If you’re a girl, and you grew up in a time before Brats dolls but after Cabbage Patch Kids then you probably played with barbies. If you didn’t, I’m sure there was still one left to lie alone at the bottom of your toy box along with glitter and broken crayons. As girls we are taught how to be a number of things like polite and punctual. We are told not to hit, or scream and fuss when we don’t get our way. Most of the things we learned as little girls were shown to us. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of posts devoted to race and ethnicity. As women we have collective struggles and stereotypes which we are constantly fighting. However, there are also battles that are specific to our racial identities. To start things off, I will be writing about what I know best, white girl problems.
When I was in the second grade I went to a Catholic elementary school in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. It was the kind of place where moms drove suburbans and minivans and prided themselves on their home baked goods. I remember that these mothers were constantly at war with each other over school functions. They competed relentlessly for top positions in the PTA and scowled at each other’s cookies at school dances. Naturally, we followed in our mother’s footsteps and created groups of our own. White women are bread to compete with each other. We allow the ones who are like us “in” and spread nasty rumors about others in order to keep them out.
Besides the pressure to constantly compete with each other we also face demands concerning our image. I always played with barbies, not because they were being shoved down my throat by the media, but because I genuinely liked them. I actually played with my barbies until a rather unhealthy age but we won’t get into that. I was however, always a little disturbed by the concept of Barbie, with her pearly white smile forever stuck to her face. Mostly because she didn’t look like me. She had long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She looked like my friends, she looked like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but not me. These images were what was being defined as beauty and I looked nothing like them.
The pressure to be and look a certain way can be overwhelming for young girls especially when paired with our incessant need to compete. Although rates for eating disorders among women of color are on rise it has been reported that white women still occupy the majority of those who struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Magazines that typically cater to young white women slap a thin, long haired actress on the cover along with text that reads, 101 Ways to Get Sleek Summer Abs! which is of course placed right above, 50 Sex Tips To Please Your Man! Which further perpetuates the link between thinness and sex appeal.
After the fifth grade I moved to the upper middle class suburb of Worthington. The pressure not only to be thin and desirable but to also be dressed from head to toe in expensive clothing was unfathomable. Every girl, regardless of her age, donned anAbercrombie tee shirt and an overly flirtatious attitude. A characteristic that is not unique to white women is the idea that heterosexuality is a norm that cannot be questioned. Barbie dates Ken, just as the female Holister models can be seen gushing over shirtless boys in the posters that hang inside their stores. Transitioning from a private school where we all wore the same clothes, to a public one where what you were wearing meant the difference between which group would approach you first was difficult. In private school, my cousin and I would run off behind the gratto and pray to the “Virgin” Mary for boobs and boyfriends. In public school I was expected to have both of these and know how to kiss a boy. Pink and glitter had been replaced with thongs and lip gloss.
The pressure to be thin, to be blonde, to only kiss boys, and to wear expensive clothing effects women of all ethnicities and from all classes. The difference is that for white women these standards are especially directed at us. All of these images in the media are white, it’s no secret that we live in a racist society but from this racism and these colorless standards of beauty grow limitations which encourage sameness. A high competitive drive is the result of low self esteem. We are unable to love each other because we are jealous and afraid of the girls who possess what we want. White women in the United States are not taught to love themselves, they are taught to love Barbie or the image of a supermodel plastered to a billboard. Rather than being encouraged to love what we have, we are expected only to aspire to what we should be.
Let’s take this knowledge and grow from it. Let’s not allow the same mistakes to be made when raising daughters of our own. Instead of forcing them to wear pink frilly dresses and to only believe that love can only happen between a man and a woman, let’s show them that there are many different possibilities for them. It may sound wild to some, but introducing the idea that men can love men and women can love women to little girls is an important concept. Most importantly we must teach them to love their bodies and themselves and set good examples by doing the same. Let’s break the cycle by encouraging high self-esteem, love for the collective, and that there is beauty in difference and uniqueness.