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The Myth of the BFF

by Rachel Simmons


Rachel Simmons

Rachel Simmons is the author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. She is the host of the new PBS program, A Girl’s Life. Read more »

Sorry, Rachel Simmons is no longer taking questions.

I often joke that if girls had to rank their life needs in order of importance, the list would go something like this: Friends, Air, Water, Food, Phone, Computer. Truth is, I'm only half kidding. Relationships are at the core of girls' psychological health. To wit, meet the girls in the new PBS show, "A Girl's Life," whose peers both empower and undermine their development.

The ultimate prize of friendship in a girl's world is the BFF or best friend forever. BFF's are joined at the hip. They wear broken heart necklaces, fantasize about living next door to each other in twenty years - you know the drill.

But is there really such a thing as a BFF? Beginning around fourth grade, social politics say otherwise. As puberty arrives and girls start developing at wildly different speeds, friendships begin collapsing.

Well into middle and high school, you are as likely to see those BFF's linking arms as you are to hear girls crying, "She stole her away from me," "She won't speak to me when the popular girl is around" and "She doesn't play with me anymore at recess." Those freshly besotted with shiny new BFF's are googly-eyed and generally oblivious to their love-em-and-leave-em maneuvers. "Sometimes you just meet someone else and want to hang out with her," a fifth grader gushed to me a few weeks ago.

When a supposedly BFF friendship ends, or changes, it can feel like the end of the world. Part of that is a genuine grief response, but I have found that girls often feel an additional layer of self-blame and despair that comes from unrealistic beliefs about friendship.

Part of the problem is our culture: Girls grow up in a world that defines a good chunk of their value in terms of how many friends they have. As a result, they believe their job is to be liked (and befriended) by as many girls as possible. Anything short of that, and you're failing at being a girl - or what I call a Good Girl.

When it comes to the BFF, girls are sold a bill of goods about friendship that looks a lot like the rubbish we're told about romance: There's one person out there who is our match, and we'll live happily ever after. The relationship with The One is supposed to be blissful, conflict-free and permanent. As a result, girls wind up with wildly unrealistic expectations about themselves and their relationships. And they blame themselves when reality bites, and the relationships shift or end.

As a parent, one way to combat these destructive myths is to turn to the world of dating. If you think about it, we have some very fair expectations in that department. Somehow, we know that the process of finding our mate won't be easy. We generally expect not to fall in love with the person we'll end up with on the first date. We realize we are likely to be dumped at some point and just as likely to reject someone ourselves.

Although we may blame ourselves when we're broken up with, we sense that it's part of life. How do we know? Every other song on the radio is about it, and there are a slew of books and articles at the ready to nurse us through the heartbreak. Most of us adults have learned, through experience or observation, that relationships come and go, people change, and, well, bad things happen.

Girls lack any such perspective about their friendships. There are no songs on the radio about being ditched by your best friend. To the contrary, almost every film they see about aggression in girls is a comedy.

As a parent, you can provide a much needed dose of reality by keeping your daughter's expectations about relationship fair. As always, empathy is crucial. After you hug her and tell her how sorry you are, consider some of these more realistic takes on friendship:

* It's very, very rare that your first best friend will be your last. Friendship changes are painful but normal.

* It's not your fault if you lose a friend to someone else. It's painful but normal (see a pattern here?). It happens to most of us. You can bet that it will happen to the girl who just ditched you. It does not make you weird or a loser or bad. It's just part of what makes life hard and unfair. And you can also bet that one day you will leave a friend behind in a similar way (perhaps you'll remember how it felt, and treat that person with dignity and kindness).

* Relationships are always shifting and changing because people are. That's why none of us is really in control of our relationships. Circumstances often intervene. People move away. They change and they grow apart. It hurts, but it's part of growing and changing yourself.

* Friendship is an experience you'll be having for the rest of your life. You may hurt right now, and believe no one will replace your lost friend, but if you are patient and try to put yourself out there, you're sure to find the next friend.

Now it's your turn: What are your questions about girls? Feel free to ask about friendship, bullying, confidence/self-esteem...anything that's on your mind. I look forward to talking with you.

Sorry, Rachel Simmons is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Comments

Robin writes...

When my daughter was in middle school, it was perhaps the most painful time in her life. She wanted to be friends with all the girls ... even the ones others termed "unpopular." As a result, some of the "alpha girls" dropped her from their inner circles.

She continued on a path of 'friendship to all' throughout high school and into college (where she is at now) and is a well-adjusted, happy person with plenty of people surrounding her with love.

But you're right ... her earliest BFFs are not around anymore. Neither are a few of the girls she hung around with most in 9th and 10th grades. Frankly, her best friends today are girls she only has been friends with for a few years.

I think it is the "B" in BFFs that intrudes upon true friendships. Why do friendships need to be ranked? Can't friendships just be friendships and exist in the same space with the same importance as other friendships?

As you can tell, I'm a guy, so I probably can't relate. Although I have observed first-hand with my wife and daughter. Time to just call 'em FFs so you take the pressure off!

Rachel? writes...

