For the most part, I don’t remember paying attention to my looks until middle school. Yes, we had mirrors in my house, but I never spent much time standing in front of them. I’d left fifth grade on a high. Our graduation party was held at a recreation center and the entire fifth grade class bounced in unison to Kris Kross’s “Jump.” That summer in 1992, my neighbor and I listened to Totally Crossed Out on our tape decks and bought fresh Kris Kross t-shirts at the mall. I knew exactly what I was going to wear on the first day of class.
When that cool September morning arrived, I wandered into the gym of my new school with hundreds of other students in search of my home room teacher. I observed the crowd, uncertain about the new faces, but confident in my black Kris Kross t-shirt and jeans. Out of nowhere, a boy I’d never met said to me, “Kris Kross isn’t cool anymore. Nobody likes them.” Shocked, I gave a blank stare. This was the first time a boy had ever criticized my clothing.
I never wore that t-shirt again. Sadly, he was not the last male to provide his unsolicited opinion about my looks or attire. In high school, one guy told me he did not like my custom printed Airwalk t-shirt, while another called me white-washed for wearing plaid pants. I can’t even remember how many times a strange man has demanded I smile as I pass him on the street.
Why do some men think it’s okay to talk at women and girls? Women and girls are not accessories, and it is dangerous to treat us as such.
Navigating middle and high school is filled with discomfort without uninvited comments about one’s appearance. So, as we spend the final days of summer with our daughters, nieces, cousins and friends, let’s do more than tell them they’re beautiful. Let’s tell them they are curious, quick-witted, funny, strong, brave, thoughtful, silly, lovable young women. Let’s challenge, encourage and guide them. Confident young people are more likely to stand up for themselves and make good decisions in difficult situations. Let’s equip them to do so.
by Kemi Ogunji, Executive and Development Assistant, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy