Tagged as: Girl Culture

Title IX and the Right to Wear Shorts to School

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By Michelle Riddell—On a Monday morning in June of my 6th grade year, right after we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America the Beautiful, the principal came over the P.A. system and announced that several articles of girls’ clothing had been found in the library over the weekend, and anyone with any information as to how they got there was to see him immediately.

Our teacher, Mrs. Ross, was very pregnant at the time. Very pregnant. She was hoping to hold off giving birth for four more days and complete the school year, but it wasn’t looking good. We’d had a sub all the past week while Mrs. Ross was out with Braxton Hicks contractions, and after hearing the principal’s announcement about the clothes, she held her belly and winced. “None of you know what he’s talking about, right? Good, get your math books out.”

In the cafeteria at lunch, though, it was all anybody was talking about—and on the playground at recess, and in gym class, and in line at the drinking fountain, and on the bus. By Tuesday morning, rumors about the discarded clothes had snowballed into outlandish tales of forbidden lust and a secret rendezvous—more like 6th grade boys’ fantasies than plausible scenarios. The thought of someone not only undressing in the library, but then forgetting her clothes was too scandalous not to gossip about, and the principal’s scant announcement left plenty of room for speculation. Talk of the clothes crescendoed for four days without anyone coming forward, until Friday afternoon, when the final bell of the school year rang, and it stopped. Mercifully. For, had it continued, one of us would have cracked, and the truth would have come out.

On that Monday morning in June, when the principal made his announcement, my three best friends and I froze at our desks because the clothes found in the library—four skirts neatly folded atop the World Book encyclopedias, to be exact—were ours. We had taken them off in protest of the dress code during our afternoon library period, the Friday before. At that time in public schools, girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts—boys were, but girls weren’t—and we didn’t think it was fair. Knowing we would be having a sub that day, we wore shorts under our skirts and ditched the skirts, fully intending to retrieve them later. Being that our library period was late in the day, our act of civil disobedience went largely unnoticed, but that was fine. What mattered was, we bucked the system and got to wear shorts on a hot afternoon.

That four skirts found in the library was considered a serious matter surprised us; that everybody assumed something sinful had taken place was chilling. My friends and I hadn’t formally agreed to a pact of silence, but after hearing what was being inferred by our classmates, we had no choice. As the hours and days of that last week of school passed, and the rumors became more scintillating, confessing seemed like a dangerous option. While we weren’t guilty of what they were saying, we weren’t entirely innocent, either. Fortunately, the principal hadn’t been specific about the clothing when he first made his announcement, and no one had made the connection to our shorts protest. The best thing to do was lay low and wait for summer to save us, which it eventually did. We said goodbye to elementary school with its antiquated dress codes and never saw those skirts again.

Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, was signed into law in 1972, and yet, seven years later, when I was in 6th grade, our public school was still following a gender-based dress code. I’m not sure when, how, or why they finally updated it, but I like to think my three friends and I planted a seed of change. Whenever I’m discouraged by how far we have to go in our quest for gender equality, I look back on this time, when girls weren’t allowed to wear shorts, and I marvel at how far we’ve come—quite a long way, baby.


About the Author

Michelle Riddell

Michelle Riddell lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs in rural mid-Michigan, where she writes, edits, and teaches elementary school. Her hobbies include trying to stay positive, convincing her daughter to taste different foods, and anything outdoors in wintertime. Find her work on Facebook @ReaderWriterRunnerWife and Twitter @MLRiddell.

Try To Be A Rainbow In Someone’s Cloud

By Erin Tarr—“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

As I sat in the stuffy arena, mortarboard atop my head and polyester gown flowing around me, surrounded by hundreds of other eager graduates, I heard Maya Angelou utter these words as our university commencement speaker.

I was so green, young, naïve, and ultimately clueless.


Despite my 4+ years at university, I really had no idea what my mission, passion, or true calling in life might be. So, although the phrase sounded nice, I hadn’t a clue how to be a rainbow for anyone else while I felt I was doing the best I could to navigate my own cloud.