Hi Robin, I love your point about the "B." I am always focusing on the "F." Actually, I had no idea you were a guy until you announced it! As for why friendships need to be ranked, I think it's for a few reasons: (1) Girls are passionate about their friendships and, just as in a romantic relationship, search for superlatives to celebrate and advertise their attachments (2) Girls tend to be insecure during adolescence, especially socially, and friendships provide a comfort or salve of sorts. A "best" friend feels like a buffer against the fear that others might not like me -- or that I may not like myself; and (3) Friendships signify status and power for girls, so being able to affirm that a particular girl is my "best" friend -- if she's high status -- can bump up a girl's social stock in turn. Thanks for writing and hope you enjoyed the show!

Regina writes...

If you were working in a residential facility for girls, what would you do to assure healthy friendships? How important is a girl's ability to form a true friendship with an adult couselor? How would you stop bullying? What would you look for as signs that a particular girl is being bullied?

Rachel? writes...

Hi Regina, thanks for your questions. I think the most important thing in a residential facility is that girls feel safe asking adults for support, and trust that their feelings will both be listened to, and -- if necessary -- acted upon (in terms of getting a girl counseling or disciplining/managing a peer who is hurting her). I do not believe girls should form "friendships" with adult counselors, but I do think it is important for every girl to have a trusted adult in her life. This person should be encouraging and a good listener, but not someone who discloses personal information to the girl, or who promises confidentiality at any cost.
Signs that a girl is being bullied include: changes in mood, eating or sleeping habits, social patterns (phone stops ringing, she doesnt' text or go online as much or at all). If you notice this for more than a few days, it's a sign that something bigger than a regular conflict is happening.
Thanks for writing and I hope you enjoyed the show!

Roswitha writes...

"That's why none of us is really in control of our relationships. " - in context, okay, BUT I think a young girl or teen would easily "hear" this differently and internalize it in a harmful way or apply it to excuse abusive behavior in a relationship. Not a choice of words I would recommend.

Rachel? writes...

Dear Roswitha, thanks for this important feedback. I agree: this should be conveyed in context. We are all in control of our relationships, in so far as we have the power to ask for respect in a relationship. We are in control of who we choose to associate with. Hopefully, each of us has the power to defend ourselves verbally or walk away from threatening or abusive actions. Thanks again and I hope you enjoyed the show.

tonya writes...

I have not called another woman a best friend since elementary or middle school. (I am in my mid-thirties). I use the term "close friend" which I think is more realistic for most people. I do know of some people who have BFFs. I have 2-3 friends who are closer than other friends and who I tend to share more with. However, these friends are ALL different, and they all reflect different parts of me. I recognize that these close friends can sometimes be akin to the newly coined term, frenemies. I recognize when they have jealousies about me (or other people), jump to conclusions or assumptions, and do things that are not beneficial to me or my mental health. However, recognizing that no one is perfect, including myself, it is important to have imperfect friends who will do perfect things for you or offer support when you need it most.

Rachel? writes...

Hi Tonya, thanks for writing in - I think your approach to friendship is balanced, real, and probably quite satisfying...particularly because you're not expecting too much. I think recognizing that people disappoint us, and that, sometimes, you just have to let it go, is one of the most important realizations one can have about relationship. It is also very significant to understand that no one person can satisfy all your needs. So...good for you, and thank you for commenting. I bet others will gain from reading your insights. I hope you enjoyed the show!

Suzan writes...

"Rise above it"...I always told my daughter, it worked for me...but then I believe in developing one's own character before you try discerning which folks add light to your tree. We both have long-lasting childhood friends as well as what I call light-air and heavy-air friends whom come & go depending on the wind shifts. But then we're those wild-women who are too independent to latch onto someone's umbilical chord. Some time's we miss the intimacy a BFF can shoulder, but we don't miss the drama either~

Lisa writes...

Hi Rachel!
Can't wait to watch A Girl's Life,to air on my daughter's 21st birthday.
If you get time check out the comments on the PBS post on A Girl's Life. I have never been so engaged in a conversation on line.
In peace,
Lisa

Rachel? writes...

Can you give me the url for this? i looked a few times but couldn't find what you were referring to. Thanks!

kelly writes...

I am 40 years old and have BFF's. I use the term appropriately and they are not "ranked". The term BFF for me stands for a small circle of friends One male included. They each have been supportive in my growth. Some have beenn around since 6th grade, and she is the "ride or die" girl. She knows everything about me. As I age, she knows less only because much of my intimate sharing is with my spouse. However, she does know enough to know when i am B-ss'ing her about matters of the heart, health, and family. A BFF. My friends are all impressions of what i believe r the best qualities of being human and compassionate. That is why they earn the term BFF!

Rachel? writes...

Dear Kelly, thanks for this comment - I agree that the qualities of a friend, and the value they add to your life, should be the basis for friendship. It's the terms "best" and "forever" that can get dicey. Your focus sounds right to me. Thanks for writing and I hope you enjoyed the show!

Susan writes...

I have never really felt the need to have a best friend (s). Is this considered a necessary part of life ?
I have read some studies that say friends are necessary in order to avoid loneliness. How true is that ?

