What is the girl box? "...The girl box is the place where many girls go around middle school when they begin to morph into what they think they should be instead of being who they really are. The messages of the girl box vary but the overarching theme comes from a culture rooted in the belief that girls and women must conform to a set of standards that are often unattainable and dangerous to our health and well-being..."
When I heard Molly describe the girl box, my heart and mind were flooded with memories, both good and bad. I don't remember the exact moment that the girl box became an issue for me. I know that I had a difficult summer between 5th and 6th grade. I was dealing with some health issues, my PawPaw Pilcher passed away, I was moving up from the comforts of Beaufort Elementary to the unknowns of Beaufort Middle, I gained a bunch of weight, etc. I was hearing lots of "noise" and mixed messages all around me. I was starting to get stuck in the girl box...
Those thoughts of the girl box were not completely obvious. In fact, I would say they weren't obvious at all, at least to me. I was the average girl that was friends with everyone. I didn't have a place in the various cliques, but I was friends with them all. I didn't fit the mold of the cheerleaders, the athletes, or the band geeks. However, I did whatever I could do to fit in with those groups. I played this role very well for a very long time.
In my desire to conform with the standards, I ended up causing myself more pain and harm. I gained weight, I went from an average-sized kid to the fat kid, I was ridiculed at school for my clothing, I hid food under my bed and denied it when asked, I sassed my parents, I had very few really meaningful friendships, etc. Was this productive? Was this healthy? No. Not at all.
When I moved away from my small hometown in 1998, I was determined to come into my own. I did my best to remove myself from the girl box. I decided that I was going to "look out for #1" - me. I worked hard to maintain the one really meaningful childhood friendship I had - my friendship with Margaret. She was the one constant from diapers through high school, and never seemed to care that I didn't fit the mold that society pushed on girls. I worked to get involved at Meredith College, became a youth counselor at the Y, and started participating in a local church. These things helped me begin to get out of the girl box, but it was a long journey...
That was all back in the late 90s... As time passed, I continued to let myself go in and out of the girl box. I remember destructive behaviors and actions from the later years of college. I remember the awesome feeling I had when I got my first full-time job and bought my first car. I remember being hurt by friends that I thought would always be in my life because I wasn't quite what they thought I should be. I remember deciding that I was better than that...
I remember meeting my awesome husband. I remember Margaret encouraging me to take care of me and go with my heart. I remember the night that Jason proposed. I remember the joyous calls made that evening and the next few days. I look back with a full heart on the happiest day of my life and the celebration with family and friends... Those moments, good and bad, all led me to the ultimate, freeing moment...
I remember the day that I decided I was going to step out of the girl box for the very last time. First, I joined a new gym and got a personal trainer. I decided to start watching what I eat. Then, I started to run. That was it - the moment. I started running and it felt awesome. I can recall those terribly hot days during the summer of 2010 and how my coworkers would tell me I was crazy for going to my running program. I kept telling them that I had to go - it made me feel good. Running made me free. I was finally free of the girl box, some 18 years after it first came to me.
It is amazing what a bit of self-reflection will do for you... With the help of my husband, a couple of really awesome friends and my family, I can now say that I am out of the girl box. I am just doing my thing, conforming to no other person's expectation of how I should be.
That's why I am coaching girls on the run... I am grateful every day for the childhood I had, but I am so glad that this program is here for these girls because I could have used it when I was their age. I could have used the encouragement. I could have used the messages that Girls on the Run teaches.
The Core Values of GOTR are:
- Recognize our power and responsibility to be intentional in our decision making
- Embrace our differences and find strength in our connectedness
- Express joy, optimism and gratitude through our words, thoughts and actions
- Nurture our physical, emotional and spiritual health
- Lead with an open heart and assume positive intent
- Stand up for ourselves and others
Imagine how awesome life would be if we all taught and lived by these core values! I am going to do my best to help these girls understand and embrace these core values, so that they can stay away from the noise and hurt of the girl box.