Supergirl Meltdown

20 10 2009

Caution: the following abbreviated article is a glimpse into my daily mindset. Heck, it’s a glimpse into the daily emotional battle of almost every young lady I know.

My mom forwarded me this great article about the insane amounts of pressure our girls are under today (it always helps to have a newshound for a mother). She said it reminded her of me. Yes, I’d agree wholeheartedly. I’m still struggling to learn that I can’t do it all and I need to be content about who I am and where I am right now.

As someone once told me, “Jesus didn’t start doing ministry until he was 30, and he was perfect! Just because you haven’t achieved remarkable things by the time you’re 24 doesn’t mean you’re a failure!”

Even as I write that, I see how ridiculous that expectation of myself is.

We need a cultural adjustment badly.

Supergirl Meltdown: How Middle-Class Girls Today Are Under Unprecedented Pressure To Succeed

Last updated at 7:46 AM on 19th October 2009

 Perfect grades, perfect bodies, perfect boyfriends, welcome to Generation Supergirl – the young women who are supposed to have everything70% of girls hate their own faces

 On the phone to a friend, the talk soon turned to her teenage daughter. At 17 she is beautiful, popular and doing well at school  –  yet, despite this, she is also, her mother revealed, increasingly unhappy. 

 ‘She’s so worried the whole time,’ my friend said. ‘She’s convinced that she’s going to fail her exams, that she won’t get into any of the universities she’s applying for, that she’ll never do well at anything . . . she gets so wound up about the slightest thing. I find her in floods of tears and nothing I say can convince her that she’s going to be fine.’ 

 And my friend’s daughter is by no means alone. One colleague’s smart, attractive daughter has been battling anorexia since her early teens. 

 Another saw her teenage girl drop out all together  –  exhausted at the age of 17 and on the verge of burn-out after years of academic achievement. She refused to apply to university and is being treated for depression. 

 Welcome to Generation Supergirl. They are the young women who are supposed to have everything. 

 Unlike their grandmothers, they don’t have to fight for their right to be heard. Unlike their mothers, they are confident they can have the career without sacrificing the home life. 

 Record numbers of them are achieving top grades, heading to the best universities and on to great jobs. 

 But are all these opportunities making them happy? According to a new book Supergirls Speak Out: Inside The Secret Crisis Of Over-Achieving Girls, the answer is an overwhelming no. 

 As the book’s 21-year-old author, Liz Funk, explains: ‘These “super girls” believe that in order to be happy, they must excel at their job or career, have the best grades, wear the coolest clothes, date the best-looking boy, and have the perfect body size.’ 

 What is especially cruel is that to the outside world this particular band of girls seem to have it all. 

 Glimpsed walking down the street, these girls look blessed: beautiful, skinny, stylishly dressed, their confidence as they chatter away about this book or that film, this TV show or that boy is enough to make even the most self-assured 30-something feel dowdy and out-of-place.

 Yet they are increasingly unhappy. Their quest for perfection has not led them to contentment, but instead turned them into what Funk described as ‘stressed-out women whose drive overwhelms their lives  –  their body image, diet, exercise, school schedule, career choices, romantic relationships and interactions with family and friends’. 

 So why have so many teenage girls come to the conclusion that anything short of perfection is failure? 

 Stephen Hinshaw, professor and chair of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the bestselling book, The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls From Today’s Pressures, believes that they are suffering from the weight of expectations: society’s, their parents’, and, most crucially, their own. 

 We live in a world where it’s not enough for a woman to want to be a great athlete, she needs to be a highly marketable athlete as well  –  then it won’t matter if she sells more cameras than she wins matches on court. 

 ‘When we were conducting the interviews for the book, we met so many girls who believed that they had to be the best at school, great at sport, popular with their peers and have the best body as well,’ Hinshaw says. ‘Not only that, but it all had to appear effortless. 

‘No one can achieve that. It’s putting an insane amount of pressure on yourself to try. Girls are now expected to excel at “girl skills”, achieve “boy skills” and be models of female perfection 100per cent of the time. 

 ‘This triple bind is putting girls at risk of eating disorders, depression, and even suicide.’ Worryingly, the statistics seem to bear Hinshaw out. 

 In 2009, a report on behalf of Stirling University’s Suicidal Behaviour Research Group found that girls were three times more likely to self-harm than boys, while the number of girls diagnosed with depression, eating disorders and body dysmorphia is also on the rise. 

 Even those who are not suffering from clinical disorders seem to be struggling to cope with the pressure and expectations heaped on them by a society increasingly in thrall to the pursuit of perfection. 

 A 2007 survey of 2,000 teenage girls in the UK, found that 70 per cent dislike their faces and only 8 per cent are happy with their bodies. Two-thirds of the girls surveyed said that they believed their lives would improve dramatically if they lost weight, stating that they felt bad about their bodies because of the images of ‘perfect’ celebrities. 

 ‘It’s not enough to be academic, because without being attractive you are simply dismissed as a brain, or a nerd, and that adds a whole different layer of pressure for young women. 

 ‘It becomes as much about how they look as about who they are.’ 

Hinshaw agrees. ‘One of the things that we found during our research into the triple bind is that if a boy is good at sports or does well in the classroom, that’s enough, he doesn’t have to be the greatest friend in the world as well. 

 ‘But girls do  –  to be considered well-rounded then they have to be popular as well as academically successful and a great deal of that popularity is based around looks and behaviour.’

 ‘We need to let these young women know that perfection isn’t everything, that what they are striving for is impossible, because that level of perfection doesn’t exist and if you try to achieve it then you will simply collapse under the pressure.’ 

 Funk agrees. ‘People do need to recognise that you don’t have to be successful at everything,’ she says. ‘We should encourage young women to take time for themselves and think about what matters to them. If they are too busy going from one activity to another then they have no real time to stop and think. 

 Constantly striving for improvement is no substitute for doing something because you enjoy it. 

 ‘We need to stop worrying about how other people see us, and wanting to be judged on what we have achieved and instead enjoy life for what it is. 

 ‘Spending all of your time becoming fixated on tomorrow, on being successful or famous, or worrying about how everybody else views you, takes the joy and wonder out of being young.’ 

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