Rachel? writes...

Hi Susan, it is most certainly not necessary to have a best friend. Research indicates that having one true friend -- a person whom you trust and can be yourself around -- is enough. As for the source of loneliness, that can be tied to many factors. Plenty of people have tons of friends but are still terribly lonely - hence the phrase "lonely in a crowd." Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoyed the show!

Anne writes...

I remember middle school vividly. It sucked. I am 37 years old now and I still wince when I think about the pain and drama I went through starting in the 5th grade. Girls can be so cruel. I was part of a clique of 6 girls. All BFFs, I guess, with a queen... There were constant power struggles and I often felt left out. I never felt secure in the clique and being a part of it made me feel weak, not strong, but I couldn't get out. It was like a drug. I needed to be a part of it. In sixth grade, four of the girls became bulimic. After lunch, they would line up their tooth brushes on the lunch table. The would take them into the bathroom and use the back end to vomit and then they would brush their teeth after that. But the crazy thing is, I felt left out. Luckily I had the sense to ask my parents what it was all about and never tried it. Perhaps it is my fear of puking, which I still have, which saved me. Nonetheless, they all ended up in the hospital at some point and I think that some of them still struggle with bulimia.
These girls were never true friends to me. I could not trust them. They didn't have my back. They dissed me whenever possible, kicked me out of the clique on multiple occasions. But I felt so lucky to be a part of it, I couldn't get out. I mean, I seriously considered bulimia just to be like them?!
When I got to high school, I never talked to them again. We passed each other in the halls with little more than a nod of recognition.
Since then, I have forged many wonderful friendships, but have never called anyone my BFF. F that!

Rachel? writes...

Hi Anne, thanks for sharing your powerful story with us. Middle school is a time where the intense need to belong becomes overpowering --as you discovered. It's perhaps this, more than anything, that held you to this group, since you clearly were able to move on without them once your developmental stage changed and you hit high school. It IS amazing how much we'll tolerate in the name of fitting in. This is why it can be so incredibly challenging to disband cliques and help victimized girls move on! Thank you for your comment and I hope you enjoyed the show.

Heather writes...

I'm interested in learning more about fostering positive body images in young girls. My 4 year old thinks she has a fat stomach and I'm absolutely shocked. She has a perfectly normal toddler body and have no idea where this comes from. She just began school this past fall. Otherwise, she's been under my supervision 24/7 all her life. Her television time is limited, watching mostly PBS shows and veggie tales and I do not allow fashion magazines in my home. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you.

Jack writes...

I'm curious as to whether the program, "A Girl's Life" will tackle the role misogynistic violence (i.e. hate crimes) plays in a girl's life, namely child rape and domestic violence. Sadly, it's all too common for girls and it plays a devastating role in how they perceive themselves and how boys see them when that bigotry is either glorified, normalizied, or trivialized in our culture. It's staggering. Whether it's misogynistic slurs being used as synonyms for girls and women or anything deemed inferior, or the effect a pornified* culture is having on how boys grow up to see women, it's beyond toxic at this point and hardly anyone seems to be dealing with it head-on.

I understand that body image and the role friendships play in a girl's life is important, but central the wellbeing of girls is combating misogynistic bigotry.

*There's a reason why "pornography" is Greek for "the story of wh*res" rather than simply "the story of sex." It's no longer about sex, but exploiting it to demonize, in essence, femaleness itself.

Jack writes...

Again, apologies for putting that question here, but the link for questions about the program sent me straight here and I didn't know where else to put it.

I'll be watching the show with my sister and 14 year-old niece.

Rachael Brooke writes...

Hi Rachel,

My daughter is a bright, outgoing and well liked 7 year old in 2nd grade. I was honestly shocked at the social issues/pressures she went through in kindergarten and 1st grade. We talk a lot as things come up. However, I can't find books and other resources geared toward young girls. What resources are out there for parents of young girls? Which do you recommend? She went through bullying from 2 girls last year in 1st grade - ugh! I feel I should be working to help her be a strong, self-assured person now while I still have her attention and affection not later when her peers have more sway with her.

Unfortunately my PBS station in Madison, WI isn't airing your show on Wednesday :(

Thanks,
Rachael

Rachel? writes...

Hi Rachael, so sorry to hear about what your daughter is going through. I'd recommend the books of Trudy Ludwig to read with your daughter. I'd also have a look at the new chapter in Rosalind Wiseman's newly revised "Queen Bees and Wannabes" about aggression in younger girls. Bummer about not airing the show in Madison, but you can stream the program live on PBS.ORG now - there's a link to it on my facebook fan page or you can just google it! Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoyed the show.

Melissa writes...

Fantastic! I remember my own teen years oh-so-painfully. Now, a mother of a teenager, watching this show brought up so many different feelings for me. I can personally relate to every single story that was on this show! We didn't have myspace. We had slambooks. And slam they did!
I was particularly intrigued with the concept of the school in East Harlem. I don't believe they neccessarily 'sheltered' the girls. I would be concerned, particularly about the shy-to-tears young lady. How will she do in a college atmosphere? Kudos to that school though! The girls' success brought tears to my eyes.
Great job Rachel! I'll be getting the book soon!

