By Vanessa Schenck
“So, something happened to me at school today,” said Julia, my nine-year-old daughter just as we were sitting down to eat dinner the other day.
Now, if you’re like me, you intuitively know whether that means something good or something bad.
This time I could tell it was not going to be good.
My daughter went on to tell me one of her best friends had crushed her that day. Apparently, in gym class, the girls played a game that required everyone to find a partner. Julia told me she had asked one of her best pals to be partners and was told, “Sorry. I already have a partner.” To which Julia tried to reason with her by saying, “The teacher said you can have three in a group” and was told, “Why not go ask someone else?”
Knife to the gut.
This left Julia feeling awful, as it would anyone who was just rejected by one of their best friends.
Being rejected by anyone tears into your self-confidence, let alone a really good friend.
This is not the first time I’ve gone through a BFF Crisis-Management Situation with my daughter, and it surely won’t be the last. Let us remember: Julia is in Middle School.
Ah, Middle School! I’ve done my research, and what I know about girls this age is that it’s the time in their development when they are most likely to change their behavior, act in a certain way that’s not really who they are in order to “fit in”. And they will put up with a lot to do just that — fit in.
Girls this age are more likely to compromise their authentic voices, not say what they really want, need or think to be accepted by their peer group.
One psychologist — Dr. JoAnn Deak, author of Girls Will Be Girls, Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters, calls this time in a girl’s life “camouflaging.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. You change who you truly are in order to blend in with those around you. And, like with any good camouflage, you render your true self invisible. As Dr. Deak tells us, camouflaging isn’t all bad. It can provide “an opportunity for self-discovery and growth”. But taken too far, Dr. Deak says a girl can “hide herself not only from others, but ultimately from herself”.
How many of you remember saying you loved David Cassidy because everyone loved David Cassidy (did I just totally date myself)? Or, how many of us dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween because everyone else did, even though you truly didn’t like Star Wars. One bit.
Here’s the thing: At first it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, not speaking our truth. But the more we do it, the easier it becomes.
Although, as easy as it may seem, it does come with a hefty price-tag. You see, eventually, Dr. Deak says, by continuing to camouflage, we can lose any sense of our authentic voice, and then, suddenly, it’s gone.
Dr. Deak tells us it can take up to three decades for women to get their true, authentic voices back. Thirty years, Moms! She calls this “The Three-Decade-Power-Outage” — and rightly so. Thirty years we go around pretending to be someone we’re not — and most of us don’t even realize it! We’ve played the part for so long it’s become our normal. Yet, it’s not. Not even close. We are being controlled by fear.
Fear, as everyone knows, robs us of living the lives we were meant to live.
That, my friends, was me. I absolutely lost my voice, my confidence in Middle School. It manifested in my life in more ways than one. I attended a University that clearly was not a good fit. But who was I to tell my parents my dream school was in California? Disappoint them? Are you out of your mind?!
Let’s not even begin to discuss my ex-boyfriends. Okay, lets. There was my college boyfriend who was verbally abusive. Remember Oprah’s sage advice: “The first time they show you who they really are, believe them.” Well, the first time he told me I wouldn’t have any friends if I ever left him, I knew exactly with whom I was dealing but I didn’t have the confidence/voice/strength, whatever it is you want to call it, to stand up for myself and leave right then and there. Eventually I did, only to repeat the cycle with the next one. Who I married.
My first husband? Disaster. He and I were no more meant to be together then Jlo and Ben Affleck. I sat in my bedroom and bawled my eyes out the morning I knew he was to propose. Why? Well, because I knew it was coming, the proposal, but, again, I’d lost my authentic voice to be true to myself and say, “Um, no thanks.” It was buried deep under years of pleasing those around me, trying to be someone other than my genuine self.
For me, I managed to recover my voice when I hit my late 20s (this was done through loads of what I call soul-work and self-reflection). I guess you could say I was one of the lucky ones, as my “30-Year-Power-Outage” was cut in about half.
I remember waking up and saying, “Enough!” Once I recovered my confidence the first thing I did was use it to get a divorce (no kids, thank God), move to NYC from Seattle and follow my dream of working in fashion.
