Girl Pressure - Younger and Older

Kara Powell | Feb 21, 2011

While much of Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter is more of a bunch of reminders of ideas/principles I’ve already thought about, she did open my eyes to the odd younger and older pressures that girls are facing.

Orenstein writes, “The identical midriff-baring crop top is sold to eight year-olds, eighteen year-olds, and forty-eight year-olds. The phases of our lives have become strangely blurred, as girls try to look like adult women and adult women primp and preen and work like crazy in order to look like girls.”

Girls are trying to look older, and women are trying to look younger. Neither group is happy with their looks; they both want what the other has.

Sometimes the tidal wave of unhealthy messages deluging our girls feels so big that I feel like I’m standing there with a small umbrella, trying to protect every girl I know. And while Orenstein’s book is very convicting, it’s not exactly hope-inspiring.

But Orenstein does mention something that many others (including me!) have mentioned in the past: we as women have enormous power in the messages we send to girls—about the way we feel about ourselves and the way we feel about them. Orenstein confesses that in her research of adolescent girls, she often uses a physical compliment or two as a way to connect with the girls she’s talking to (i.e., “I like your earrings.” “Where did you get that top?”). I confess I’ve done EXACTLY the same thing in youth ministry. It’s an easy, quick way to connect with a girl.

I’m going to try NOT to do that. I’m going to try to look for other ways to connect with girls, like asking them how soccer is going, or if they’ve heard back from their college of choice yet.

Orenstein also describes a mom who decided NOT to compliment her daughters on their physical attractiveness when the girls were all dressed up. Instead, she told them they were beautiful when they were dirty, disheveled, or in the bath - that way girls knew that it was THEM who was beautiful, not the clothes or accessories. That’s a good and do-able idea too.

What else are you doing to try to send positive messages to girls?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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