.  It’s simple, it’s as old and natural as time it’s itself, and it’s a magical thing to be a part of.  It makes us grateful to be women.

So, it turns out that my years of healing before motherhood were just the very beginning for me because I’ve been thinking about body image in a way that couldn’t have been possible before that fateful weekend of my young daughter’s self doubt.  And while the distance travelled to arrive to a place of peace is never easy with these issues, I’m feeling it’s been worth the journey so far.

Most of all, if my daughters and their peers grow into adulthood with perspective, confidence, physical health and self-esteem, I will say that I wouldn’t have had it any other way all along.  We’ll see. Prayer helps a lot too.

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Click here for full-size event flier

The next Girls Rock! Workshop for girls (10-13) and Moms, is March 3, 2012 at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, KY. Click here for registration information, or contact Lisa directly at GirlsRockKY@aol.com 

Visit us on Facebook at events page: Girls Rock! Workshops for Girls and Mom: Empower Your Daughters and the Girl in You

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