The female group, TLC, coined the term “Unpretty” in a song with the same title in 1999. I was a senior in high school that year. The song was authentic and relatable because as a teenager, I often felt inadequate – not smart/pretty/outgoing enough. Some may say these are normal teenage emotions. But perhaps I felt (and honestly, still sometimes feel) this way because society conditioned in me that being imperfect and “unpretty” is not the status quo for girls.
“We’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”
Reshma Saujani, an education activist, gave a TED talk where she made some salient points, including the aformentioned quote.
Then Saujani hit me with another point -“most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure;they’re taught to smile pretty. play it safe. get all A’s. Boys on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and just jump off. Head first. And by the time they’re adults…they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it.”
In today’s society, it seems that many girls are socialized to believe that perfection will reap them rewards, while risks are scary and should be avoided whenever possible.
I should know – I was (am?) one of those girls. How many times have I smiled pretty instead of standing up for myself when a strange man shouts obscene cat-calls in my direction? Play it safe, look the other way.
Despite my desire to be perfect, I will say that I consider myself rather brave. After college I moved from Ohio to North Carolina on my own. I did not know a single soul in North Carolina, but it seemed like a good idea. And it was.
But I bet you there are other women who have similar stories of taking risks. However, these are not the stories being broadcast on magazines while I wait in the check-out line at the nearest grocery store. Headlines such as “How to get your exact dream job” and “The easiest 5 lbs. you ever lost” brainwash girls into thinking perfection is key. Sure, your dream job exists, but you’ll likely have to work a few non-dreamy jobs before you get there. And you’ll likely have to take risks. Because oftentimes, jobs can be comfortable and offer a sense of stability.
How, as an educator, can I instill risk-taking in my female students when the image flawless girls is everywhere? How can girls become comfortable with imperfection?