“Role models really matter. It’s hard to imagine yourself as something you don’t see.” –Chelsea Clinton
The Oxford Dictionary defines a role model as ‘a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated’. Despite this seemingly clear and simple definition, it is often widely debated whom and what constitutes a ‘proper’ role model. That’s not the topic of this post, because who am I to determine whether or not someone is a good role model to another person, who has life experiences, circumstances, and dreams different than my own?
What I will highlight, is one group who I think is greatly overlooked, despite being very important role models for our young girls. This group is young women.
It’s something that’s really dawned on me in recent months, and has been probably both the most profound, as well as unexpected, revelation of my time in Québec.
Camp counsellors, student teachers, coaches, babysitters, cousins. I hope everybody can think of a few teenagers or young adults who you viewed as a God during your youth, I’m fortunate to have had many. Based on my many years of working with young people, I can conclude that young adults are a source of great mystery to children, sometimes to the point of absolute hilarity (ohhh the questions I’ve been asked!). We’re adults to them in terms of age and authority, yet in a different way than their parents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, with our lack of cars, houses, children, and matching socks. But I guess that’s what makes us so intriguing, and why they relate to us differently.
Furthermore, tweens, particularly girls, really seem to gravitate towards young women, and this is something we should not and cannot ignore.
A lot of the girls I’ve worked with over the years have helped me come to this realization, but there are a few who really stand out to me, because I think I stand out to them. I can’t talk about them here, oh I wish I could, as their beautiful smiles and courageous hearts are the reason I am writing this, and why I have promised myself to always try to be in touch with this age group somehow.
Now, the young women who (I hope) are reading this, you may be thinking ‘What can I do, I still need role models of my own, I can’t be a role model to anybody else’. I used to think this too, and sometimes still doubt myself in this regard. But trust me when I say that you are being watched and you can have an incredible impact on some younger lives. The late elementary and middle school years are a time where girls’ confidence and self-esteem often plummets, but with your help it doesn’t have to be that way, perhaps it could even be a time where it soars.
But what they need, is they need you to silence the boy who speaks over them. They need you to pass them the ball during a soccer game. They need you to ask them a second, maybe third time to attend an extra-curricular activity they weren’t quite sure about but deep down really want to attend. And most importantly, they need you to say Hi. How are you? See you next time!
You don’t need to be a celebrity to do this, you don’t even need to have a job, you only need to be you, because that’s what our girls need most. They need you to be real and present in their everyday lives, not someone who only exists to them on television screens and Instagram posts. They need to see you wearing clothes from the local mall, not expensive designer items. They need to see you walking in the rain because you don’t have a car, never mind an expensive luxury one. They need to see that your skin and hair are not always perfect (mine sure aren’t). They need to see you eating your lunch with your fingers because you forgot a fork and were too lazy to walk to the staff room (true story, maybe I shouldn’t admit to this stuff online). Believe it or not, these things are really, really important.
There’s room for role models who make mistakes. -Taylor Swift
They need you to not just be relatable in the present, but a preview of who they can be in the future. Yes, some of them could go on to be famous musicians, athletes and politicians, and we shouldn’t stop them from dreaming big. But most of them are going to end up like you. You may be either horrified or laughing at that but I mean it in a good way. Because you are real. Unlike celebrities or fictional characters, they can, and most likely will, be like you one day.
That’s not to say that all media is terrible, and I can think of many who take being a role model seriously and try to use the platforms they have in a positive way, and I sincerely applaud their efforts. Role models in media can be important; this could be a young person’s only connection to people like them. This is not something I experienced growing up but for many this is true. Yet still, at the end of the day, are they the best we can do for our girls?
So, what am I trying to say here? Ladies, you are being watched. Don’t worry, not in a ‘walk holding your keys pretending to talk to someone on the phone’ kind of way. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you don’t need to become a crusader for female empowerment. But a little bit of time here and there, maybe volunteering in a community or school program, or simply spending some time with a cousin or neighborhood child, all while simply being yourself, has the potential to change a girl’s world. They will admire you even more when they see that you really are being your true self and not someone that other people want or tell you to be. Don’t let this stress you out, but don’t waste this opportunity either. I don’t want to say you owe it to them, but I don’t think you’ll regret it either.
If each generation takes a little bit of time to nurture the next one, we will unleash even more of the incredible, positive power that already lies within all of us. Young ladies, you can help unleash more of this power than you may realize, and our girls are waiting for you to go and turn that key together.
Role models can inspire. Campaigns can motivate. But if we want all girls everywhere to rise up, then we must find them, befriend them and support them. –Queen Rania of Jordan