I wasn’t always a girly girl.
I wore a uniform to school growing up, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for self-expression. And I played sports, so I didn’t wear a ton of jewelry besides the precious silver bracelets my mom gave me that I still wear today. I didn’t own any makeup until college and that was just the mascara I would smudge on my eyes to make it look like I knew how to do eyeliner. Getting ready for church was pretty much the only time I made an effort to be feminine (just realized something– is this why I’m obsessed with Sunday Best??? Food for thought) and I was probably too insecure to claim any sort of style preferences.
I didn’t really become a girly girl until I moved in with a man.
I got married when I was 21 and going from Elizabeth Trusty to Ellen Burton–for some reason, I stopped correcting people when they called me by my first name when I’ve gone by my middle name my entire life–caused me to have a bit of an identity crisis. So I gravitated towards anything that made me feel like myself. And that just happened to be girly stuff. Bracelet stacks, headbands, dresses, you name it. After years of wearing a mandated uniform, after a lifetime of insecurity, I finally found an identity that gave me confidence and made me feel like myself. I am, in fact, a Girly Girl.
So what, right? And also, like, obviously.
But what’s not so obvious is how I can go about safely raising my girly girl, Ella. I’ve had a few experiences since becoming a mom that have made me think about this seemingly trivial quality. Any time I have referred to Ella as girly or liking your typical little girl things, which she certainly does at the moment, someone chimes in with “oh but she’s also” then insert-better-adjective-here. Strong, smart, bold, whatever. And I guess I just want to say that there is nothing wrong with letting a little girl be, well, girly. Don’t sell girls short; what about being “like a girl” is incompatible with being strong or smart or bold or whatever?
Of course, it’s important to me to expose Ella to more than just what naturally interests and delights her. And my husband ends every fairytale by replacing “and they lived happily ever after” with “and then she went to college.” I’m honestly not sure if Ella knows any of the princesses are married. There’s a lot I want her to learn and experience but I’m not going to try to change her. And Ella is 4; any adjectives we attribute to her now could be totally different before we know it. She’s going to Kindergarten next year and the world is just going to get more and more of her time. I’m not going to send her out there feeling bad about what she likes or who she is.
Now you might be thinking, “Huh?” or, “What is Elizabeth Trusty/Ellen Burton even talking about?” and I wouldn’t blame you. Girly girls are hardly an oppressed class. But I do feel self-conscious sometimes about it (and the content of my blog) and I wonder about the types of messages people send that I can ignore but Ella might take to heart. She’s more than just one thing, of course. She’s silly and creative and opinionated and intense and very, very girly. And it’s up to me to let her be who she really is, like what she really likes, and teach her that she doesn’t have to apologize for either one. There are plenty of other, more sinister dangers out there for our girls. How can our daughters face them all if they don’t even feel okay in their own skin?
I’ve spent my whole life with women, having a dedicated mom and 5 sisters and attending an all-girl school for my adolescent years. So I know what women are capable of; we are each a beautiful composite of qualities and experiences. I also know what the world does to hold us back. It pits us against each other and it limits us; we can’t be more than one thing. Girly girls can’t also be smart girls or strong women. Strong women can’t be feminine or enjoy anything stereotypically associated with being female because then they’ll be seen as “less than” and weak. Yet women are always expected to multitask; we can do a lot of things so why can’t we be a lot of things?
This might seem like a random soapbox to stand on but raising a daughter has just made me see things differently. I mean, it’s taken me most of my life just to feel comfortable being myself! To even know that there’s power in these small, seemingly insignificant details. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of us. I don’t want it to take that long for Ella.
And honestly, if we put down one type of girl then all types of girls are at risk. Aren’t they already? The world puts down all manner of women: stay at home moms, working moms, childless women, women of color, all the kinds of women. Aren’t you sick of having to justify the choices you know are right for you? That help you be who you really are? Aren’t you sick of apologizing? I hope the next generation of girls, our girls, won’t have to jump over the same hurdles or through the same hoops.
Whenever Ella and I are alone together, she calls it our “girly time.” Jack could be on a walk with Dad, taking a nap, or just playing down the hall and no matter what, when she realizes it’s just me and her, she proudly declares, “We’re having our girly time!”
She doesn’t know that the word “girly” is often used to be dismissive and condescending. That when you’re perceived as a “girly girl,” you might not be taken seriously, or you’ll be seen as weaker and smaller. That it’s something you might have to defend. “Oh, she’s girly but smart” or “yeah she’s girly but strong too.” Let’s stop with the “she’s girly but.” Part of feminism has got to be that it’s okay to be feminine. Part of girl power has got to be that it’s okay to be girly. There are billions of girls in this world- that means there are billions of ways to be one. If you want to look at my Zodiac sign, or my Enneagram type, or every personality test I’ve ever taken, you would see that surrounding myself with beauty creates harmony in my life and my spirit. That getting dressed up with my daughter a fun, bonding experience. It’s not about being pretty; it’s about how the pretty stuff makes me feel. Makes me feel confident, makes me proud to be female, makes me feel good, makes me feel like myself. It’s great to be a girl, it’s great to be girly, it’s great to have girly time.
So here’s to embracing girlhood, in its many forms.
Do you have daughters? How do you balance preparing them for the world while preserving their innocence? Are there other qualities people judge girls for? What worries you about raising daughters today? Let me know, I’d love to have an ongoing discussion about this.