Raising Strong, Confident Girls

Yes, you can empower your daughter -- be proactive

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Girls are strong, smart, powerful, and can be whoever and whatever they want. Girls should be thin and sexy and dress like Britney Spears. Girls have the right to speak up in class and express their opinion. Girls should be seen and not heard. Girls can be doctors, engineers, and nuclear physicists. Barbie says: "Math is hard."

Ouch! Girls today could get whiplash with all the mixed messages about themselves, their bodies, their rights, and their abilities. In a 2000 Harris poll for the national nonprofit organization Girls Incorporated, girls in grades 3-12 were asked about gender stereotypes, their quality of life, and their plans for the future. Their answers -- and their parents' comments -- indicate that if anything, life for girls today is more difficult than it used to be.

  • 52% of girls said people think girls are only interested in love and romance.
  • 59% of girls said girls are told not to brag about things they do well.
  • 62% of girls said in school, boys think they have a right to discuss girls' bodies in public.

"I'm skeptical of the literature that finds that nearly every girl is going to plummet into the 'puberty pit,' but I do think that we're giving girls an enormously mixed set of messages," says Heather Johnston-Nicholson, PhD, director of research for Girls Inc. "Many are confused and some of them are harassed, and so there's a fair amount of reality to the notion that there's a challenge to growing up well as a girl in the U.S. these days."