Day writes...

My 6 year old daughter seems to have formed a rather strong 3 person clique, which even surprises her teacher. She is often aggresive and tends to attach herself to one friendship as if her life depends on it. How can I encourage her to make lots of different friends. Is this kind of behavior a red flag that I should be aware of?? Just concerned that she will either have trouble making friends or be a bit of a bully. Thanks

Rachel? writes...

Hi Day, thanks for writing. I think you should definitely pay attention to your daughter's behavior. If you witness anything personally, it's important to weigh in on it quickly and consistently -- and with consequences. Be sure to explain why you think her behavior is unacceptable and talk about the feelings of the other girl(s) involved. As for making other friends, yes, absolutely, do what you can to promote social flexibility. Since she is so young, you may want to speak to the other parents about your concerns (making sure not to "blame" anyone) and ask if they share any of your feelings. And I would speak with her teacher(s) about what they observe: do they have an opinion about why she is so dependent on these relationships? What would they recommend in order to promote more flexibility on your daughter's part? Thank you for your comment and I hope you enjoyed the show!

Kirista writes...

I have a teen daughter that has been through a very bad situation. I have gotten counseling involved, doctors and other theraphist that could help. my daughter has became more aggressive towards anyone. I know that everyone tells me until she starts to deal with has happen to her, she will go through somethings, but I feel there has to be another way to get through to her. I am out of ideas? and I do not want to lose her to the streets like most teens decide to do. i love my daughter and she feels that i am to over protective.I do not know what else to do?

Rachel? writes...

Hi Kirista, I'm very sorry to hear about your struggle with your daughter. You are doing the right thing by reaching out to experts who can help you. In terms of parenting guidance, you might benefit from "Parenting by Heart" by Ron Taffel. It is normal for teens to think their parents are being overprotective. However, when a trauma has occurred, your friends are correct: therapy, in whatever form you find most effective, is crucial. You may also want to investigate a program that will give her opportunities for a different kind of freedom -- something like Outward Bound, for example. If there is a Girls Inc or Boys and Girls Club near you, I'd give them a call and see if there are any helpful programs on offer. I wish you the best.

Crystal writes...

I stumbled across the show tonight just as it was about to come on- I grabbed my 14yo & 8yo to sit & watch this with me- it was GREAT !! They both had questions & comments & the conversation was absolutely heart tugging & mind boggling!
Thanks for a great show! Right after the show- both girls said they hope you make this a series OR at least a once a month special. They also said they would like to see girls from around the whole country & to see what is the same & what is different.

maya writes...

if your child is going crazy because she has fights everday what would you do?

Rachel? writes...

Hi Maya, if your child seems to be fighting too much, I'd speak with the professionals who work with her (teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.) and get their honest feedback first. Then, I'd talk to a counselor about what, if any suggestions, she has. It may be that your daughter needs to rethink her friendship group; it may be that she needs to learn some skills that will allow for more peaceful conflict resolution; or there may be something deeper going on that a professional can help you tease out. I wish you the best - thanks for writing!

Mary Doyle writes...

Dear Rachel,
My high school freshman daughter tells me that be pretty is "everything" in high school. Fortunately, or unfortunately, she is. She spends lots of time deciding what to wear to school. She wears lots of make-up--thick black eyeliner. Fortunately she is not boy crazy.

My question:
How can I tell her being pretty is just about the least important thing in life when everyone/society/et al tell her otherwise?
What words would you use? What comments have you seen to be effective and get through to a young girl?
Thank you for your time and your great work.
Mary Anne Doyle

Rachel? writes...

Hi Mary Anne, thanks for this very important question. It's so difficult to reinforce messages about internal beauty in a culture that is obsessed with looks. Here's what I'd suggest: check out Dove's Campaign for Self-Esteem, which has many resources for moms specifically geared towards helping them fight lookism and dangerous media messages. I'd also look at Dara Chadwick's new book, "You'd Be So Pretty If..." which is all about how mothers can empower their daughters in the area of body image and beauty. But here's what I really think: you already know what to say...being pretty isn't as important as being kind, disciplined, ethical (whatever your values are). Your teen daughter will roll her eyes and act like she doesn't care, but please know she is listening.

Tracey Eppert writes...

I am a married 43 year old mother of a 10 year old girl. My experience with girls/women is that the relationships with some can be very manipulative. I had/have have friendships with girls/women throughout my life, but the deep friendships that I have are with the boys/men in my life.

I educate my daughter about bullying and the complexities and changes in relationships with girls. I teach her to have a strong sense of personal pride in herself. And I also teach my daughter to foster more relationships with boys. I am hoping that these three focus areas will help her deal with any social issues that she experiences in her life.

However, I experienced something I had never anticipated. She was actually bullied by her teacher last year. Has anyone else had a problem with this??

Jason writes...

Rachel,

In "A Girl's Life", I noticed that there was no mention of cell phone use or texting in the segment on Sonia, which was in very stark contrast to the central role these technologies played in the segments on Libby and Rachel. Could you comment on the extent of social networking technologies in the life of Sonia compared to Libby and Rachel? Thanks.

