We had a tween girls’ group running around yesterday at my gym. It’s great to see a dozen multiracial 8-11 year old girls enjoying female-only activities; especially when the goal is to build confidence through physical accomplishment, but from what I saw I think they may be caught in the same dusty trap.
The first part of their activity was sitting in a circle with their coach, doing a short lesson on eating disorders.
“Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height,” one little moppet read aloud from the handout. “People with anorexia may have an intense fear of weight gain, even when they are underweight. They may diet or exercise too much or use other ways to lose weight.”
Cool, fine. It’s not like I expected them to get into patriarchal beauty standards as a method of male power, control and distraction (not that they’re too young; I’m just not expecting it) and at least they were getting a few facts before middle school starts eating their brains, but then they went out on the gym floor and started a relay race game. This involved starting at one end of the gym and running hell-bent-for-leather to the other, gasping and laughing and catching their breath before they yelled out an affirmation:
“I AM SOOOO SMART!”
Hmm. OK. This was not de rigeur when I was a kid, when the ego-stroking of oneself was known as “bragging,” and also we knew not everyone was smart, but then again we didn’t have 24-hour entertainment/celebrity channels or criminally-actionable cyberbullying. So maybe kids today need to really bust it out in order to offset all that.
“I AM SOOOO PRETTY!”
Shit. Really? No adult with this program thought that one out?
“EVERYBODY LIKES ME!”
Aw, no. This is not a good affirmation! This is not a good goal! If everybody likes you, either you’re a co-dependent shape-shifter, false to yourself in order to please others, or you have no discernible personality at all, in which case someone’s bound to dislike you because you don’t have a mind of your own.
Plus: I happen to know that one indispensable ingredient to a full-fledged, weapons-grade eating disorder is wanting everyone to like you. Add that to believing “pretty’ = “desirable character trait that buoys self-esteem,” mix in some toxic misogyny such as these girls are steeped in every minute, and you’ve just undone your worthy goal of inoculating them against self-destructive dieting and exercise behavior.
Maybe I could volunteer with this program. My affirmations will be:
“THE ONLY FEELINGS I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR ARE MY OWN!”
“I PICK FRIENDS BASED ON COMPATIBILITY AND SHARED VALUES!”
“WHEN I GROW UP, I WILL BE FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT!”
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!”