My daughter Madison and I were talking about the difficulty she sometimes feels in navigating her female friendships. Relationships are always emotionally complex, but for a group of college freshmen girls working to better know themselves, female friendships must seem practically impossible. During our talk, Madison noted that I had come from a different generation-a generation when things were "easier". She said I did not fully understand how hard life can be for women her age. I think Madison is right.
For my daughter's generation, there is so much noise which vies for her attention: every heart on an Instagram account, and each like on a Facebook page, seems like a barometer of their worth. From what I can tell, my daughters' generation is being spoon-fed a belief that they are to be valued in terms of body parts only. This is a reality that my generation did not have to face in quite the same way.
It is more difficult for Madison and her friends to know themselves. They are reaching for the starts while also having to contort themselves into a balm meant to sooth a friend's own insecurity. It's madness.
When I was younger there were only a few voices challenging my sense of self: my God, my parents, and my grandmother. I went to school and held an after-school job. I couldn't be bothered by social media accounts - which on Monday told me a triple-wide bootie was the size to be, while on Tuesday happily informed me by way of hashtag that a size zero was the more cherished frame. I didn't have the constant stream of media "likes" and "dislikes" reminding me when I had found favor with friends, or the disapproval of a boy I had never met.
I did have more freedom than Madison in this way. I have my sea legs now and still feel a bit lost in it all. I can only imagine how vulnerable some young people must feel amid a culture that tells them they are valued in pieces - a cellulite-free leg and a toned tummy most often fetching a higher market price than intelligence or kindness. For Madison and her friends, their lives have become a constant barrage of comparison.
What's a girl to do?
The only answer I've found is that we work to teach our daughters (and remind ourselves) that we do not change ourselves to fit anyone's version of who we should be. When a half-naked glory goddess invades your better thinking, use my mantra: "Not today. I'm charting my own course."
Be the first link in the chain-be yourself. I know we hear it all of the time, but it's the only true person we can be.