Girling Pains By Dana

When grade school begins (and even before then), it’s made clear that boys and girls are different. Whether we’re split into separate lines to go to the bathroom, have designated “play areas” or have boys versus girls games at recess, gender barriers are clearly defined - for better or for worse.

While boys and girls are made out to be different early on, the struggles of being a female didn’t really hit me until middle school. Along with the unavoidable (often embarrassing) physical changes that occur during adolescence, my outlook on the world and my future changed drastically as well.

In America, it’s expected of women to focus on and perfect their physical appearance. Makeup, name brand clothing and dietary restrictions are advertised to women at an extremely young age, which can easily create unhealthy habits on both physical and mental levels. As Beyoncé so elegantly proclaims in her hit song “Pretty Hurts”: “Perfection is the disease of a nation.” In America, her words couldn’t ring truer.

When I was faced with these “feminine” struggles in middle school, I noticed how my brother (who’s only a year older than me) didn’t experience the same obstacles. As I became entranced by my physical appearance and perfecting it, my brother’s interests didn’t seem to change. He still watched football every Sunday, played video games and ate however much he wanted without regret. I began to wonder why I had to change and my brother didn’t. I asked myself more than once: “What good comes out of womanhood?”

As it turns out, a lot. Coming from a single parent household (my mother is the matriarch), I learned a lot about independence and strength at a very young age. Once my middle school years ended, I realized that I didn’t have to conform to society’s feminine expectations, which my mom tried to instill in me years ago. Although boys and girls are different in a variety of ways, they can achieve the same goals.

While gender barriers have been clearly defined over time, we must remember: Boys and girls aren’t all that different. Although society has clearly separated the two genders, we must keep in mind what we have in common. Like their male counterparts, women enjoy watching sports, playing video games and reaching career milestones - most of these “differences” are simply social constructs - all aside from inconsistencies in male/female biology, which have been scientifically proven.

By recognizing this, I’ve empowered myself. If men don’t have to follow these societal expectations, then why should I? There’s much more to women than physical appearance, so why should I be consumed by my own reflection?

I shouldn’t be. While guys and girls are physically different, they have a lot in common. I learned this at an extremely young age, as my brother and I were encouraged to play the same sports and express our creativity in similar ways. When my confidence began to waver in middle school, I became confused by society’s expectations for young girls, and this continues to occur today.

We can even start with designated “boy colors” and “girl colors” that are established basically at birth. My niece, Sadie, loves the color blue, and she thought this color preference made her a “tomboy.” When I was the same age (she’s nine), I thought loving the color pink made me a “girly girl.” My favorite color was primarily determined by what society perceives as “girl colors,” and I strived to avoid “boy colors.” This same ideology persisted into my middle school years, as I twisted my interests to meet 13-year-old girl norms.

To prevent these norms from being accepted (and even encouraged) by society, we must address the issue head on, at an early age. If boys can love blue, then girls can love the color, too. If boys can love sports, then so can girls. Women are groomed to think that appearances are everything, but have we recognized what damage this belief can cause? Any flaw that a woman (myself included) finds in her appearance is amplified, as the female gender is expected to appear physically perfect and presentable. Returning to“Pretty Hurts,” this emphasizes how “perfection” is a disease.

My advice to any girl who doubts herself is to look to the empowering female role models that surround her - whether it be your mother, an aunt, a friend or even Beyoncé herself - you’ll begin to see what women are truly capable of.