What if you’d been raised to believe you could be anything?
What if you believed, in your core, that you were put on this Earth to achieve alongside boys? Alongside people of any race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, body type, or ability? What if you’d never lost hope that you, as a woman or a girl, were good enough?
The world would be different.
That hope for a different world is what’s so incredibly powerful about a video created by Kazoo, a magazine in Kickstarter phase that promises to be a new kind of magazine for girls. We see Ellie, an adorable 5-year-old girl, and all of the things she can do. She can brush her teeth, she’s an amazing big sister, she is proud and strong and talented and capable and sees all the hope and promise that the world has to offer.
Ellie is a glorious vision of childhood because she still lives in an innocent, be-anything universe. As the narrator points out, Ellie doesn’t know that in middle school, girls earn higher grades in science but feel less confident than boys. She doesn’t know that by the age of 11, 30 percent of girls will have been on a diet.
She also doesn’t know that 60 percent of girls have given up something they loved because they don’t like the way they look.
But what if Ellie doesn’t have to ever learn those things? Sure, she’s eventually going to enter this world that treats women and girls so unfairly. But what if that world were just a little less unkind? What if our world were a little less focused on our beauty, and a little more focused on our talents?
When I was a little girl, the thing people noticed about me was my appearance. I don’t think I was an exceptionally beautiful child, but my cuteness was the way grownups related to me. Never once did anybody ask me what books I loved or what sports I played, and I never had a sense that my brain or my talents mattered all that much.
Every year, that feeling within me grew stronger and was more reinforced by society. I developed early and spent fourth and fifth grades avoiding having my bra strap snapped, and spent sixth and seventh grades trying to capture the attention of boys. By eighth grade, I had already put myself on a diet and had learned tricks and methods for coping with hunger pains and fatigue from not eating.
None of that ever got better.
I never felt free of the pressure to be beautiful and to please men.
I never felt inspired to do anything with my life other than be pretty and find a husband.
If that all sounds very shallow, that’s because it was. It was pretty miserable. More miserable than I realized at the time. It wasn’t until my 30s that I had a strong sense of who I was, outside of my appearance or my value as a romantic partner.
The thing that boggles my mind, looking back, is that never — not once — did a grownup sit me down in a serious way and ask me what I wanted to do when I was an adult. I never had a teacher tell me that I was too intelligent to be so distracted in school. Nobody ever inquired into why I had such a hard time paying attention or living up to my potential.
Everyone assumed I’d be okay because I was pretty.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see beauty as a real problem in a world full of racism, ableism, classism, and much more. But believing that a pretty young woman doesn’t need any sort of intellectual or academic intervention when she’s struggling isn’t really about beauty.
At its core, allowing me to neglect academic and intellectual pursuits was rooted in the belief that brains are for girls without boobs, and that the greatest hope for a girl is to marry a successful man who will care for her.
It’s better now, for girls. They’re graduating college and going on to earn professional degrees at record rates, and that’s fantastic. Our founding mothers would be proud of our progress. But as the Kazoo video points out, even in today’s amazing and hopeful world, our little girls are losing their faith in themselves, partly because they do not believe they measure up to an unattainable beauty ideal.
One example that strikes me most, as an athletic woman, is the fact that little girls make up half of the students at most surf camps, but the vast majority drop out of the sport around middle school. The founder of Malibu Makos Surf Camp, Tom Corliss, told me that around age 13, girls become concerned about how they look in their swimsuits and are suddenly embarrassed to compete or even paddle out into the line-up with boys.
And who can blame them? Everywhere they turn, society sells them weight loss plans and photoshopping apps for their selfies. The female pro surfers featured in ad campaigns wear thongs more than wetsuits. And even one of the best female surfers in Brazil, Silvana Lima, can’t get a sponsorship because she doesn’t fit the “beach bunny” stereotype.
So what would happen if we could show our girls a different world? One where they are not limited. Where they don’t have to be sexy. Where they get to be themselves and have people treasure them for it?
That concept is what makes the Kazoo video so incredibly moving for moms. We want better for our girls than we had. We want them to believe with all of their might that they can do anything … and not have society come in and tell them they can’t.