Hindered by heels, shackled by a suit and practically suffocated by the unwritten standards my career eventually demanded of me: is this what I want for my daughter? I chose careers in fashion and entertainment because I thought they were the epicenter of female power and glamor. I learned, almost too late, these fields are among the most damaging industries to a woman’s self-esteem, both as a professional and as a consumer. Glamorous, right?
I recently took my 14 year-old daughter to a screening* of Miss Representation, a documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom that “explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence.” Like many before me I’ve experienced the tug-of-war between how I wanted to present myself and how I thought I was supposed to look and behave. I’ve been fortunate to reclaim my identity and make a life that incorporates a balance of self-awareness, big ideas and a personal style that feels good and right. But as Jennifer’s film reminded the audience, our country has yet to enable this as the norm for our women and girls.
- The U.S. ranks 77th in the world in its inclusion of women in national legislatures. Why?
- Only 15 Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Why?
- 53% of 13 year-old and 78% of 17 year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. Why?
- Between 1997-2007 liposuctions nearly quadrupled and breast augmentations increased nearly six-fold in youth 18 years-old and younger. Why?
- In 2001 women held only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media. Well, this might explain why.
We certainly have some work to do. When the habits and norms that we have accepted for so long are as deep, old and ugly as they are, change is hard. Even the most informed and fair a person hesitates when the value proposition isn’t so clear and captivating, so necessary and motivating that traversing that tight-wire, maybe alone, looks worth it. And on the dance floor, alone can be scary. But we can fix this. We can do this.
It took me about 20 years but I finally figured it out and for me the answer was a fresh start. I started a small business with a mission of building creative confidence because I knew in my bones that with creativity comes solutions to our biggest problems. I made a place where kids and adults could explore their ideas and test out their sovereignty while learning and at play. And people like it. (Blush.)
Every summer I teach a series of fashion camps. WHAT? Yes, we call them “fashion” camps. The word represents the evil of all evils, no? The word also captures the dreams and imaginations of a whole bunch of girls. I’ve wrestled with this nomenclature now for years and last year Stacy London helped me get clear on what our programs are really about. They are about style. About confidence and self-expression. About celebrating what makes us unique. But until Google or Bing can recommend a good keyword that says all that, we’ll stick with the word. [Read the details of my conversation with Stacy here.]
So call me guilty, if you dare, for perpetuating a stereotype by catering to a girl’s interests in clothes. Or call me subversive and know that I am teaching choice and independence (and science and engineering), one girl at a time. How? We teach:
- the history of not just silhouette but of the societal influences of the time,
- the mechanics of pattern-making not just for any body but our own amazing bodies,
- that color isn’t just a trend but can impact how we feel, and that style is not determined by an industry but by our choices about how to present, not misrepresent, ourselves.
Why is this important? Because we get dressed every day. And because we can do this thing. There isn’t a single unifying anything or someone who is going to make this happen for us but you know what will? Little fires. Little drops of water. Here’s how we can start:
- Learn more. Educate yourself, your family and friends (men and boys included) about gender inequity. One conversation at a time.
- Watch carefully. TV, film and magazines can be fun but teach your kids and remind yourself about how these images stealthily shape our assumptions. One minute at a time.
- Impress yourself. Dress and present yourself in an authentic way that makes you feel good. Confidence is gorgeous. One t-shirt, one choice at a time.
- Buy smart. Support companies that don’t promote marketing that objectifies women and girls. Little fires. Little droplets. One penny at a time.
We don’t need someone else to solve this problem. You and I, we can fix this. Be brave, girls. Be brave. These things will add up and no rock is that solid. Now get dressed and go get ‘em.