My seven-year old and I play a game called ‘Girls at The Mall’.  Siena plays herself, and I play The Queen Bee. My job is to persuade Siena to stop whatever she is doing (soccer moves, cartwheels, pancake-making) and come shopping. Maybe even squeeze in a beauty makeover. Her job is to convince me this is the dumbest idea ever.

In our house, mall aversion therapy starts early.

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All the same, it was nice to hear that a network of shopping centres was fronting BeYou, a national campaign dedicated to building the self-esteem of young women. In addition to offering in-mall health and beauty workshops by social media influencers, nutrition seminars, yoga classes and journal design, the program features a microsite where an empathetic mentor talks five girls through their body image and self-acceptance issues. The site also invites visitors to choose from positive statements about the type of person they want to be and post them on a digital promise wall.

 

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Scrolling through the affirmations – I promise to be my own kind of beautiful, I promise to be my biggest fan, I promise to compliment other girls – got me thinking about Hillary Clinton and her recent post on Humans of New York. Of her experiences navigating a man’s world of law, and later politics, she writes: I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk.

Hillary’s words illuminate a nagging worry I’ve had for years: what if the emotionally-charged issues girls spend their time and energy contemplating in a woman’s world fail them in the real world? By giving infinite airtime and empathy to narratives like ‘smart versus pretty’ and ‘fit or fat’, are we feeding the very monster that keeps girls down in the first place?

Thinking back to my teenage years, I remember how my mom, ahead of her time as one of Canada’s first female university deans, would give short shrift to my wallowing. Her patience for the sources of my woe – moody boyfriends, bad haircuts, and peer-related micro-humiliations  – was limited. And our talks always ended with: I hope this doesn’t affect your grades. Although it seemed cold at the time, I now recognize her technique for what it was: the best gift a strong woman could give an impressionable girl.  The gift of just getting on with it.

Katherine Gougeon explores social and cultural details that have an outsized ripple effect. Follow her on Twitter @kgougeon