Jason

Rachel? writes...

Great question, Jason. Access to technology, and the amount of time you have to spend on it, will be directly related to your socio-economic status. Someone like Sonia has less money and less free time than Libby. Girls who come from poor or working class backgrounds often have work after school, such as caring for relatives or paid employment. Yet you may have noticed Carla had an iPhone, and people posted a video of her fighting on YouTube, so my argument is not airtight. But resources will dictate access; hence the term "digital divide." Thanks for your question!

N'neka writes...

Thank you kindly for addressing these topics. I love the internet and all that it offers but it contains TOO much information and can be used for negative purposes. The young ladies have an outlet to express themselves like a journal use to provide but it has become time consuming and gives them access to many things youth shouldn't have access to. I long for a world where kids can be kids and not worry about pressures of growing up, impressing others and so forth and that adults can come back as Adults..role models..the enforcers. We need to instill biblical principles from the Book of Proverbs that will stick with our children long after these fads have faded. I am disgusted at the young women causing harm to each other and fighting and wait get this..... They have NO clue as to why??? Girls, ladies, women, young and old stand for something or fall for anything. Nothing is worth your safety and well being. For those who glorify girl fighting and such, lets find another healthy alternative that is pleasing and uplifting to each other instead of causing distruction! Thanks again for the wonderful segment. Truly heart warming.

Sheila writes...

My daughter all but 1 of her friends when she was in 7th grade. The problem is the scar it left. She is now a freshman and her one friend went to a new school. The first week of school she was feeling confident and went and sat at a random table at lunch. The next day a girl from the table left a message in her FB inbox that she didn't like her and not to sit there. She now goes to the library during lunch and doesn't eat. It is heartbreaking because she had the confidence to reach out only to get knocked back down. I worry everyday about her. I keep pushing her to get involved with clubs ans sometimes she does but she is so afraid of rejection. It is so painful and the school does not want to hear about my anti-bullying ideas.

Rachel? writes...

Hi Sheila, I am so sorry to hear about what your daughter is facing. It's heartbreaking just to read about it, and I can't imagine what you're going through. It can make you feel powerless, too, as you watch her go off to school every day. My advice is this: continue to show empathy, encourage her to take risks when she feels up to it, and consider counseling for her....a place where she can work through some of her issues. The film "Odd Girl Out" may comfort her, and she also might enjoy reading "Odd Girl Out." Consider sending her to the Girls leadership Institute (www.girlsleadership.org) for the summer program -- this can have a transformative effect on a girl's sense of self. I wish you the best and I am sorry for you pain. Good luck.

Samm writes...

Hello Rachel,
In one segment of the film, the audience gets the story of an African American girl who has been in fights. And the audience hears your voiceover talking about the increase in violent altercations between girls in the last 2 decades. But the only explanation given for this uptick being the increase in media images linking young women, guns, and glory. While the media may have some role in this, I was surprised that the film made NO mention of the increased incarceration of mothers for nonviolent (usu. drug-related) offenses in the last 2 decades. And, of course, the fact that while women have entered the official workforce in greater #s, the fathers of their children have largely not taken up the slack in terms of caring for children and/or are unable to because they, too, are being incarcerated at growing rates. Most prisons are no longer about rehabilitation, but about punishment. As a society, the US puts a higher percentage of its population in prison than any other country, including China. I broach this because there are very serious consequences to shutting people "away" and separating them from their children. While there is not a direct, "smoking gun" kind of link between the issue of increasing violence between girls and the rising imprisonment rate, it needs mentioning and studying.

Rachel? writes...

Hi Samm, I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. We could have done a better job of talking about the factors associated with girls' violence. Actually, many people argue that the increase in statistical arrests and incarcerations is because of the phenomenon of "upcriming" -- girls are now being arrested for things they would formally have been suspended from school for. Parents are also calling the police more often to handle fights in the home. And your point about incarceration certainly fits, too. Thank you for this insightful comment and for watching the show.

Mariam writes...

Hi Rachel! My name is Mariam and I'm 13 years old. I got into puberty when I was in 6th grade and since I'm currently in 7th grade, I'm starting to notice some problems in my life. I heard you traveled all over US to talk to girls and I'm in Chicago, Illinois. I transfered to a new school in the past 4 months and I never fit in. Everyone kept looking at me like I had some sort of disease, and I never really had any friends. I can't trust no one at that school becuase if I tell something, they just gossip about it, and most of the time people wants to fight me and I try to convice my dad to make me go back to my old school but he works alot and my mom is always sick, so I always have to face things on my own. I'm on my own in my household becuase I'm the only girl, the teenager(besides my 15 year old brother) I got in trouble for texting over limit, I mean, at first it was nothing, but i got addicted in the next few days. Every morning, I always run to my phone to see is I got any texts and I set over 500 texts in 1 month. My dad found out and he blocked texting from my phone, so its now online. I got adult figures at my school so I can always go to them. I can't trust my girl classmates because they like to fight...alot and sometimes I have to fight them to defend myself. Your show has changed everything I once thought about, I ave it recorded on my DVR and I watch it everyday. I hope you can reply to my post to give me advice. I hope if you ever visit Chicago, it's pretty interesting.