I also started my first business. And, last but not least, met and married my one true love, who still makes me belly-laugh after 14 years of waking up together.
My life exploded when I recovered my true voice.
Back to Julia. So, when my daughter sat down at dinner and told me about her friend, the first thing I did was ask her how that made her feel. Knowing about the “30-Year-Power-Outage” and how Julia could slip into it at any given time — starting now, in Middle School — I wanted her to exercise that beautiful voice of hers, to express her true feelings and to know she was validated in those feelings. She didn’t disappoint.
She told me she was upset. Confused. Hurt. All of it. My job, as her Mom, was to listen to it all. And hold her. And tell her everything she was feeling was totally reasonable. That she was allowed to feel it all.
Here’s the thing: Losing your voice is a direct result of losing self-confidence. You are robbed of your empowerment, you feel unworthy and begin to shut down your authentic self. Feeling unworthy leads to all sorts of self-destructive behaviour, for example:
Lack of Self-Respect
Dating the wrong men (hello)
But how does this start to happen? What causes girls to lose confidence? For that answer, let’s look to the Procter & Gamble study — the one which resulted in the Always #LikeAGirl campaign. You know the one? It’s been viewed on YouTube 70 million times!
In that study, 89% of females agreed that WORDS can be harmful, especially to girls.
It is my belief harmful words (“I already have a partner. Go ask someone else.”) are the driving force behind our girls’ drop in self-esteem — especially in Middle School. Is there any time more impactful than having someone say something hurtful to you than when you are in Middle School, on the brink of, or are going through puberty?
And it’s not just other people saying harmful things. It’s also you, saying them to yourself.
“I am fat.”
“I am ugly.”
“I am stupid.”
We’ve all said them. It’s you, telling yourself, “I am not good enough.” It’s you, telling yourself you need to change who you are to be accepted. To be liked. To be invited to the party.
So what can we do as Moms?
Well, if I could give my daughter heaps of self-confidence and empowerment I would. But, as Dr. Deak says, we simply cannot GIVE our daughters any of it. They have to EARN it themselves.
All is not lost, though. Because, what I can do is provide her with a safe and encouraging home where she knows her voice IS heard. And loved. That, I can do in spades. By providing her a secure home environment, Julia feels safe to express her authentic self. And Moms, that is so incredibly important. By being able to use her beautiful voice, Julia is learning what she has to say matters. She has self-worth. We do care. We do hear her.
We can also teach our kids that words matter. What Julia says about herself and others not only matter, but also actually create the world in which she lives. Oprah said it best when she said, “What you say becomes your reality. You speak life into being.”
There’s energy in words. By speaking what it is you want in YOUR life, you are drawing exactly that to you.
There’s more. As her Mom, I am Julia’s most influential role model.
By living my authentic life, by speaking my truth, I am showing my daughter every day how my words are creating the life I want.
The day after Julia told me about the gym class incident we were at the mall buying shoes for her Halloween costume and we ran into a classmate. Afterward, Julia turned to me and said, “Mom, that girl said I was ‘freakishly’ tall.”
I was getting ready to give her the “You-Can’t-Control-What-Other-People-Say-About-You” speech when she stopped me short, grabbed my arm, smiled, and said, “Mom. It’s okay. I don’t care what she said. I like being tall. I just wanted to tell you.”
And, you know what? I believe her. My little girl is becoming her true self. Her beautifully tall, authentic self. And I have a front row seat to watch it all unfold. Lucky me.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: LOVE THIS BLOG – Bravo! Vanessa Schenck has been on a journey that has brought her to the place where she believes this: What you say becomes your reality, and you speak life into being. She believes speaking your truth and living an authentic life are essential to discovering your inner power. Vanessa will soon be launching a lifestyle brand for Tween girls called TIA Girl Club - an online community-based retail store providing girls an encouraging and supportive place to shop, play and discover their authentic voices. You can find Vanessa on Twitter at @VanessaSchenck or more information about TIA by visiting the website tiagirlclub.com