Originally written May 8, 2015 (Thank you, Facebook, for the tour through Memories!). Updated May 10, 2016.
Here’s the thing about rushing our girls prematurely through girlhood – if they act like miniature teenagers during their childhood they miss out on that special feeling that comes from being just a smidge more grown up. When you can feel yourself getting just a little more sophisticated by the new thing you are doing and you can see what is ahead of you as you continue to grow. If you’re 5 going on 21, those special little moments don’t mean anything because you’ve already done it all.
Like tonight at my husband’s birthday dinner, my nine-year-old daughter was allowed to wear dangling earrings for the first time in honor of the special occasion. She chose to have her ears pierced a year ago, a decision we felt was important for her to make for her own body, and we’ve limited her earrings to small styles that just cover the bottom of her earlobes. Maybe for some families it isn’t even a consideration, but my husband and I told her dangling earrings are more for older girls and grown ups, and little earrings are for little girls who run and play hard and wrestle. Not that older girls can’t do those things, I just don’t usually wrestle with my friends when I get overly excited. Usually.
Because we had her wait to take the next step to being an older, more sophisticated girl these dangling earrings were a big deal to her. She felt special. She felt fancy and excited to be exploring something new. She felt the power that comes with becoming a woman.
Our mothers give birth to us, but it is through the process of girlhood that we give birth to ourselves.
I believe that is one of the reasons society rushes girls through their girlhood. Aside from the billions of dollars there is to be made in the beauty and apparel industry when girls act like appearance-conscious women, culturally we rush girlhood in order for our daughters to practice the script of being a woman. Think about the bulk of what is marketed to girls: princesses, glitter art, fashion, makeup, fancy pets, boyfriends. Culturally we sell our girls out to the lowest common denominators of expected femininity.
When we take away girlhood we rob our daughters of so many opportunities for self discovery, achievement and failure, curiosity, and confidence building. We rush girlhood because the patriarchy understands the power there and does everything possible to dismantle it.
My husband and I winked at each other during dinner when we would catch our girl tossing her head just to feel the dangling earrings swing and dance from her ears. For the evening she was trying on being a grown up. She was temporarily borrowing a part of being a lady with fancy grown up jewelry; visiting adulthood soon to return to being a happy nine-year-old girl.
There’s no need to rush. These children grow so, so quickly. In a breath, your daughter is taking a photo before dinner and she looks more like a preteen than your baby girl and you fight back tears as you think “Where did all this time go?”
She’ll be grown soon enough. Hopefully she’ll be her own strong version of being her own woman, who may or may not wear danging earrings. But tonight, I’m so glad for my little girl that fancy earrings were a big deal and she looks forward to growing and maturing and figuring out what all this grown up stuff is about.
All in due time, as tonight there are earrings to put back in the jewelry box and little brothers to wrestle with.
What is the cost to our girls when we allow or encourage them to rush through their girlhood? What do little girls gain when they are given the time to try on womanhood one bit at a time?
Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of“Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.