Her shoulders catch my eye. Thrust back with the confidence of the young, they bridge a petite body which looks firm and healthy. Her white blouse reflects the bright sun while her chin-length brown hair swings rhythmically from side to side, mimicking the cadence of her walk. Her head is tilted back and she looks around as if eager to observe everything.

Oh, the assurance of youth! The lass struts along with the ease of nature, traversing cracks and uneven patches of sidewalk that would trip a more unbalanced soul.

I follow the youngster down the street where she lives, basking in the shadow of her enthusiasm. I know that once she leaves I will slow down to my usual pace and get lost in the myriad thoughts of my mind.

"How long will she maintain that stance?" I wonder. I recall the teenage girl I saw walking in the park the other day. Her dark hair covered her face as she bent forward, looking down at the path beneath her feet. Shoulders hunched, her half-filled backpack seemed too heavy for her to carry. When did it begin to weigh her down?

Research tells us that before age 11, girls embody their essential selves: They’re full of confidence, speak their minds, and flaunt their smarts. By the time they reach 15 or 16, however, they’ve submerged their own identity to please their parents, attract boys, and comply with the cultural expectations for females. They keep quiet in class, say “I don’t know” when they do, and choose English and a foreign language over math and sciences, the tougher courses.*

Pressure on girls stems from many sources and leads to increasingly fragile self-esteem as they grow from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

I watch the little girl in front of me enter her house and offer a silent prayer that she grow up in a world that will protect her and respect her individuality.

*Shapiro, Patricia Gottlieb. My Turn: Women’s Search for Self After the Children Leave. Princeton, NJ: Peterson’s, 1996.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Mona Spiegel is a Licensed Psychologist and Life Coach. She provides life coaching to women who want assistance and guidance but do not need therapy. She focuses on parenting issues, relationship, communication skills and wellness for single and married women. Dr. Spiegel also speaks to women’s groups all over the country, on a variety of topics related to women’s development and family relations. She is a member of the International Coach Federation and the American Psychological Association. Visit her at http://myfamilycoach.com.