My seventh-grade field hockey coach, Ms. Hammond, used to tell all of the girls on the team, “You’re beautiful.” She didn’t really care if we won or lost the game. She wanted us to know, and sometimes repeat it with her, that we were beautiful. This didn’t always sit well with some of the athletic, competitive girls on the team. I remember thinking it was hokey and was probably trying to either fit in the group or stand out among the other girls on theam. I think this is one of the few times in my middle school/junior high/high school career when I remember hearing the word beautiful in reference to myself. When I heard ‘beautiful’ then, my insecure tween mind instantly said, “whatever.” I saw only my bushy hair that my friends always made fun of, my mouth full of metal, the red splots all over my face. It probably made me uncomfortable.
I recall some kind of political move to have Ms. Hammond removed as coach for being ineffective and telling girls they’re beautiful instead of how to hit a ball.
Let’s fast forward 15 (*gasp!*) years. It’s a crisp spring morning and I’m sitting with a group of eight to ten-year-old girls. We’re discussing what makes us beautiful.
“I’m beautiful because I’m a good friend!”
“I’m beautiful because I’m energetic!”
“I’m beautiful because I’m fun!”
“I’m beautiful because I like to read!”
Yes! Yes! Yes! These girls didn’t roll their eyes and get annoyed that we weren’t talking about ways to win or run faster. Parents enrolled their daughters in this program to hear this message.
When I think about Girls on the Run and the impact it’s having on girls, I find my mind wondering back to that open field in southern Chester County where a loony coach made us profess our inner beauty. A few years later, Molly Barker has the same idea only goes about it differently and to a younger group and a revolution begins. Maybe it wasn’t an idea as much as a revelation. No, I don’t like revelation. What would you call it when you just suddenly get it? Why did it take so damn long for people to understand that beauty doesn’t mean ‘pretty’ and that it’s a good idea to tell young girls this?
So when is the correct time to teach this? Always. It matters. Girls on the Run is at times a bit hokey to me as an adult. I thought it was strange as a kid too. But, as an adult I don’t need to recite the alphabet to spell a word and as a kid letters just looked like funny shapes. Eventually, it should become as common as reading to know that our physical appearances or abilities have little to do with our personal beauty.
I’ve realized that not being told things like “you’re beautiful because you’re fun, smart, energetic, a good reader, a good friend, caring, strong, helpful, intelligent,” has the effect of making a woman believe she is either only beautiful because of her appearance or that she nothing because she is not pretty. There are so many issues that women battle with daily that are caused from this ridiculous disconnect.
Please, let’s tell our daughters they’re beautiful because they’re kind, funny, smile a lot, give good hugs, are good friends, laugh, think, cry. Tell them it’s ok to fail and it’s ok to be different and that life is a lot more than other people’s definitions.
I don’t know if Ms.Hammond wanted us to do anything more than have fun and learn the game of field hockey. She probably wanted her lessons to sink in a lot earlier. It only took 15 years but I finally get what she was saying.
PS: Middle school sports were the very start of my relationship with running. I was not a great field hockey player. I'd say average on a good day. But I wanted to be on the team because all my friends were and there really wasn't much else to do in our school district during the fall. I lacked talent but I had heart. When the coaches would tell us to run laps, I'd take off like a bat out of hell to get a lead on the other girls. I'd sprint for the first lap and then slow to a bearable trot for the rest. I may have been guilty of cutting corners and even went as far as to stand towards the outside of the circle so I could get that much more of a jump.