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It’s Time to Talk About “Girl World”

Very happy girl friends on a night out at a bar

Photo courtesy of fotolia

I’ll never forget my entrance into the Girl World. My family moved from a small town in Northern California to an even smaller town in the middle of Nebraska during the summer prior to my junior year in high school. Everyone in the school knew I was coming as I had sent an audition tape to be part of the cheerleading squad and made it.

Being the happy, kind-hearted and slightly naïve teenager that I was, I had no doubt that I would make friends right away. I chose to wear a sweet summer dress that first day at Seward High and entered the school with great expectations and a beaming smile.

Stares. Raised eyebrows. Backs turned. What was happening?

Things got worse as I timidly made my way down the hall. “What a slut.” “Who does she think she is?” I was crushed, confused, and hurt. As it turns out, there was an unwritten rule that respectable girls don’t wear dresses to school. I unknowingly broke that rule and paid a hefty price. That one “mistake” solidified my status in the minds of my peers and it seemed there was nothing I could do to change it.

Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson also experienced the cruelty of Girl World in high school and decided to do something about it. They spent months traveling across the country interviewing girls and women about their lives and experiences. The result was a beautiful documentary called Finding Kind which brings attention to some of the factors that contribute to this mean-girl phenomenon infiltrating our schools. The heart-breaking bottom line is this: girls feel that they are not enough. Not pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, popular enough. In an attempt to assuage their feelings of inadequacy girls are turning on each other, fighting to be on top of the social ladder, or at least avoid being at the bottom of it.

This mean-girl phenomenon has inspired books, movies and sitcoms. It’s been glamorized in adult women on reality TV shows like Real Housewives and Dance Moms. We watch these shows and think of them as entertainment without considering the effect they have on our young girls. The true reality is that rates of depression and anxiety amongst teenage girls are rising. Girls are taking their own lives because of the emotional trauma they’ve experienced at the hands of their female peers. I am certain that I speak for all when I say that this is not what we want for our daughters.

So, what can we do about it? Let’s stop watching the shows that glamorize cruelty between girls and women. Let’s have conversations with our daughters about the constant barrage of media that tells them they have to look or act a certain way in order to be good enough. Let’s teach our young women how to express their feelings and needs assertively rather than passive-aggressively. Let’s exemplify patience, positive communication and forgiveness so that these things become the new norm. Let’s listen to the wisdom of Gandhi and be the change we wish to see in this world.

My experience in Girl World broke me temporarilty. But, because of a very strong support system and the kindness of one courageous girl who befriended me, it did not destroy me. I hope that you will initiate conversations with your daughters about the messages they are receiving from society and talk to them about kindness, true beauty, and what it means to be courageous. Maybe, just maybe, those conversations will give them the extra strength they will need to fight the powerful forces of Girl World.

Keira Merkovsky is a Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping people realize and utilize their strengths. She has been working with children, teens and families for more than 15 years and has gained experience from her work in group homes, schools, and universities. Keira provides individual and family counseling, and offers a workshop for girls that aims to reduce social aggression and develop new, healthy ways of relating. She lives in Mission Viejo with her husband and two preschoolers, and maintains her private practice in Lake Forest.
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