In Her Words
Confidence in Pre-teen Girls
Being Fabulous: If 12 Year Old Girls Ruled the World
My daughter is 12. She is in 6th grade. She is smart. She is athletic. She is funny. She is beautiful. And the best part? She knows it.
She’s learned that people find it tiresome if you brag too much; so she tries not to, but she does not apologize for being fabulous. Why should she? She was born that way. I am convinced that she will remain fabulous, forever.
Sadly, not all 12-year-old girls know how wonderful they are, despite the valiant efforts of their parents. Many now-fabulous women have painful memories of being 12-year-old ugly ducklings, standing on the edge of awkward adolescent angst, wondering if they should go jump in the lake, but afraid of standing around with wet, drippy hair afterwards.
I remember being 12. I felt fabulous on the inside, but tragically misunderstood on the outside. I cared deeply about what other people thought of me. I stewed for days over dumb things I said and the clever things I didn’t say, but should have said.
I still do, sometimes.
I was chubby when I was 12, and I hated it. I desperately wanted to be a gymnast like Nadia Comaneci, but my 5’6″ woman-sized body, along with my alarming lack of bravery on the uneven bars, the balance beam, the vault and anything involving back flips, cut my Olympic career short, before it really got started.
It took me years to get over the fact that I’d probably never look good in a leotard.
It is easy for 12-year-old girls to lose their confidence when middle school turns into high school and the world gets more complicated. We could blame the media, or super models or bad teachers who only call on loud-mouthed boys who shout out the answers, while nice girls politely raise their hands.
But is it always the boys’ fault?
I asked my daughter if she’s ever decided not to answer a question in class because she wanted to make a certain boy feel smart, or because she didn’t want to feel dumb in front of him.
She said the thought has never occurred to her. Sometimes she doesn’t raise her hand because she knows the kids who do are usually right, and she doesn’t want her arm to get tired from holding it up for so long, waiting for her turn. She usually knows the answer, and that’s good enough for her.
I know it is hard being 12, no matter how charmed your life may be. We’ve had our share of stomping and yelling and door slamming around here, believe me. And of course my daughter has her share of insecurities, despite her fabulousness.
I’ve seen this lovely girl frown at her lanky, size “0” body in the mirror, especially while dressed in snow clothes for a school sledding trip. I have to bite my tongue when I assure her she looks great.
The first time she asked “Does this make me look fat?” I laughed, and said “I don’t think it’s possible for you to look fat, honey.” And then I started the mommy lecture on body image.
She didn’t want to hear that lecture. She knows she’s not fat. She knows she’s been blessed with a naturally slim, athletic frame, and she likes her body. She was more worried about the fashion image and “cool” standard she was trying to achieve while wearing puffy clothes, ski goggles and a hat.
“Don’t laugh at me, mom!” she said with tears in her eyes. “This may seem stupid to you, but it’s real to me. I wish I didn’t care so much, but I do.”
At that moment, I knew she’d be okay, in the long run. If she’s got enough self-awareness at 12 to realize looks don’t really matter, but she still wants to look good anyway, she’ll be fine.
My daughter is proud that she’s strong, and that she can run fast. She lights up from the inside when she steals bases in softball. She is delighted that kids who don’t know her walk up after a game and say “What’s your name? You’re fast!” She likes that the track coach keeps bugging her about joining the team.
I can’t pretend I know the secrets to making a “mostly” confident pre-teen. I do know that this kid was intensely aware of herself and everyone else from the minute she was born.
She pays attention to details, and to people. She’s tenacious, she’s driven, she’s competitive, she’s a tiny bit complicated, and watching her grow up has been one of my best things, ever.
She used to scare me sometimes when she was a little baby, because her big brown eyes would stare deeply into mine, begging for answers to questions she couldn’t say out loud, because she didn’t have words yet. Sometimes I’d have to look away, she was so intense, and I didn’t know the answers to her mysterious baby questions.
She still likes to know the answers, but she wants to figure them out for herself. That’s not such a bad thing, I’ve learned. I just sit back and listen to her now. I try not to shout out the answers. Sometimes my arm gets tired, though, waiting for her to call on me.
If I had a magic wand that could spread confidence, empathy and good karma to the world, I’d wave it over the 12-year-old girls first. If we want them to rule the world in 30 years, they’ll have to know they’re fabulous.
I wish my daughter could keep her 12-year-old confidence forever. I know she’s bound to suffer some heartbreak and angst, some frustration and anger as she grows up in the real world, but I hope her view from the inside out remains strong and fabulous.
Julie Anderson (@juliejulie on Twitter) is working on a few Big Ideas with her husband, who makes iPhone games. Together they drink coffee, go for long walks and think of cool software companies to start. Sometimes they have to work at real jobs, for other people, in order to buy decent meat and vegetables for their three children and Iams organic kibble for their two dogs in Bend, Oregon. Sometimes @juliejulie goes running, when she’s in the mood, and writes about it over at Chubby Mommy Running Club.