By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
There are feelings and emotions within a person, particularly fathers, which can only be discovered through raising a little girl. If you are lucky enough to have one of your own, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, ask a friend that does or just trust me. These dynamic, perceptive, intelligent, emotional and complex little creatures can melt a dad’s heart in seconds and cause a grandfather to practically unknowingly adorn lipstick and earrings while playing dress up. Most parents, guardians or people of influence in children’s lives have the simple wish of releasing an educated, self-confident, well-rounded, caring and compassionate young adult into society. With that as the stated goal for our little girls, label me concerned.
In this star-struck age of touched up photos, “heroines” like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, and dangerously thin models, our little girls are bombarded with visual images of who they should be long before they ever have a chance to figure out, and appreciate, who they are. And based on this bombardment, why should they expect to be anything but tall, skinny and outwardly gorgeous? And God forbid if you’re cursed with any blemishes, just look up your local Dr. 90210 for an enhancement, lift or tuck. Certainly, the media, specifically magazines, T.V. and the internet are the biggest promoters of “expectation perfect”, but I’m even looking at classics like the Barbie doll with skepticism. And what about the proliferation of Disney’s princesses? Pick up a classic copy of Snow White and compare her physically to modern characters like Belle and Jasmine. I wasn’t a marketing major, but I know what my eyes see. This visual blitz can create an unrealistic and potentially self-destructive expectation.
Sadly, we need to look no further than the grocery store tabloid rack to see the latest to succumb to the psychological toll of “expectation perfect.” I’m going to roll the dice and venture out on a very thick, sturdy limb and predict this week’s tabloids will give you everything you want to know about Britney Spears’s on-going personal and domestic collapse. Spears grew up in a small Louisiana town probably not unlike many of the small towns in St. Mary’s County. Now I am no Britney Spears apologist. To whom much is given, much is expected. She is a 26-year-old woman who is responsible for her own actions. But this is getting serious and I’ve had enough of our thirst for a train wreck. I suppose I can buy off on some of her early missteps being entertaining to those that either don’t like her personally or are jealous of her at some level. But this is a young woman in crisis…and unfortunately the same media that made her, can’t get enough of her destruction. Her mom said it best recently when she asked us to “just pray for her” (and while you’re at it, go ahead and include her pregnant, 17-year-old sister Jamie Lynn). Those of us who have an influence on a young or adolescent girl should spend some time in thought, considering how this happened and more importantly, how to avoid it. It is over-simplistic to attribute Britney’s destructive behavior solely to the pressure of becoming a star and maintaining that stardom. But it is also careless and short sighted to dismiss the concept and exclusively blame her poor judgment. This is a young woman who, from a very early age, was under tremendous pressure to look and act a certain way and to be something that perhaps she never was or wanted to be. While it may be convenient to consider her an extreme case and inapplicable to the little girls we love, I’d caution against being so dismissive. While the next Britney Spears may not be currently growing up in St. Mary’s County, unfortunately there are plenty little girls in our County dealing with a shortage of self-confidence and a frustration with their inability to look like America’s next top model.
So what are we as parents left to do? Should we be so restrictive in raising our children that they remain ignorant of PG-13 cover girls until an advanced age of our choice? Most of us would say no. While the presence of positive female role models (mothers, grandmothers, teachers, etc) is a start, I doubt many of us are naive enough to think that generation next of teenage girls won’t be influenced in some way by the next version of Spears, Lohan or Hilton. Besides, at some level, it is healthy to want to look good and take care of oneself physically. That concept isn’t gender specific. And perhaps this is where athletics can provide a healthy alternative or at least an option for struggling parents. The image of a female athlete is that of a vibrant individual who eats well and is strong, fit and active. Women such as Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, and Candace Parker immediately come to mind. Just up the road in College Park, the Maryland women’s basketball team has been on a tremendous run in recent years and is deserving of more of our attention. Closer to home, our young girls would be well served by a trip to a local softball field to see our very own Southern Maryland ladies, doing their thing and getting after it on the sandlot. Beyond the healthy physical image, participants in athletics often find a psychological boon. Athletic competition, even at the most basic level, will force you to deal with defeat (i.e. imperfection), provide the thrill of victory, build self-confidence, and cause you break a sweat and get a little dirt under your nails.
We all know how the nursery rhyme goes; “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.” Sounds like an easy code to crack, right? Hardly. Raising a strong, confident woman is a complex, challenging proposition. It won’t be solved in 1000 words by a Joe Average parent writing for his hometown paper or by sports alone. But athletics is at least an alternative to tabloids, and if in some small way, through healthy visual images and/or participation, it helps our young girls to find, understand and appreciate who they are, then we’re all indebted.
Overtime: Dick Vitale has been calling college basketball games for ESPN and ABC since 1979. Mr. Vitale is known for his outlandish, enthusiastic style and go-to catch phrases. For example, as a former coach, he’s quick to offer that he’s “undefeated as an announcer”. Highly touted freshmen players are referred to as “diaper dandies”, star players are called “PTPers” (Prime Time Performers). His love and passion for his craft and the game of basketball is infectious. More importantly, his philanthropic work is nearly peerless. Specifically, he is deeply committed to cancer research, an awful disease that touches all our lives. He’s on the Board of the V Foundation (an organization founded by his close friend and cancer victim Jim Valvano) and is deeply committed to pediatric cancer research. Recently Dick Vitale was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. To steal a phrase, “that’s awesome baby with a capital A.”