Let’s rewind a bit though, all the way back to junior high….

I don’t know about you, but the middle and high school years were rough for me. Sure there were pockets of good and fun-filled times, but I always felt like I was just a little … I don’t know… not.quite.there.


I felt like pretty much everyone else had it figured out, and I was just doing my best to fake it.

Everyone else seemed…

  • better dressed
  • more confident
  • more mature
  • more in style
  • more athletic
  • to have better hair
  • to have better friendships
  • to understand the world so much more
  • smarter (I was the average student in the high classes.)

I felt like I was constantly working to try to fit in, but in my head I was woefully and acutely aware that I never would.

When popular girls paid any attention to me at all, I was simultaneously giddy that they thought I was worthy enough of their attention and completely tongue-tied and nervous that I was going to say or do something to reassure them that I was not in fact worth their time.

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I was so ridiculously awkward!

I often wonder, even now, if any of what I was feeling was felt by the popular girls as well.

Did they, too, need reassurance? Were they also as self-absorbed as I was, simply trying to fit in and maintain their social status? Did they struggle with self-esteem? Did they worry about … anything?

I also wonder whether guys had these issues during those same years.

Looking back now, I just wish I had someone to tell me that…

  • these feelings were normal and I wasn’t the only one.
  • that it would all be ok, and I could chill out.
  • constantly worrying about all of this was a waste of my time and energy.
  • everyone feels like an imposter sometimes.
  • if you stop focusing on all your own insecurities and start contributing to building others up in your community—you will all
  • if I had specific insecurities, they would be a safe person to talk to and help me work through them.
  • having a boyfriend was not the answer to fitting in (or anything else).


I wish I had known that being the rainbow for someone else (teachers, parents, the popular girls, whoever!) would have made all the difference to my own spiral of negative self-talk, self- doubt, and insecurities.

I wish that I had a Maya Angelou (or someone like her) to speak truth and wisdom into my life. I wish I had a “non-mom mentor” who I could have turned to, or even who would have butted in and given me unsolicited advice to consider with each turn in the road.

This is why I exist

…so someday fewer girls have to look back with these wishes listed above.

…so they can walk more confidently into their future with a better understanding of who they are, and their place in this world.

…so they can embrace their uniqueness, and be a rainbow every day to make this world a brighter and better place, both as a young girl and as they grow into womanhood.

Today I can confidently say that I’ve changed my mindset, I’ve embraced my own uniqueness, and I love myself. Doe to all of this, I am able to be a rainbow today in someone else’s cloud almost every day. I hope you can too!


About the Author

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Erin Tarr is the founder and Head Confidence Coach at Be the Benchmark (www.erintarr.com). She is a speaker, writer, and mentor to young girls ages 8 – 18, coaching them in small groups and 1:1 to help them become the best version of themselves. A mother – she considers her own three girls her primary “clients.”

GIVEAWAY for “Girls, Uninterrupted: Steps for Building Stronger Girls in a Challenging World”

I’d like to introduce my friend and colleague from across the pond, Tanith Carey. Tanith is an award-winning journalist and author who lives in London with her husband and two daughters. Tanith writes for a variety of publications across the world, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The New Statesman and The Huffington Post, among others. She has also written seven books. Tanith’s Amazon best-selling book, Girls, Uninterrupted, published in March 2015, looks at the steps parents can take to build stronger girls in a challenging world.

I asked Tanith for a blog post to accompany a giveaway on the Her Next Chapter Facebook page for one signed copy of her new book, and here it is:

Tanith's book coverAs the mother of two daughters, I know that my girls are not weak and defenseless – and neither are yours. But I also recognize that in a world where, by the time they are 16, half of girls want surgery to change the way they look, they also need help to work out why they feel this way.

Modern life may be evolving at breakneck speed, but our children still need to go through the same developmental milestones they always did to grow into emotionally healthy adults.

