Have you ever thought about how many times a day someone or something tells you what you’re supposed to look like, act like or feel like?
Can you imagine a place where you can be whomever you want to be?
Some people believe that imagining what you want is the first step on the road to finding it. I know seeing a place inside my head helps me create or find it in the outside world. For example, when girls asked me for a place to meet girls from other countries, I planned a meeting in my head and then found people to share it with. We had a gathering, the First National Girls’ Conference, at UNICEF House in New York City with girls from 40 US states and 10 countries in 1997. Guess what? It felt and looked like the wonderful meeting girls and I imagined. Our energy and hope still helps girls and women stay positive about being female even as they face challenges. To be happy from the inside out, each of us needs to keep positive feelings about ourselves alive and strong.
Let’s imagine that each time you are told something negative about yourself, especially things that have to do with being a girl, you see yourself in a place where you can be positive about being a girl and being yourself.
What would your special place look like? Is it an island, one of my favorite places, or is it on a mountaintop? In your bedroom? Are you alone? Are there animals nearby? Birds? A special friend?
Let’s suppose someone has just told you that girls are supposed to be quiet and let others talk because a girl’s place is as a listener rather than a talker. You, however, enjoy talking and want to share your thoughts with other people, including adults who believe girls should be seen and not heard from at all.
Close your eyes and imagine a safe place where you can be yourself. Take a deep breath and settle into feeling comfortable and strong.
Are you the type of person who would open her eyes and ask the people around her to listen to what you have to say? Are you a girl who prefers to save her words for another time because you have a feeling it will easier once you have more practice feeling calm, focused on positive feelings, and in control? There are as many ways to act as there are girls. No one way is the only way or the right way to respond to negative opinions about you. It depends on who you are, where you are, and how you feel. Feeling and actually being physically and emotionally safe are important factors in deciding what you can do and say aloud.
What if it’s one of those times that you feel hopeless about having control over your life? Is that special place still important to you?
Girls I know tell me that whether or not they feel in control, they enjoy imagining a place where they can be themselves. I practice imagining a beach with water that is clear enough to see the bottom. The seawater feels like silk against my skin. It calms and frees me at the same time.
Here’s what twelve-year old Amulya says about her special place:
“Sometimes when I feel like I’m the only one who cares about being myself despite the pressure to be very thin, wear makeup and giggle about boys all the time, I imagine my special place,” says Amulya. “I feel hopeful and can move forward easier than if I let myself go along with what feels wrong to me.
“Of course, it’s harder,” Amulya explains, “ when everyone seems to think differently from me. But my special place is always there, deep inside me. I guess I go there for inspiration.”
Did you know that girls can inspire each other? Girls in Afghanistan where it’s still dangerous to go to school find a way to get to class every day. Sometimes they hide in dark rooms with windows covered in order to be safe from people who believe only boys can move about outside. Thousands of girls showed up at school when they reopened after the recent war, and acted as if it was the best gift they ever had. They continue to come to school even as the enemy called the Taliban executes their teachers and terrorizes them.
“If I can learn each day in and out of school,” one girl in Afghanistan says, “I have hope for my future and believe what’s unfair in my country can change.” Even though it’s dangerous, girls in places such as Afghanistan are determined to get an education and stay true to what they believe.
Girls close to you and far away believe the same thing about being a girl as Patty in the United States believes: “Girls have strengths that can change the world.”
Sometimes it’s unsafe to be yourself and sometimes it’s safe. No matter what, however, deep inside you that special place is safe and a source of inspiration.
Remember, the next time someone tells you something that isn’t true about you or girls in general, imagine you’re in your special place. Look for the words that will keep you safe and help make the world a happier place for girls to grow up in. Someday, you may publish your ideas for others to read.
This Girls Speak Out column is one place where you can read and write what you want others to know about girls. Send me your opinions and we’ll include them here.*
Who knows? Maybe this will be a special place where you can find yourself and girls like you.
I know girls inspire me everyday. I hope you write to us, send us pictures of your special place, too, and soon more girls may inspire each other to stay true to themselves as they grow up.
*How to reach us:
[email protected] or www.girlsspeakout.org
Note: Anyone can read this column, but alternate columns are written for girls. We hope that readers will write us and we will publish their writings and drawings. Please suggest ideas for columns, ask questions or describe what it means to them to be a girl. Girls Speak Out® is a program, book, organization that supports and connects girls, and an online column where girls can find each other. We invite you to join us.
Copyright © 2006 Andrea Johnston
ANDREA JOHNSTON is the author of Girls Speak Out: Finding Your True Self and the founder of the Girls Speak Out Foundation, an advocacy organization working with girls and their supporters on five continents. A 30-year veteran of public and private school teaching, Andrea convened and helped organize the First National Girls Conference at UNICEF House in New York in 1997. She has appeared in a Lifetime documentary, on CNN’s Talk Back Live!, and on local and national radio shows. She has also been a frequent keynote speaker at YWCA youth conferences, on college campuses, for parenting organizations, and in the General Assembly and Trusteeship Council of the United Nations. She has a son, Jesse, and lives in Northern California. Visit Andrea's web site at www.girlsspeakout.org.