By Heidi A. Olinger
At age 7, my niece Ryanne was exuberant, active and inquisitive. She wanted to start a newspaper, but asked how to do so and make a profit. Her father thought she was uncoordinated, but that did not stop Ryanne from choreographing and dancing. She enjoyed astronomy and asked, “Aunt Heidi, when you get to the edge of the universe, what comes next?”
I asked myself, “How do I keep this kid as self-confident at age 13 as she is at 7?” She was heading into the hurricane of adolescence and self-loss known as the “Ophelia Years,” a phrase coined by Dr. Mary Pipher in her book Reviving Ophelia. I wanted to help Ryanne and other ‘tween girls maintain their self-esteem as they faced adolescence and its social pressures.
Ryanne’s ambitions inspired me. I discovered there was nothing on the market designed to value the genuine interests of ‘tween girls. If I did not act to address this void, I thought, my professional life would be for nothing.
So in fall 2008 I formed Pretty Brainy, a T-shirt company with this mission: to help girls show the world and themselves that they are capable of doing and being anything to which they aspire. The media for the message would be the everyday goods girls appreciate most, starting with a girls’ printed tee.
Winning role models
Through brief biographies and inspiring words, Pretty Brainy introduces girls to real women, such as aviator Jackie Cochran and Olympic athlete Babe Zaharias. Both women were determined and tenacious. They accomplished what others said was impossible, but more important than the records they set were their winning, can-do attitudes.
Another female role model, Alice Van-Springsteen, cowgirl and early Hollywood stunt rider, was told she would never walk again after breaking her back. Six months later she was back in the saddle. She made John Wayne, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck and Dale Evans look authentic on horseback. (She is featured on Pretty Brainy’s forthcoming printed tee, the Genuine Cowgirl Tee.)
Leading by example
‘Tween girls are among the future leaders, thinkers and decision-makers who will help solve our global crises. Among the girls we at Pretty Brainy have interviewed, 77 percent have career goals in math and science. They care about the world and others’ perceptions of them. And whether you and I officially are their teachers, they learn from observing what we do and how we act.
As their aunts, moms, grandmothers and mentors, here are ways for us to be present in helping them be their best:
‘Tweens need to see how women successfully solve problems. Think of the everyday situations that can be stressful: driving, paying bills, being late for an appointment. Recall your actions and reactions and ask yourself:
- What is my attitude? Frustrated? Open to opportunity?
- What is my general outlook? If a girl who looks up to me adopts my outlook, will it help her succeed in life?
- Does my tone of voice convey that I am present and in control or victimized by circumstance?
In addition to teaching by example, let your ‘tween girl hear you speak in words of problem-solving and positivity. Show and say to her:
- “Here are the options.”
- “Nothing is impossible.”
- “Whatever it takes, you can do it.”
With the example of your winning attitude as her guide, your ‘tween girl will be able to make her greatest goals — from rock star to rocket scientist — a reality.