From,
Mariam

Rachel? writes...

Hi Mariam, thanks for writing to me! I am so sorry to hear about your struggles. You sound like a very thoughtful, sensitive and independent young woman. I admire you for staying strong and finding ways to support yourself, like watching "A Girl's Life" and talking to the trusted adults in your life. Here are some other ideas I have for you: Go to the library and see if you can read "Odd Girl Speaks Out" and "Odd Girl Out." You might also see if you can rent the movie "Odd Girl Out." All of these will give you support and help you see that you are not alone. I also give girls advice on my blog at Teenvogue.com and at my website rachelsimmons.com. Finally, I want you to see if there is a Girls, Inc or boys and Girls Club near you. I bet you would find some very cool girls there in an after school program. Let me know how it goes! I wish you the best. - Rachel

Grace writes...

Thank you for your expose' on this subject matter. I am a single mother raising a 12 year old daughter, who is wanting to grow up too quickly. We watched the PBS program together, and had a real disscussion on the subject, and she expressed to me openly for the first time how she feels about her physical appearance.

I applaud you for your REAL VIEW of what our daughters are up against.
As women, we need to reinforce the positive attributes that make our daughters unique and special.

I would like to express to the young ladies who were in your documentary that they are each unique in her own way, and that makes each one of them special.
Love yourself, Value yourself, YOU ARE WORTH IT!!!!!!!

Jaime writes...

Hi Rachel!

I can't think you enough for bringing attention to girls and young women and the unique challenges that they face as they mature as well as the challenges that we, their parents and teachers face as we raise and guide them into being capable and independent women. Your first book was a tremendous eye opener for me as a new teacher and I'm hoping you have some insight into a challenge my husband and I are facing as parents to young girls.

I have two daughters ages 4 & 3. They are typical, everything is dolls and babies, and pink sort of girls. Our 4 year old seems to also have other pursuits but she takes everything very seriously. Board games, school work, baby dolls - it's all serious business.

Recently we've become really close friends with another couple who have a 7 year old son. Our 4 seems to be having her first crush on the boy. That we can handle. However this same couple has also just added a second baby to the mix and now when we get together, our 4 and their 7 play house complete with let's get married and their's a baby up our 4's shirt. This makes all of the parents really uncomfortable. We've all talked with both of the kids and we're trying to redirect them to more age appropriate pretend play activities. We find we have more success with their son than we do with our daughter.

Our question is this. How do we effectively communicate to her our desire for her to 'dial it down' so to speak when every 'girl' toy she has is geared toward this idea of grow up, find a mate, get married, have a baby? In fact, not only the toys but the 'girl' movies as well. Romance and find your mate is a running theme in most kid movies. I hadn't given it a lot of thought until this all came about but all the princess movies, Shrek, Wall E, and even Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs all have romance as a main or sub plot point. How do we work against it? And it isn't that we are against this as a life goal. We just don't want her to become fixated, especially to this extent at the age of 4.

Rachel? writes...

Hi Jaime! Thanks for your kind words about the show and my book. My heart goes out to you...the tsunami of products geared to girls with messages just like you describe makes it so hard to communicate your values as a parent. I have a couple of ideas: 1. If the 7 year old boy is more open to shifting up the games, why not encourage him to set a different tone by introducing a new game with different themes. You can empower him by saying he is kind of like a "big brother" figure and you're relying on him to be a teacher for your daughter. 2. Try introducing media with messages you can get behind. A good place to look for both bad and good examples is packaginggirlhood.com. In the book of the same name, you'll find excellent suggestions on talking to your daughter about media messages. Finally, there is always the example you set. It's the least rewarding because you don't get to see much immediate return, but she IS listening and watching. We know this for sure. Best of luck to you - and thanks for writing and watching the show.

Chad writes...

Hello Rachel,

Interesting documentary that explains well the pressures that young teen women face. It's clear that the societal stimuli can really have a profound effect on a young woman's behavior.

I'm curious though if you've explored what some young women lack that affects their behavior and life choices. In particular, the first young latina woman you highlighted (her name escapes me) did not have an interested father present in her life. It leads me to wonder that had she had an interested father, she may be more comfortable in her own skin. The hypothesis behind what I wonder is that with an interested father a young woman does not as easily feel inadequate as a result of media pressures that constantly bombard a young woman. After all, at the age of 15, the attention of of boys/males is huge deal for a young woman and if media is saying that the only way to get the attention of males is to look like what the media prescribes, then young women such as the first latina who can not physically come close to looking like the "perfect woman" will resultingly feel like your subject does and have aspirations to fix people's inadequacies, thereby giving into the societal pressures. My hypothesis as an armchair sociologist is that an interested father present in a young woman's life will minimize the chance that the young woman will feel inadequate. Further, my hypothesis is that the mother can tell her all day that her daughter is beautiful, but hearing that from an interested father carries either more weight or enough weight to allow the young woman to not feel inadequate, as the positive reinforcement comes from a respected male figure.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Chad

Rachel? writes...

