Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Pressure and power: What’s a girl to do?

I was teaching a class not long ago on the sexualization of women in the media and how it impacts children and adolescents. While discussing how media’s pressure on girls to focus on their sexuality as a source of power, a wise woman raised her hand. She said something like this, “It’s so hard to think about how to help girls understand that their power does not come only from their sexual attractiveness when I’m not sure I believe that about myself.”

She went on to say that, as a woman in her late thirties, she was beginning to hear messages all around telling her that she needs to look younger. Her point was, if we as adults half believe that a woman’s power lies in her physical beauty and sexual attraction, how do we teach our children otherwise?

This is a question that I struggle with on a regular basis. I teach on a college campus and believe me, it’s very easy for me to see that I am not in the bloom of youth as my students are. If I listen to the messages that media sends that say a woman’s power is in her physical attractiveness (read also: youth), then I will feel weak. And yet, I don’t. I love my students and their energy and vitality. But I don’t wish to be back in their shoes. I enjoy the fact that I have wisdom and understanding of truths that I didn’t when I was in my 20’s.

My wish is that women of all ages can begin to revel in the beauty of their unique experiences and knowledge. I hope that we can learn to embrace the person that we have become and are becoming, and find the power in that wisdom. Beauty is only skin deep, and it fades away. What brings us true power is our inner grace, wisdom, and love. As we grow into those things, our outer beauty becomes less important in our understanding of what makes us powerful.

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3 comments on “Pressure and power: What’s a girl to do?

  1. Camille
    July 21, 2010

    Well said, Jennifer. A beautiful sentiment for those of us who like ourselves better as we age. May this continue to be the case and may we pass this along to the younger set, especially our daughters.

  2. drshew
    July 22, 2010

    I ran into one of my first mentors the other day, Dr. Green. At the age of 80 she radiates intellect, wisdom, and grace. Forget all those celebrities who’ve had so much plastic surgery they can’t blink. Dr. Green is what I call beautiful and powerful!

  3. I tihnk the last sentence is very true. As we get older the external appearance is lessi mportant to us and the people around us. They see us for our qualities and not for being attractive. It is secondary whereas in our teens, twenties and younger it seems to be all about appearance. That is just my perception.

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