Noelle Kirchner, M.Div., is a Presbyterian minister and mother of two boys. As they wrestle on the floor, she enjoys wrestling with her manuscripts. She writes for Huff Post Parents, the TODAY Show Parenting Team, and has been a repeat guest author at in(courage). You can find her on her blog, where she writes about faith and parenting, and on Twitter and Facebook.
I was there when the Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign won its #Femvertising award this July. What was heartbreaking and yet also so moving about the ad was the subject of female power. It wasn’t so much about a girl’s ability to clamor to the top. It was more about her ability to simply take pride in being female and become all whom God created her to be.
Always locked onto this topic because female self-confidence often plummets in puberty. But it’s easy to see evidence of this decline continuing on from there. There’s a rampant self-image struggle in our society that’s aimed at our very self-worth as women.
As a girl, I remember my mom buying Reviving Ophelia for me - Ophelia being the character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet who drowns herself when Hamlet doesn’t love her. The book is specifically aimed at empowering adolescent girls. Our self-worth should not be based upon someone else’s opinion of us. Yet the temptation to look there is all too real.
Concerns about self-image abound whether they’re focused on size, shape, or stretch marks. Take, for instance, the recent blog post “To the Mom at the Water Park” that went viral. A mom’s bodily insecurity was threatening her ability to make memories and model confidence for her daughter. She was ultimately able to surmount that pressure, however, by drawing strength from another woman at the water park - that woman’s modeling made the difference.
Modeling indeed is powerful. It also happens to be the most effective way we learn. We can hear someone teach, we can read something in a book, but when we see it, it often makes a more lasting impression. Each of us can model - we can link arms with one another or hold our daughters’ hands. But I also want to see the modeling of women who are going before me. I want to hear their wisdom, yet I see society marginalizing their voices.
I see older women in our society feeling pressure to never age and fit into a twenty-something mold. Women are cutting, dyeing, and starving themselves to make this possible. Younger girls are doing the same. But when I really take a step back and think about this “ideal” beauty, it is generally voiceless. It looks how other people want it to. It is complacent to be used as a sexual object. It is to some extent void of expressions of its deepest humanity and soul.
Why should a woman who has aged and gathered years of wisdom through struggle be reduced to looking like those years never happened? Why should a woman whose voice could really change things feel pressure to look like someone who is still trying to find her own? Are we not as women, to the extent that we buy into this, voluntarily giving up our own power?
As a religion major at Northwestern, I studied Native American culture and religion. I learned about certain tribes who were led by older women. The voices of these women were respected and powerful. The society benefitted from their wisdom, which subsequently blessed their community. Somehow this link and appreciation is often faulty, if not broken in ours.
While I never was as passionate a history student, I do know that history repeats itself. Wars are fought for similar reasons, for instance. And on a microcosmic level, marriages end for similar reasons. Friendships are tried for similar reasons. Bigotry is encountered and surmountable for similar reasons. There is much we can learn from the wisdom that comes from the experience of many years - are we listening?
As a woman who is now in her thirties, I see the challenge to female self-worth from two perspectives. I see it as a mother raising young boys in the world. I think about the kind of respect I want them to have for women, a kind of respect that is often all too lacking. But I also see it as a woman who is thinking about what I want to accomplish in the next phase of my life as the wrinkles are just beginning to form.
I want to live in a world in which I am proud of my wrinkles, for they are battle scars for the wisdom I have garnered on this earth. They are evidence of the trials and everyday victories I’ve faced, the late nights I’ve sacrificially put another first, and the times I’ve laid in bed awake to hear the whispers of God on my pillow.
I’m also looking to women before me and their modeling. I want them to claim their influence and power for the sake of young girls and fellow women. This power shouldn’t simply be cheaply defined as the right to reach for hair dye to tackle gray hairs. While there’s nothing wrong with that choice, I see beauty through those hairs, not in spite of them.
As a minister and parenting blogger, I am especially mindful of the link between generations. I see how blessings can accrue and be passed down to subsequent ones. I want the blessings of fellow women to trickle up and over to the rising generation. Women aren’t competition, we’re community. And I’m ready to see that community soar.
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