Hey Chad, thanks for your very thoughtful comment and insights. There is no question that a father's presence in a girl's life can be a real buffer against some of the forces that would disempower girls. For example, some research suggests that fathers who display "typically masculine" features like being outspoken give their daughters more permission and opportunity to do the same. With respect to body image in particular, I'm not sure what the research says there, but certainly, having the consistent, unconditional love a male relative -- something you don't have to work for or feel insecure about -- is likely to shift a girl's interests elsewhere. Thank you for your comment and for watching the show.

Valerie writes...

Hi Rachel:

Raising strong, confident young women is definitely a challenge now days. I was watching your special (BFF) and wanted to get involved in making a change in young girls lives in my community. I loved the idea of the all girls school. I would like to open an all girls school in my community but not sure where to start. Can I have the name of the all girls school that was televised and if possible the names of some of the facility members so I can get an idea of how to get this project started?

Rachel? writes...

Hi Valerie, I suggest starting here: http://www.singlesexschools.org/home.php
The name of the school is the Young Women's Leadership School. Thanks for watching the show!

gary writes...

I find the topic interesting. You may find the article in the December isuue 1956 of Life magzine interesting. It's titled "The American Women, her Achievements and troubles." It explains the evelution of soceity from the farming era to the industrial age and what impact the feminist movement had on society. I could mail you a copy of the article if you would like one

Jessie writes...

Hi Rachel

My mom and I loved the documentary. I grew up close to E-LA and most of my friends were gang members. I didn't do well as a student in HS and wound up a teen mom. I later (at age 28) moved up north and got my ged then started at a 4 year university and finished school with a BA at almost 35. All that aside, I have a very close young friend in NYC who is in a similar position as that of the young woman who wanted to go to college, but was not a legal citizen. He was brought to NY from jamaica and is not a citizen. Please point us (him) in some direction? Thanks for any support.

Rachel? writes...

Hi Jessie, thanks for writing and for sharing your story. Sounds like you really overcame the odds and I commend you. Check out my website because I posted an update on Sonia which you might appreciate (rachelsimmons.com). In terms of your friend, I'm not exactly sure what to advise there...I'm stumped. I hope you find an answer soon and I wish you the best. Thanks for watching the show!

Mandi writes...

I just wanted to say Thank you for doing this film. I work for the Girl Scouts in Bismarck, North Dakota and we have an Event going on in about a week where we are focusing on the inner beauty of girls. We are using Dove's Self Esteem information called Uniquely Me! which is focused on working girls through their teen years when peer pressure can be so overpowering. It is such a relief to see videos like this and know that there are others that care and focus on the pressure girls have to face these days. I followed Jean Kilbourne throughout my college years and actually got to meet her at an autograph signing and she was such an amazing individual. Keep up the fantastic work!! Thank you so much :)

Simone writes...

Dear Rachel,
Thank you for your work on this show. I'm not sure how my single-mother did it (I have the luxury of working from home as a writer and translator for a fashion and news blog), but I was raised to be feel pretty confident when alone or with friends, and I hope to be able to pass that on to my daughter. And just a note to Jaime (above) -- my 3 yr old recently saw (the new) Beauty and the Beast and is now fascinated with kissing on the mouth with her eyes closed... I've decided not to draw too much attention to it (as disconcerting as it can be) and wait for her to pass on to something else...

Colleen writes...

After watching the special, I was struck by the amount of texting and cyberbullying that is occurring. What age would you recommend we allow our girls to have cell phones? What rules/restrictions would you put on them once they do have one. Thanks.cacaos

Rachel? writes...

Hi Colleen, great question. I don't think kids need a phone in elementary school and if they do it should only be for emergency use. Middle school can be questionable, too, in my book, but if you decide to do it, I'd impose the following rules: 1. Limit on texts per month 2. You have the right to check her phone and see her recent received and sent texts -- at any time and without warning 3. Clear explanation of the rules for ethical use and what the consequences will be for breaking them (loss of phone for x number of days, e.g.). Explain why these rules are important. This includes forwarding cruel or embarrassing text messages in addition to actually sending them. I wish you luck and thanks for watching the show!

Janelle writes...

Hi Rachel,

My husband and I have 3 daughters, so we were immediately drawn to your program. My husband watched it first and then wanted us to watch it together. We were very impressed with the program.

My questions for you would be:

1. How can fathers be influential in a girls life? Are there books you would suggest for fathers of girls? How can they talk to their daughters about tough feminine topics without being shunned?

2. How does viewing pornography affect girls behavior? Do they model the behavior found in these materials? How are they most likely to be introduced to this type of material? On the Internet? At home? On their cell phones?

3. I was very impressed with the all girl school featured on the show. Would you suggest a same sex learning environment for all ages?

4. I was worried after the program that I was too lax about female aggression being featured on TV and have never really talked with our daughters about fighting. We don't let them fight at home, but that is the extent we've thought about it. How can we teach our daughters effective ways to deal with their emotions?

Eliza writes...

