For my senior project, I made books with my first grader girls, focusing on fostering both increased self esteem and positive feelings about being a girl. Each page tackled a different prompt: things they liked about themselves, a woman they admire, things the girls liked about each other, a job they thought would be hard to a girl to have, the best part of being a girl, what it means to be a girl, and that they’re strong. I tried to give the girls as much freedom as I could in answering each prompt. Some of their answers made me laugh, while others troubled me. Some were expected, and others were surprising.
When the project concluded, I felt like I had gotten a much better understanding both of the girls individually, and of the way 6 and 7 year old girls feel about themselves and what connotations being a girl has for them. For the first page of the book, I asked the girls to make a list of what they liked about themselves. One girl was only able to think of three things, while another came up with ten. The things they liked about themselves ranged from superficial, such as the way they dress, or their hair, to personality traits, one girl saying she liked that she’s “crafty”, another saying she’s glad she’s colorful.
While the answers spanned a wide spectrum from external to internal, the thing that perhaps struck me the most was the way some of these girls seemed to only see value in themselves through their appearance. It was hard to see that the traits they saw worthy of praise within themselves were almost purely based on their appearance. This was mirrored in how they responded to the prompt for the third page, things they liked about each other. Again, a lot of “I like you because of your hair” type of answers were given. Even at 6 and 7, this was the traits they deemed of value that other girls had.
The second page was also given loose structure- I simply asked the girls to draw and write about a woman they admired. I made a mistake in presenting the task for the first group, originally, by accidentally saying “a girl” instead of “a woman”. I didn’t see an issue in this phrasing initially, until the group all announced they’d be writing about another girl in their class who wasn’t there- Eve. Immediately, I corrected my language, but the fact that the group had all agreed that the girl most worthy of their praise was a classmate- more specifically, the classmate who had the hardest time coming up with things she liked about herself.
Upon correcting the language I used, the girls changed their answers, and the final results were the following: an older sister, Katy Perry, 3 moms, a nanny, Gabby Douglas, a friend of an older brother, and myself. Being put on a list of inspiring women alongside celebrities and amazing mothers was an incredibly humbling part of my experience in creating these books, and I was forced then to acknowledge the significance I’d had for some of these girls’ first grade experiences. The 4th page was dedicated to confronting their preconceived ideas about what jobs girls can’t have, or at the very least, would have a hard time having.
I told them to tell me a job they thought would be difficult or impossible to have as a girl. Then, I followed it up by telling them that girls could, in fact, have all of these jobs. Each page is headlined “girls can be____”, with each blank space filled with the job the girl had originally said would be difficult, and a picture of a girl doing that job. While some of the answers were what I was expecting- a mechanic, a bodybuilder, others were more striking in just how deeply these ideas of what jobs girls could and couldn’t have were affecting these kids.
I had 2 girls say police officer, 1 say firefighter, and 1 say inventor. The lack of female representation in these fields had caused them to conclude they were jobs simply not for women, and I was taken aback by how much their perceptions had been warped in such a small period of time. The 5th and 6th pages had the girls answer the questions “what’s the best part of being a girl? ” and “what does it mean to be a girl? ”. Some answers to both questions were again, very superficial, “being a girl means you’re pretty”, or “the best part of being a girl is that I can have long hair.
Other answers were focused on the way girl is often synonymized with being a mother, such as “the best part of being a girl is that you can have a baby”, and “being a girl means you can be a mom. ” Some answers were very specific to how each child experienced life as a girl everyday, one girl saying “the best part of being a girl is scoring a goal in soccer”, and others were much more generic, like “being a girl means working hard. ” I liked working with them on these pages the most out of all of them, because they were forced to think about what defined being a girl for them.
This project helped me get a lot closer to the girls I worked with, and more in touch with how important it is to foster self-love in young girls, and to reinforce that they can, in fact, do anything, despite what anyone else may tell them. In their words, being a girl means being confident, being smart, being happy, working hard, and being able to do anything. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to share this experience with these girls, and as I leave Woods I can only hope that working on these books has been beneficial for them, as well.