I Said What?…What’s Cute Got To Do With It?

“To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.” – HRC

During one of Bubbe’s sports clinics, I pulled out my writing notebook while Skootch was distracted by a fidget spinner. Two mothers, with their young daughters playing underfoot chatted nearby.

Mom 1 took out her phone.

Mom 2 leaned in. “Is that a picture of your babysitter? Wow. She’s cute. You don’t want to hire cute girls. They won’t be available to babysit on a Saturday night.”

I stopped mid-doodle and glared. Oh no she didn’t.

But she did. This woman, my peer, implied with conviction in front of her young daughter that the “cute” girl’s time, however she defined the adjective, was more valuable. A “cute” girl has more friends and a full social calendar. It is she who is considered successful and worthy. The less “cute” ones are not as good.

Skootch flicked at his spinner. “You okay, Mom?”

I lied. “Yes, sweetie. I’m fine.”

Growing up, I saw myself as the less cute and therefore less worthy girl in the photograph. Like many females, I was the recipient of direct and indirect messages equating physical appearance with societal and individual value.

The matriarchs in my family dipped their toes in feminist ideology. My mother was first in her family to pursue a college degree and worked throughout my childhood. My grandmother managed the household finances. But what overshadowed their progress, and what I remember more were the comments from adults about boys liking girls with long hair, quips highlighting my big bones and feet and being called belligerent whenever I voiced a passionate opinion.

A worthy woman was thin, pretty and pleasing; her role was to find a husband, care for him and raise his family. Anything beyond such convention made for trouble.

I was a trouble maker.

A women’s value being tied to and limited by her appearance as defined by tradition or opinion made zero sense from the outset. Still, it took me decades to apply the theory to myself. Even now, during the “this is who I am” phase of life, I will default to a negative personal narrative especially at first glance in a mirror or of a photograph.

The self-deprecation reflex feels unsettling because I know it’s wrong. It also reminds that the unhealthy messages and experiences we absorb as children leave a perpetual stain on one’s spirit. No matter how hard we scrub, they never fully disappear.

Today, countless organizations, authors, artists, public figures, communities and families are taking deliberate steps to reframe the conversation and encourage a generation of girls to equate worth and beauty with strength, curiosity, passion and personality.

The young ladies with whom I interact in my community are proof the shift is taking hold. There’s the middle schooler who competes as an Olympic weightlifter, the high school junior who uses food as fuel to build strength and endurance and the 18 year-old who responded, “It’s not about how I look, it’s about how I feel” after I told her she looked great.

Their sense of self is rooted in power, emotion and idea. Such wisdom at an early age will only nourish their confidence and embolden them to demand future employers, colleagues, friends and lovers to judge females based on human, not physical qualities.

Kudos to the mothers and fathers who are raising these women. And shame on those who didn’t get or care to read the Smart Girl  Like a Girl  Strong is the New Pretty memo.

While I can’t control what garbage spews from a random mom on a sideline, I can learn from inspirational young ladies and curtail personal comments rooted in insecurity. And I can use language around boys and girls that emphasize character over cute.

We adults have many things to be mindful of these days. Being careful not to perpetuate the “cute girl” cycle is no less significant.

Update: TODAY Parent’s Choice Award

As some of you know, Red said what? was a finalist for the TODAY Parent’s Choice Award. Thank you so much to those who took the time to vote. While I didn’t win, I feel lucky and humbled to be included on the ballot. If you like parenting reads, the winner was Mom Babble Blog. My favorite finalist was Tara Wood. Enjoy!

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Please check out “A Letter to My Palestinian-American Muslim Friend” online in Mamalode parenting magazine!

ML_published_badge_red_Mamalode

I am proud to share my 2nd essay feature in Mamalode parenting magazine.

I wrote, “A Letter to My Palestinian-American Muslim Friend” about a dear friend in my community.  It was published today.

Even if you have already read the piece on Red said what?, please take a few minutes to:

  1. Click this link to Mamalode: A Letter to My Palestinian-American Muslim Friend
  2. Like and/or comment at the bottom of the article
  3. Then please SHARE, TWEET, and PIN!

The more “unique views” of the essay on Mamalode’s site during the next 30 days, the more Mama-love I receive from them.

Thank you for your continued support, especially during this busy season!  Happy Holidays!

All the best,

Red

A Letter to My Palestinian-American Muslim Friend

Martin Luther King Jr Quote

ML_published_badge_red_Mamalode Voice of the Year BadgeWriters Digest 2015 BadgeHuffPost Religion Badge

Dear Friend,

Thank you for introducing yourself to me on the school yard when I was new to the community.  Had you not, I don’t know if I would have extended a hand.

When I initially saw you in the neighborhood, I avoided eye contact.  I couldn’t see passed the hijab. Your headscarf represented to me a religion of negativism and extremes, a culture of anti-Semitism, and a stifling of the modern woman.  I passed judgment, was ignorant and afraid.  I quickly concluded that we were from different worlds, and hence unable to find common ground; until we did.

Our sons’ fast friendship, much to my surprise, led to ours.  Several conversations, a few CrossFit WODs, and a shared hookah later, I learned some things.

First, your commitment to Islam is rooted in a spirituality that transcends all religions.

When I recently asked, “What did you learn from making pilgrimage to Mecca?” you shared with me along with the young people at the local mosque that in light of the experience, both positive and negative, you returned grateful for the gifts God gives us as free, healthy human beings and with an understanding that He loves us, imperfections and all.

At home, modesty, daily prayer, study, and diet are the tangible rituals you choose to demonstrate your love for God, but that love is also deeply evident in the thoughtful way in which you respect yourself, interact with others, approach parenting, nurture relationships, and care for patients.

Your words and actions remind me that we are all connected; Muslim, Christian, Jewish or otherwise.

Second, you have an open, accepting, and generous heart.

As a Christian woman raising Jewish children married to a man with a strong connection to Israel, I was worried that friendship might be tricky.  I was wrong.

From day one, you welcomed my family into your home.  You share your culture, answer questions, appreciate our traditions, and join us for holidays.  When my son swallowed a marble, you were at my door despite having worked a full day to help out and offer advice.  When I had jury duty, you spent the afternoon with my boys even though your children had busy schedules of their own.  You think of my family whenever you cook or travel, and thanks to your charming sweet tooth, my children affectionately refer to you as, “The Candy Fairy.”

The goodness that emanates from you inspires me to be better.

Third, you are an advocate for women; a role model for your son and daughters.

Your dress might be traditional, but your ideas and actions are progressive, willful, and strong.  I was moved when in an effort to understand practices, question inequities and evoke change, you approached Muslim women in the streets of Mecca and asked how they felt wearing a khimar, a long garment covering their head, neck, and shoulders, ran errands in pants to encourage dialogue, and questioned local leaders about the sanitation of the city.

Every day I watch you work tirelessly to support your family, use your education to help others, handle conflict and struggle with grace and perseverance, tackle new adventures with uncanny energy, act zany, be fun, and simply love life.

You are an exemplary, modern American woman who I am proud to call my friend.

Connection and communication helped me to confront prejudice, challenge stereotypes, and understand a culture that I knew only through media, politics and hearsay.  I have renewed hope for future generations when I see our sons playing, laughing, and treating each other as brothers.

The hijab is not a symbol, but a frame; for the beautiful person you are outside and within.

Much love,

Red

2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year Reception

2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year Reception