It seemed like a small miracle that my third grade daughter's dance routine was the second act in the two-hour lineup of her school talent show. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw her name so close to the beginning, knowing that we were off the hook if (when?) our 3-year-old was unable to make it to the end of the show.
As I scanned the program, I saw that the final number was called "Brave," and it featured nine 4th grade girls. I had a feeling it would be worthwhile for us to make it to the end of the talent show -- for whatever reason, I just sensed it would be special.
Fortunately, with the assistance of an iPad on mute, several trips to the drinking fountain and a few seating adjustments, our preschooler made it through the entire show. We had moved to the very back of the auditorium to minimize any disruptions to those around us, and it was time for the final song. A line of girls wearing white T-shirts and holding large white poster board signs filed onto the stage, and the opening strains of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" filled the room.
The first student held up her sign:
"You are amazing."
Another sign came up:
"Stronger than you know." I felt my eyes burning with tears.
And a third:
"More beautiful than you think."
"Learning. Growing. Not Alone." By now, tears were spilling down my face.
"Flawed. Whole. Scared. Brave."
As the messages kept coming, the audience cheered on the girls, and Sara Bareilles' beautiful words poured from the speakers. It was overwhelming, moving and powerful.
The very first girl to hold up her sign accidentally had it upside down. When she realized it and turned it around, everyone cheered her on. She got back up and kept going; it actually seemed to fit in perfectly with the message of their performance. At the end of the song, the girls donned hats and boas, picked up toy guitars and microphones, danced and did their thing. They showed all of us what it means to truly be yourself -- flaws, silliness and all. I cheered and applauded with a lump in my throat, and I as returned to my seat, I saw that my friend had also been crying during the performance. Here we were, two 36-year-old women weeping at an elementary school talent show. And I suspected we weren't the only ones.
Why was this message so powerful that it brought me to tears? As the mother of two little girls, the words of this song and the words on the girls' signs encapsulate exactly what I hope my children are able to internalize as they navigate the world around them. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to feel strong and proud. I want them to understand that it doesn't matter if they look like the girls in the magazines or on TV -- that they are more beautiful than they think.
As we send our young daughters into the world, they are vulnerable and highly susceptible to insidious messages about what it means to be a girl in this world. You should be pretty. You should dress like all the other girls. You should be skinny. You should do whatever it takes to fit in. You should be like everybody else. When I was 10 years old, I certainly didn't feel comfortable in my own skin, strong or brave.
Historically, girls have been socialized to be attractive, polite and good. But today's girls are finally being given permission to transcend those roles. Of course we want them to be kind and considerate to others and to take pride in their appearance. But we also want them to be strong, to believe in themselves, to let their own unique light shine. To be brave.
When I asked how the girls got the idea for this performance, I discovered that it had actually been a few of their moms' idea. I thought that was fantastic -- it's equally inspiring that these girls have mothers who are aware of the importance of this positive message. If we want our girls to embrace confidence, courage and self-acceptance, it's going to have to start with us. As mothers, fathers and mentors, we have to teach our girls these values -- they're not likely to stumble on them on their own while being bombarded by other less-constructive messages from the world around them.
But the girls had their own ideas about the powerful message they had to share. Here's what they had to say:
"It can inspire people to encourage others."
"Spreading this message can make people more confident about themselves."
"Help stop bullying."
"Be yourself, not someone else."
"I want to be liked for who I am."
"We all have our own personalities."
"Don't be afraid to be yourself."
"This message can change people's lives and the whole world."
This transitional age -- from the tween years to the teen years -- is absolutely transformative, and it is a crucial time to instill feelings of empowerment, security and a strong sense of self in our girls. What if we could really help them to believe and internalize these messages and to get that message to spread to other girls in the school, in the city and beyond? What would it take for parents, daughters and community members to join together to change the way we think about girls and women in the world? I don't think there is any better gift we can give our daughters than to help them discover that they are powerful, valuable, and brave.
These girls threw a pebble, and it made ripples. They stood on stage in front of their entire school and shared who they are -- quirky, kind, strong, beautiful, and confident. They were, in a word -- brave.
You can watch their fantastic performance here: