Friday, July 22, 2005

A Mile In Her Shoes

I was watching MTV last week with some assortment of my children. I do that sometimes, both to check in on what they're ingesting via the television set and because, somewhere inside my ever-aging Masked Mom body, there is some elemental part of me that remains sixteen and still kind of likes the stuff on MTV. We were watching an episode of "MADE," a show in which an "average" teenager wants to make some extraordinary change in his or her life and MTV sends out experts and coaches and offers the occasional well-placed product to help make the kid's dream come true. Some of the ones I've seen in the past have involved a self-described geeky kid learning to dance well enough to enter a competition and a moderately popular girl running against the really popular crowd for some homecoming queen-type title. It's all sort of fairy godmother-esque in a more hip, modern way and I've been comforted by the fact that the wishes of high school aged kids are largely the same as they were when I was a high school aged kid.

This last episode we watched, though, struck a whole other chord. Sam, a tomboy, wanted to be "made" into a "girly girl" and get a date for the prom. MTV sent in Rosalie a "beautiful actress and pageant winner" to help whip Samanatha into shape. Sam is introduced to the world of eyelash curlers, eyebrow waxing and high heels. Several times in the month or so they spend together, Sam breaks down crying and threatens to quit the program. The most disturbing scene for me was when Sam was talking to her mother and father about wanting to quit and Sam's mother was literally in tears, very nearly begging Sam not to quit. I couldn't help wondering if it had really been Sam's dream to be a girly girl in the first place.

But there were several other scenes that were almost as upsetting: The "new" Sam blows off her little brother, who was her closest friend, in order to hang out with "girls she admires" (Rosalie's words). When Sam is asked to the prom by her friend Eric, she accepts, but then as she gets "girlier" and attracts the attention of "hot Eric" she decides (partly on the advice of Rosalie and her new friends) to tell friend Eric that she can't go with him--friend Eric's feelings are completely glossed over by everyone involved--there is some lip service paid by "hot Eric" to the other Eric's feelings, but we never get to see friend Eric's reaction on-screen (Sam gave him the news on the phone). Rosalie helps Sam pick out high-heeled shoes and makes Sam wear them in the mall for practice--even though Sam is wearing a tomboy outfit--and when Sam points out that people are laughing at her, Rosalie denies the obvious truth and even tells Sam that the shoes don't hurt "that bad," while holding back tears herself. (That last scene is the second video clip available at the MTV page that's linked above.)

I was a ranting fool by the end of the episode. Any "cool" mom points I had gotten for hanging out watching MTV evaporated in the face of my screaming at the television. There were so many things wrong with the episode that I could barely catch a breath. "You do not sell a person out because someone 'hotter' comes along!" "She doesn't look like a girly girl, she looks like a tomboy with makeup on." "She looks intensely uncomfortable." "Why is that woman LYING to her on national television?" "Why is her mother so upset? Does her mother wish she'd had girly-girl lessons?"

There were no girly-girl lessons when I was a girl; there was no "MADE" on MTV. (There was, despite my children's professed doubts, TV. There was even MTV.) I wouldn't have wanted them anyway, though I struggled with not being "feminine enough." In fact, those doubts staked out a fairly large corner of my psyche and made themselves at home. They lingered even after I married and had children. So deep were they that even though I'd had three boys in a row and everyone thought I must be dying to have a girl, I was pretty sure I wasn't qualified to raise a girl--there was so much about being a girl that I didn't "get."

Eleven years into raising a daughter, there's still a lot I don't get--eyebrow waxing? Insane. High heels? Inhumane. But there are some things I do get now--humanity is infinitely more important than some pre-packaged concept of "femininity." Being comfortable with who I am, rather than doing mental, physical and emotional contortions to fit some cultural ideal is the best example I can set. My tomboyishness is an essential part of who I am*.

For Daugther-Only's part, she straddles the girly-girl/tomboy line--equally comfortable in jeans and skirts. It will be great if she can always dance in and out of those two worlds (in high heels OR sneakers), but if not, she will have a sympathetic ear. I have a feeling Sam may be needing a sympathetic ear these days as well (I found follow-ups on some of the kids from "MADE," but not of Sam) and I hope she finds it.

*A story of how deeply ingrained my tomboy tendencies are: I have an upcoming Event (the visit of an old friend/crush from high school) and a friend of mine said to me, "You're not going to, like, put on real shoes and wear a skirt and curl your hair or anything, are you? Because I think I would freak out a little if you did."


  1. Good entry. I've always preferred the grown up tomboy types anyway, rather than the pretentious high maintenance types...

  2. Ah - yelling at the TV? I like to ask my teen what he thinks, let him point out all the wrongs we see.

    Adorable post! Happy to "meet" you, MM!

  3. I totally agree with your assessment of the episode (not having seen it, just your description and reaction to it). Well I'm married with two kids and LOVING playing with all the boy toys, which have ALWAYS been more fun than the girl toys. I will never outgrow my tomboy tendencies, and will always choose comfortable clothes when I can get away with them. However I look very nice if the occasion requires earrings!

  4. I just realized you've linked to my site. Thanks! I've added you to my blogroll, too.

  5. Enjoyed this post. I was a tomboy of the first degree, and preferred hanging out with the boys a lot of the time as a teen.
    Makes me sick to think of trying to make that young woman some crazy person's idea of "girly."

  6. It's been over six years since I saw that episode and thinking of it still gives me stomach knots. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.