I volunteered to be an assistant coach for the organization Girls on the Run again. This is my 4th season coaching, in addition to past participation in the Marketing Committee and being a Running Buddy at one of the 5ks. it’s safe to say this organization is dear to my heart!
If you aren’t familiar, Girls on the Run seeks to get young girls active while also teaching them important lessons related to subjects that aren’t often covered well in school – self-esteem, leadership, relationships, community, self-worth and courage. Girls on the Run actively teaches girls to be who they want to be and dream big. The teams meet twice a week (assistant coaches only have to commit to one practice per week) and follow a curriculum which involves on of the topics I mentioned earlier and also includes running. The majority of the 75 minutes we have with the girls during each meeting is not spent running – it’s actually spent talking.
Girls on the Run uses some analogies in their lessons to get girls to understand the concepts presented. We talk about some pretty heavy stuff in Girls on the Run and it’s always a bit easier to present it with a story or symbol. One of those symbols is the Girl Box. I coach Girls on Track (6th-8th graders) and we touched on the Girl Box in Lesson 2 (Girls on the Run, for younger girls, eases into concepts like this a bit slower).
Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run, created the Girl Box concept. On her blog, MollyBarker.com, she describes the Girl Box as:
The “Girl Box,” a phrase coined by Molly, describes the imaginary place many girls go around adolescence, where cultural and societal stereotypes limit choices as well as opportunities. Molly founded Girls on the Run to create a connected and safe “space” that invites girls and women to see, unravel from and eliminate their own and often unconscious buy-in to the Girl Box and its limiting messages.
Often, the Girl Box is a place where girls go in Middle School, as they begin to mature and being the transformation from children to adults. Being in the box means limiting yourself to what you believe is safe and conforms, and being outside of the box is being who you are and accepting yourself and others for who they are. Personally, I’ve always connected with this concept as I seriously struggled in middle school with self-esteem. I stopped thinking about what I actually liked, and instead thought about what I should like. That meant that when I had feelings that were against what I thought was “cool,” I felt bad about myself. It also meant that when others were acting differently than what I thought was “cool,” I didn’t accept them either. The only people who I felt were worthy were those who I’d deemed cool, even if they wouldn’t talk to me because I clearly wasn’t.
I wish I had a place like Girls on the Run to go when I was in middle school. I spent a lot of lonely afternoons sitting on the couch by myself (I’m an only child), eating fattening food and watching after school TV shows instead of getting active, making new friends and learning valuable concepts such as those taught in Girls on the Run. For the first time in my life, I was overweight, and although I hated myself for it, I couldn’t figure out what to do to fix it. I thought something was wrong with me for being bigger than the other girls, and even boys, at school (I’m also tall!) and the cycle continued. The more I disliked myself, the more shy I became, which helped girls also living inside the Girl Box at school pick on me. Middle school was definitely the worst time of my life and I wish I could go back and teach my 13 year old self about the Girl Box.
I know that what we’re doing at Girls on the Run isn’t going to stop bullying and it’s not going to stop the fact that girls will want to look like the photo-shopped women on magazine covers instead of themselves. But, I really believe that Girls on the Run is making an impact in the girls who attend it’s lives. I hope that they see us coaches as positive role models and that they learn to love running and fitness for more than the fact that it helps you get skinny like those models – but for the fact that it makes them feel good, inside and out.
I’m not sure that girls at a middle school age will ever fully be able to understand the Girl Box – not until they are completely outside of it and can look back with the perspective that I can and nod their heads and say “Ohhh that’s what hey were talking about.” But for now, I think we’re making progress at helping them be outside of the box, at least some of the time. Because let’s be honest, none of us are always outside of the box. Although my self-worth and self-esteem come a very,very long way since I was that lonely, overweight pre-teen, and honestly I’ve almost come even farther from woman I was in my mid-twenties, I still have my moments. Moments when even I look at that photo-shopped cover model and wish for her effortless beauty. Or moments when I wonder if I’m even smart enough for my goal of upper management or why some girls seem to be so much better at attracting blog readers than me.
We can’t help but compare and doubt at times, but what we can do is shift our focus to applauding what we know we already do well, and making a plan to change for those things that we truly want to change. If we’re all honest with ourselves, we don’t have the time or resources to be good at it all, so we need to chose our battles. We can’t all be stick thin (or “strong”, the new thin) super model CEOs who are full-time moms, regularly host amazing parties at our beautiful, well-kept home and maintain a wildly popular blog all at the same time. Even though I may long for each of these things at different times, it’s unrealistic that they all happen simultaneously (or that we can be truly perfect at any one thing, let alone 10!). So let this be a welcome reminder for myself and all of us women – we are enough the way we are. We’re doing the best we can, and that’s enough. We are enough.
Stay out of the Girl Box, ladies.
When in your life have you been in the Girl Box the most?