Opinion

Girls Need Our Help to Look Beyond the Mirror

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“As I think about the image that I see in the mirror, I will remember that does not reflect the person within. I have power to change, as well as to accept and embrace myself for who I am.” —“Changing the Chatter: Help your daughter look beyond the mirror for better self-esteem”

What does a mirror signify to the girls you influence? For me as a young girl, it signified the negative view I had of myself. I carried these thoughts with me each day. The mirror was something I avoided.

self-image: Alicia Birong (headshot), founder of Chatter Girls, smiling woman with long reddish hair, purple patterned shirt, purple nail

Alicia Birong

For today’s young girls, the mirror is not the only thing that provides a reflection of her. She also has to struggle with the reflection that social media bounces back at her. If that reflection is negative, vulnerability can be instant, is frequently long lasting and often cannot be removed or erased.

Today’s technology can deliver bullying that is relentless and powerful. It is hard enough moving through puberty and adolescence, but the abuse from others through social media can be debilitating. It is as if we have looked in the mirror and let someone else tell us what we look like and who we are.

What if there is an opportunity to look beyond those mirrors and see who we can be beyond the damaging judgements? What we are doing to change these feelings for young girls?

Some students feel dread about school. These thoughts could be the memories of experiences from the year before or the fear of the unknown future.

It can be especially difficult when we talk about the girl who is going through the transition from grade school to middle school, middle to high school or even those girls starting college. All are new beginnings and all are times when confidence can be developed or broken down.

As professionals we are here to assist our students in academics. But girls are more than just students. They are growing, developing, maturing human beings. We need to look at all aspects of their development. It is important to look at the social and emotional aspects of a girl’s life. How are their lives being impacted?

Girls can feel like failures because of their looks

Mirrors were once a place where girls could reflect on what they saw and what they wanted to see. Today what they see is not only in the mirror but in social media. That becomes the reflection of self, whether good or bad, but also permanent. The repercussions of what we put on social media are lifelong, both for those who write and those who are on the receiving end.

Academics can take a step backward for this girl who is in the transition of her life and can then face issues as severe as depression, suicide, anxiety, cutting or even leading to suffering sexual abuse. We need to equip our girls with such skills as mindfulness, communication, body language and journaling so they may become inwardly strong.

It is my experience, both personally and professionally, that the mirrors in life and the negative thought processes are not something that go away. For me, they journeyed with me from fourth grade through high school and continued to stay with me through adulthood. This was due to growing up in a family that did not give me positive feedback nor did my teachers. This negative self-assessment blocked me from making the safe, healthy choices and led me to make decisions that weren’t in my best interest. These decisions didn’t lead to strength or power.

It is something that must be addressed due to the world in which young people live. This world may revolve around a fear to face others, fear the place that should make them feel safe or even fear life itself.

When I listen to these girls’ fears, I want to give them something better. I teach the girls in my Chatter Girls program to look beyond the mirror, to not internalize the negative things they see on social media. I help them develop their own power. The power to believe they can change their view of themselves from inside out.

Students need potent tools

As after-school professionals and educators, you are assisting students to write in a journal. This is a wonderful thing as it is a way for students to allow themselves to examine the emotional part of their life.

This process begins a conversation. It is vital to keep it going. I love journaling and mindfulness techniques to help students look beyond what you see and hear from others.

Checking in with them and knowing what their struggles are socially and emotionally will help you help your students in that school year of development and academics. Emotional learning is an important part of their development. I suggest that you help students look beyond any negative image they have. Provide the opportunity in after-school, where students learn about the impact on their lives and the lives of others.

Through working with the girls in my Chatter Girls program, I provide them with potent tools that go beyond the mirror, the smartphone, tablet or computer. I empower them to find their own strengths. Strengths that make a difference in their life’s journey.

Alicia Birong, the founder of Guided Choices, has worked with children and adults for 30-plus years as a life coach, therapist and hypnotherapist. She also founded Chatter Girls and has a master’s degree in counseling from Loyola University.

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