The Big Apple recently became the first city ever to make the self esteem of young girls an official initiative. In a striking ad campaign across the city, on the sides of buses and in subway stations, NYC’s “I’m a Girl” campaign tells young girls they are smart, funny, curious, and beautiful just the way they are. Featuring 21 of the city’s lovely and diverse girls ages 7-12, the ads show a spectrum of races, body types and shapes, in the hope that spotlighting real girls in the media will help real girls feel good about themselves.
I love the idea of this campaign. I do believe the media plays a role in the evolution of a young girl’s self confidence. After all, the media can factor into our own sense of self if we let it. And as we all know, the self-esteem of a young girl is everything. It is the seed from which her belief system grows: what she believe she deserves, what she believes she can achieve. Or wear. Or eat. Or love. I commend the city for this love letter to girls.
“I’m a Girl” got me thinking about my own first grader’s self confidence. Julia’s Dad and I try to be thoughtful about the messages we send about her mind and body. We tell her how clever she is when she makes up a new joke, how smart she is when she applies what she learns. We praise her strong body for learning how to do the monkey bars, after weeks of blisters and falls. We acknowledge how hard she works in school and how kind she is to people way more than we praise her looks. I think, right now, Julia believes she can do whatever she sets her mind to if she works hard enough.
But so help me, every day I set her out into the world I wonder what forces, what tiny details might be tugging at the steely fabric of my precious girl.
So of course I applaud the I’m a Girl ads. I really hope the initiative inspires other cities. But I have to admit, the whole campaign gave me pause when I first saw it. Julia’s self esteem is on a nice trajectory right now. How was I going to explain the advertisements to her? She’s a savvy city kid who knows well that ads, posters and blinking signs everywhere are trying to get her to buy or believe something. And that it’s up to her to use her smarts to decide if she’s going to eat the sugary cereal with the cute cartoon character or spend her piggy bank on an overpriced toy. At 6 1/2, Julia only looks in the mirror to make funny faces. My girl doesn’t really care what she wears or if her hair needs brushing. If she laughs too loud or dances on the subway platform.
How would I explain why there needs to be an ad selling the greatness of girls? Or why there isn’t a campaign for boys?
Then it hit me: I’ll tell her it’s a celebration. A celebration of the fabulousness of girls. That we all might look different and enjoy and excel at different things, but that’s what makes us awesome.
I think she’ll buy that.