Something happened to me between the 4th and 5th grade.
As a little girl, I was a leader. Well liked, with a ton of friends. But around my 10th birthday, something changed for me. There wasn't a specific incident that I can recall. It was almost like a shift in my brain. All of a sudden, I wasn't sure about anything. I lost my mojo. I started to feel awkward and ugly. I felt different than everyone else. In middle school, everyone around me started going through the physical changes of puberty. Nothing was happening for me, and it didn't seem like a big deal, to me at least. But along with those physical changes all my friends were experiencing, was a shift in everyone's psyche. Everyone was boy crazy and clothes crazy and just plain crazy. It was almost like a club that I wasn't a part of. I didn't get it. I didn't really notice how different I was until I was invited to a slumber party at one of my elementary school friend's house. This was 7th grade. I remember it vividly because while I was friends with several of the girls, there were others invited who were all part of a "faster" crowd from my junior high. Things were way over my head. I just wanted to go to sleep and they were up all night, dancing and giggling. The differences between me and those girls were evident, and I wasn't included in that group again. My self confidence continued to plummet, and hit rock bottom when I started high school. As a freshman, I was pranked, meanly, by a girl I had been friends with in grade school. It's still painful to think about that incident. I was socially awkward and gawky. My best friend from junior high moved on to the "popular" group. It was a tough time.
|Me, probably around age 13.|
Something happens at puberty that makes girls' confidence plummet. Kristin Armstrong wrote an amazing essay on this. Changes in the brain, both hormonal and physical that occur with puberty, change the way preteens view themselves. For both sexes, but especially girls, it is so important to "fit in", and preteens compare themselves to their peers. Girls also measure themselves against unrealistic expectations in the media.
Did you see this amazing ad during the Super Bowl? This really struck a nerve with me. Apparently, I wasn't alone. My Facebook and Instagram feed was full of #runlikeagirl posts and pictures. I've also read a few blog posts that touched on themes related to this ad. CNN interviewed the director of this ad. She's been involved with other projects like this in the past and comments in the article that she was shocked by the dramatic shift in girls' thinking at puberty.
Back in the day, when I was young, girls didn't participate in sports like they do today. I was raised in the era before Title IX, when girls were supposed to be cheerleaders, dancers, and moms. Not that there's anything wrong with these options. But they were the only options I knew about. No one played sports, really. None of my friends were athletes. In my clinic, I see girls who are participating in every sport that boys have and then some. And those girls play hard!
But even with all these opportunities to participate in sports, have things really changed for girls? In my clinic, besides seeing the confident, athletic girls, I also see girls who tell me they're ugly..too fat..too thin...girls who cut themselves...who are bullied. How do we help those girls?
I stumbled through my teens and 20s, trying to find my way. Finally, after suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, I started working out. There was a track at the health club, and I began to run. After time, I found that not only did running help me manage my anxiety, in fact reducing it, but also began giving me self confidence. I ran and I got faster. I felt confident enough to run a few 5ks, and actually placed in my AG a few times. This was in the days before racing was a big thing, but it surprised me. I still didn't have the confidence to join a running group or meet other runners. I was intimidated by experienced runners. I still felt that I wasn't a "real runner".
Fast forward 20-odd years and I look back on that old me and see how far I've come. But even prior to last year's marathon, I still had lots of self doubt prior to lining up at the start. I was fortunate to have a coach and friends who believed I could and I would. And I did. I proved to myself that I can "run like a girl". But how sad is it that it that at 52, I was still lacking in confidence? How do we keep our teen girls from a life of low self esteem and self doubt?
For me, the answer is running. Running gives me a sense of accomplishment. Almost everyone can run. It doesn't have to be fast. It doesn't have to be far. But lacing up those shoes and heading out the door is an accomplishment in itself. Pushing through a tough run and not quitting helps build mental toughness. Running is easy. Just one foot in front of the other.
I'm linking this post up with Amanda at Running with Spoons for her Thinking Out Loud linkup.