Hi Rachel,
I justed wanted to thank you on your film. I'm 17 and currently in my last year of high school and the past few years have been quite painful. Ever since my girlfriends ditched me for the mean girls I found myself retrating into my own cold and bleak little world. I still put the blame on me though for pushing them away. Honestly I wonder, will it get any better?

Angela writes...

I am a MSW student presently interning in the Baltimore City public school system. May of the girls I work with have issues sentered around belonging. Because quite a few are in the foster care system or have been adopted, their support system is suspect. Do you have any advise as to how I can be effective in helping them find their voice?

Dorothea Boniello writes...

Rachel - Thanks for your wonderful work. Would you come to Billings, Montana to present a program for my daughter's school, Lewis and Clark Middles School ?

What recommendations do you have to improve a 13 year old's bidy inage and trust in herself ?

Please come and do a talk. I can help arrange it.
Thanks !
Dorothea Boniello

Cynthia writes...

I just want to say that I was very impressed with this video. I work with abandoned, abused & neglected children and this video really hit home for several of my 5th & 6th graders. These issues are beginning to filter down to the elementary school age children.

I have shwon this video with several of my children and they all think they have learned something from it. One of my girl's said she thinks she can face her problems because she knows now she is not the only girl going thru this kind of problems.

Thanks for taking the time to make this video "A Girl's Life." It has made my life with the kids just a little easier because it showed them that I am understanding what they are going thru and am being there to help them make it all the way thru to graduation and beyond. Cynthia

Caroline writes...

I attended public schools (not great ones) through the end of junior high, then all-girls high schools. I cannot say that socially my experience was always rewarding, but I can say that with the adolescent sexual tension/gender competition taken out of the classroom, I did concentrate much more on my studies. The uniforms were far from fashionable,but at least we were saved from the daily torture that most other girls seems to suffer about what to wear. Uniforms also have an efficient leveling effect when it comes to economic disparities between students which is beneficial.
To repeat Janelle's question, what is our opinion on same sex schools for all ages?

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you know i wonder myself sometimes, but i would say they do exist..but are hard to find. I have had many a "best friend" betray me for no reason at all but to make me look bad. I think the only way to know if u have a best friend is if they are someone who will always b there and never turn their back on you in any situation, as well as be completely loyal and trust worthy. They have to be someone who wld never change you for the world, which is why i think a lot of people's best friends are their spouses.

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I attended public schools (not great ones) through the end of junior high, then all-girls high schools.

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Can't friendships just be friendships and exist in the same space with the same importance as other friendships?
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Jon writes...


Foreclosure long island a person whom you trust and can be yourself around -- is enough. As for the source of loneliness, that can be tied to many factors. Plenty of people have tons of friends but are still terribly lonely - hence the phrase "lonely in a crowd." Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoyed the show!

Haha I find the myth of the BFF quite funny

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alex writes...

I think that young girls to have that relationship with another girl and likes the label. I told my daughter not to call all her friends her best friend and I think that's what I was trying to explain. You need a lot of friends to a well-rounded one yourself. Bonnie and NEVER one thing I had was envy of other "other" friends. We were both very comfortable and secure in our own skin and in our relationship with others. I loved that there were other friends who can share your life with. Friendship is a difficult thing when young, but as you get older is becoming much easier. I think it's so important to be honest with your friends as you are with your partner, you both deserve it. I'm smiling with my heart right now thinking about all the wonderful times of my earning from scraps para orkut and I had with my friends and look forward to the bazillion more in the near future! When I met Jacquie I remember thinking how I can get the same luck, we're friends, we work together and are similar in many respects compared to other but we both know that will last forever because of our respect and mutual admiration and understanding of each other! I love that! Great post Jake! I love you girls!

Bob writes...

Hi Kirista, I'm very sorry to hear about your struggle with your daughter. You are doing the right thing by reaching out to experts who can help you. In terms of parenting guidance, you might benefit from "Parenting by Heart" by Ron Taffel. It is normal for teens to think their parents are being overprotective. However, when a trauma has occurred, your friends are correct: therapy, in whatever form you find most effective, is crucial. You may also want to investigate a program that will give her opportunities for a different kind of freedom -- something like Outward Bound, for example. If there is a Girls Inc or Boys and Girls Club near you, I'd give them a call and see if there are any helpful programs on offer. I wish you the best.

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"A Girl's Life." It has made my life with the kids just a little easier because it showed them that I am understanding what they are going thru and am being there to help them make it all the way thru to graduation and beyond. Cynthia

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The uniforms were far from fashionable,but at least we were saved from the daily torture that most other girls seems to suffer about what to wear. Uniforms also have an efficient leveling effect when it comes to economic disparities between students which is beneficial.

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we were saved from the daily torture that most other girls seems to suffer about what to wear. Uniforms also have an efficient leveling effect when it comes to economic disparities between students which is beneficial.

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vicker writes...

Rachel - Thanks for your wonderful work. Would you come to Billings, Montana to present a program for my daughter's school, Lewis and Clark Middles School ?

Please come and do a talk. I can help arrange it.
Thanks !

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