I often hear people speak about teenage girls in a very negative way. I find it common to hear about the drama, the fights (both with friends and family), the cost of clothes, the tears, and the boy craziness. Which brings me to my next question, are teenage girls getting a bad rap? Are we being fair? Is there truth to this view, and if so why?
When I look at teenage girls today I see a lot of pressure. Pressure to be magazine/celebrity beautiful, intelligent, funny, and athletic. Pressure to be perfect. They want to be popular, and to be popular they must be all of these. There is one exception, beauty. If you hold the beauty card, then, often times you get a free pass into popularity. But, if you hold all the traits, then you really get to bask in the popularity. The stress of striving for perfection is destroying our young girls. Having goals for our youth that can never be achieved is a recipe for disaster. With women entering the work force, and becoming more involved in other aspects aside from housework, I think the pressure is at its highest ever for young girls. They now are faced with the reality that just being the “leave it to Beaver mom” isn’t enough (and that goal isn’t any small task either). They now have to strive to be everything, perfection. The message is that a husband wants a women that can be Mary Poppins at home, have a PhD, Look like a supermodel, and be a vixen in the bedroom.
Female teens are now dealing with, and putting to use all the messages they have received their whole lives. The messages they have received since birth are closely linked to their self value. It is linked to their self value because their play taught them that dress up, housekeeping, and care for family, and even shopping (how else do you build a beautiful home, and dress yourself up), among other feminine traits, are of high value for them, and the better you perform, the higher your value. Playing dress up was practice for the future. And dressing up well translates into finding a better male, and finding a suitable male fulfills all the criteria (having children, taking care of house and family) we are taught during play. Therefore, if beauty and perfection equals success in life, then wouldn’t it make sense that they take it very seriously when their play turns into reality? And wouldn’t it also make sense that a young girl dealing with the stress of that, while still developing who she is as a person, adjusting to hormones, and transitioning into the adult world, would have a lot to be dramatic about? To her this is serious business, her future in on the line.
As a child I loved Barbie’s. My friends and I would play for hours, but there was always an underlying competition. A competition to see who could dress their Barbie the best, hair and all, and then try to get the ken dolls to like them. We also tried to see whose house could be done the best. We always took turns choosing dolls, clothing, and house items (so there was also competition for the items). Once we were teenagers (and even earlier, but to a lesser degree) we really started to put those skills to the test. Play was one thing, but reality is another. It’s not light-hearted play anymore. A young girl is now testing her “play” in the real world, and finding out where she ranks. And to them, the unsaid ranking (sometimes not so unsaid) they get is the rank they live with even after graduation. If you find out you rank high in popularity, then you must maintain that status (which is very stressful), and if you rank low you are always striving to be better, to be good enough to be popular . Young girls translate this rank into their self-worth. They take it very seriously. School has been their whole life, and it can be really hard for youth to understand just how big the world is after highschool. They live whole heartedly in this bubble of high school. Boys on the other hand, have been playing with building toys, cars/four wheelers/snow mobiles, video games, hunting, and sports (along with other typical male toys), and issues more outside themselves to focus on. They are putting to test their skills of cars (perhaps fixing up a car) , focusing on athletics, “rough housing with other boys”, beating the latest video game, or tinkering with computers and electronics, and issues that tend to be more outside of themselves. Certainly some boys care more about looks, and some girls put more emphasis on athletics. However, generally speaking, the two genders do favor certain areas over others. In the end, boys tend to focus on things outside themselves, extrinsic and more light-hearted fun stuff. Whereas, girls focus on intrinsic stuff, much more serious self-worth issues. How beautiful you are is much more personal and serious, then how how beautiful your car is.
It’s really hard on a person when their looks are being focused on, and critiqued. It’s difficult to not take that very personally for anyone. And it’s even harder when you base your future success, and value so heavily on the trait of beauty. When I think of the word beautiful it makes me think first of the female gender. And it also seems to correlated as one of the most complimentary words one can receive. All this being said, it’s not hard to understand how damaging, and stressful it can be to someone’s self esteem when so much weight is then cast on beauty as the holy grail of traits for a female.
To sum it up, girls learn to base their value on intrinsic traits while boys learn to base their value (to a much higher level) on extrinsic traits. Therefore, a young girl feels a lot of pressure, and comes to damaging realizations about herself at a very delicate age. When a human feels pressure and stress, a very typical response is to be moody, short-tempered, emotional, and even depressed. So wouldn’t it make sense that young girls act dramatic? Perhaps rather than give them a bad rap, label, and blame them, we should understand, nurture, and help them counteract this imbalance of value. We need to change the messages we give young girls as they grow. We need to give them more extrinsic activities to focus on. We need to send the message from birth that perfection is not the goal. We need to give both girls and boys balance.
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