This week during my “Breakfast Club” Thursday morning at the middle school, our discussion theme for the week was Schools. We decided to do an activity where we allowed the girls to construct photo collages by cutting out pictures from magazines. These pictures could illustrate any kind of pressure or stress they felt at school. This activity got me thinking—do we ever leave middle school?
Although each individual girl’s collage was unique to their own experience, there were a few recurring themes among the collages. One major one was body image—girls felt that there was the constant pressure to be thin, and have a certain type of body shape. Many cut out photos of models in bathing suits, or articles about dieting. Another major theme I noticed, I’m going to call “Pressure to fit a stereotyped experience”. Many of the girls felt pressure to go to a lot of parties, make sports teams, have certain groups of friends, have lots of dating experience, etc. They felt that somehow there was certain middle school experience they were supposed to have-- and if they didn’t fit into that mode, they were missing out.
After class, I went home and reflected a little bit about the themes that came out through the collages. I realized that if I were to make a collage of the pressures I feel, it would look very similar to the middle school girls’ collages. I still feel the pressure sometimes to lose weight, work out more, wear certain clothing, and present myself in ways that express the larger perceived notions of hyper femininity. And I’m twenty years old and I know better—I know that magazines lie, images are photo shopped, and the average women is not a size zero, a size two, or even a size four. I also sometimes get boggled down in the “college experience” I perceive I should be having—going to parties, getting a 4.0, or knowing exactly what I want to do when I graduate. Even though I know better—I know that there are 40,000+ students at IU, and 40,000+ different experiences to be lived-- there is not just one collective experience that I am missing out on. Despite the fact that I’m older and know better, I still struggle with the same types of issues at times.
It is easy to feel alone during adolescence—I can recall feeling as if everyone else had a secret manual on how to survive middle school except for me. It wasn’t until I started being honest with people, and breaking down my personal walls that I realized I wasn’t alone. Once I started talking about these pressures, I realized all around me, girls were going through the same experience. Although this didn’t necessarily take away those pressures, it did allow me to feel better about them.
It’s important to ease younger girl’s stresses about the pressures faced in a school environment, but it is also equally as important to admit as you get older, some of those pressures still remain. We’re all a little bit weird, and we’re all a little bit self-conscious about it. It’s a shared experience of growing up, and growing into yourself and your identity. Sometimes it’s not a solution that is needed, but rather just a conversation-- a verbal affirmation that your feelings are ‘normal’.
Posted by Anne