I remember once meeting a girl. She fidgeted and frantically combed her fingers through her hair as she walked. When she spotted me, hesitating before she carefully approached to ask, “Is my hair okay?”
I casually told her, “It is beautiful and you look absolutely amazing.”
She looked at me funny and even laughed. I knew she thought I was being sarcastic and she waited. Waited for me to tell her that I was joking, to tell her that there might actually be something wrong or probably laugh at her. I did not. Instead, I reassured her that hair was perfect. Then I left. That was a battle within itself and I won a friend. Someone who would later wave at me from a crowd, call on me for ice-cream or occasionally share a good joke with me.
It is sad to have to write about something as insignificant as a compliment paid to another girl as a miracle moment. I strongly believe it is something we should be doing anyway. However, that is not the reality.
Girls have been pitted against one another. We have be taught to see the next girl as competition, the enemy, and there are silent wars brewing between us. It can be blamed on the small statements that rain over girls throughout their entire lives. Comments on who is prettier, on who dresses better, has a better body or even gains more affection than the next. Key word to be noted is ‘better’. It points to a strong pressure to outdo the next, as though a girl cannot be good enough unless she is better than another.
It transcends well beyond the small comments, spiralling into the prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination that exist about or against the female body. Roughly simplified to sexism. There are unspeakable pressures placed on girls because of the deluded ideas held by people about them. Those ideas that are drilled into girls and result in twisted mind-sets. The consequences are evident in the ways girls think, feel, carry themselves and behave towards others. Especially, against each other. In a world that forces girls to work twice as hard for recognition, power and respect, it becomes hard to identify the real enemy.
I can relate to wanting to look beautiful. Growing and advancing in maturity does involve working to improve oneself in different ways. I would fix my hair, fuss over my clothes and became friends with the mirror to make sure my teeth were still in the right place. However, I can admit that I crumbled beneath social pressure and somehow became convinced that I could only be beautiful when measured against another. It is easy to be insecure. One day I was worried about looking okay and the next, it was hard to see myself as good enough. Insecurity is the heaviest thing to carry and the smallest comment from another person can make it worse. As much you can be taught to ignore, words do have a way of getting to a person. Hence, the words girls hear, carefully chip and tear at their confidence until there is hardly any left. Insecurity leaves very little room for kindness towards another, for consideration or empathy.
We have all heard of the ideas of confidence and self-acceptance. These are extremely important concepts to learn and teach in life but there is never a need to look down upon the next person. Instead, such lessons should involve kindness as a practicality. Yes, girls do need to be celebrated, motivated to love themselves but they should be encouraged to love others too. Be taught to stop seeing the next girl as an enemy or competition. Learn to see themselves and any other girl as a queen in her own accord. Learn to lift, defend and inspire each other in the smallest possible ways. Afford one another the simplest forms of kindness the world deprives them of. Give a compliment, share a smile or helpful suggestion with another girl. There are greater wars than the pointless battles we keep choosing to fight.
When I met that girl, I gave her a compliment and it easily brightened up her day. It did not kill me, it did not make me less human or steal my sense of beauty. She could have been having one of those days when everything feels like it is plummeting over the edge of the world or a normal dull day when her hair just felt weird. Whatever the reason, she simply needed to hear that she was beautiful.
Read one writer’s experience of being black in society today, here.
Tell us: How do you think women can support and uplift each other?