Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Girls and Agency: You are more than how you look

“This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete. The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”

Jada Pinkett Smith on her daughter’s hair style

I love this quote from Jada Pinkett Smith about her daughter Willows appearance. What I find especially important to think about is the focus upon the young girl’s agency. Agency is viewing oneself as an active participant in one’s own life, taking responsibility for one’s decisions and feeling the power to act to achieve one’s own goals and desires.

In this previous post, I talk about the difference between agency and the common media message to girls and women that they are and should be objects. Objectification is about learning to see oneself primarily as the object of someone else’s desire. When the media constantly presents girls with the idea that they’re value comes from being the object of other people’s desires, girls will begin to develop their identities based upon this social pressure.

It’s vital that we as adults challenge the objectification of girls, and one key way to do that is to allow girls to see themselves as the owners of their own selves. They are their own domain. What do you see as some ways that adults can work to help the girls in their lives develop agency? I’ll share some of my own later in the week.

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2 comments on “Girls and Agency: You are more than how you look

  1. naomi@thekidscoach.org.uk
    November 30, 2012

    Gilrs of boy I think they should be able to make some of their own decisions. i have a 5 year old and he has long hair and wants to cut it – why not?

  2. Amy Jussel (@ShapingYouth)
    November 30, 2012

    I love the concept of kicking objectification to the door; but definitely think the whole celebrification/public eye/industry exposure of her kids from very early ages has an added layer of complexity in what continues to be a microscopic lens when these are very personal parenting decisions.

    At the risk of sounding old school, here’s my own piece from middle school tween years on the ‘do what you want w/your body’ messaging to kids from a few years back. The comments are definitely all ages (w/plenty of backlash on same) so kinda fun to read: http://www.shapingyouth.org/my-daughter-drank-the-kool-aid-media-moments-in-adolescence/

    Though Jada’s bold, empowering speech feels spot on in spirit, carte blanche for ‘free agency’ is a huge responsibility that comes tethered with some solid developmental adolescent +health boundaries that give pause, from hair chemicals to piercings/tats/acrylics and “it’s my body, I’ll decide when/how to use it’ sex ed convo…Seems each family needs to decide what flies in their own home, leaving Hollywood to its own bubble of benchmarks and body image…

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This entry was posted on November 27, 2012 by in Acting, For Teens and Tweens, Recognizing and tagged , , , .

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