Girls, in particular, need parents to show them how to push back against some of the unhealthy messages in today’s culture concerning what’s most important about them and how they should look. The pace of change, powered by constantly evolving technology, is so fast, and the implication for our girls’ mental health so serious, that we can not simply hope to fire-fight problems as they crop up—whether it’s body self-hatred, anxiety and depression, or self-harm.

Of course, when I had my two daughters, Lily, 13, and Clio, 10, I assumed, at first, that these influences wouldn’t affect my girls. I imagined that if I didn’t mention the word diet around my daughters then they wouldn’t get the body image hang-ups that so many young girls are beset with these days from an increasingly early age. But I quickly had to wake up to the fact that no matter how many towels I pressed against the doorframe, I could not keep these messages out of my home.

Whether we like it or not, my girls—and yours—are growing up in playgrounds where the most feared insult is the word “fat.” The dolls being marketed to them come with cleavages—while their pop idols behave like porn stars. Social media has turned their lives into beauty contests in which girls feel they have to post pictures of themselves in order to compete for ‘likes’ to feel they are pretty enough.

Just as childhood has changing out of all recognition, we urgently need to change the way we parent our daughters too. The good news is that I discovered is that though we may often feel it, parents—and daughters—are far from powerless. Most important of all, I discovered that it’s essential we parents don’t bury our heads in the sand.

For example, few of us want to think about our daughters seeing disturbing sexual images on the Internet. But the easy availability of pornography on the web means we have to tackle the subject with our kids head-on before the Internet gets there first. That’s because if our girls do end up stumbling across the violence and degradation of women in online porn, the lessons they learn will be as far as possible from the healthy messages you want them to have about sex.

They may not have gone looking for it, but pornographic images still get through when kids misspell web address, see pop-up ads or get sent photo messages. Don’t miss the boat. As they get older, and get increasingly curious, it’s gets even more urgent.

By the age of 12, seven out of ten children say they already know more about sex than their parents think they do. As one mum told me: “If I try to discuss it, my 14-year-old daughter just rolls her eyes and says: ‘Why are you telling me now? It’s a bit late!’”

None of this happens overnight. The sooner we begin helping our girls to decode all the messages—and reject them—the better. I promise you that there really are age- appropriate ways to talk about everything from porn to self-harm. I wrote my new book Girls Uninterrupted – Steps for building strong girls in a challenging world to show parents how to have those conversations.

But, if due to the demands of jobs and busy lives, we buy into anything-for-a-quiet life parenting, and allow kids to spend hours with iPods, iPads and laptops, they might wander off into a cyber-world where we won’t be able to follow them. We are at risk of losing our vital connection with our children, which we need more than ever to help them navigate a world that has never been so challenging.

The tween years in particular—from around seven to twelve—are an important window. These years provide our best chance to influence our children and shape their values before friends and peer pressure start drowning us out.

Tanith's headshotJust by becoming a more aware parent today, you can help protect your daughter against sexualization by making her more media savvy. In the two minutes you take to show your daughter how an image of an ultra-skinny model has been airbrushed, you’ve taught her not to try to live up to an image of perfection that doesn’t exist. By explaining where the pressures on your teen daughter to look sexy come from, and reminding her she’s worth more than that, you can mitigate the drip, drip, drip erosion of her self-worth.

But if we sit back and do nothing because we think there’s nothing we can do, the price is high for our children. A rise in eating disorders, self-harm, casual sex, teen pregnancy and underage drinking are some of the other side effects of growing up in up in a celebrity culture that puts an impossibly high value on looks and sexiness.

My daughters are worth so much more than that—and so are yours. Here are three ways to deal your daughter deal with the today’s pressures:


Selfies have become the new mirror. According to a recent study, 91 per cent of teenagers have posted one. There’s no problem, of course, if a girl has taken a few pictures every now and then, or recorded moments when she’s having fun. But if she starts constantly uploading them to social networks in order to compete for ‘likes,’ this suggests that she scrutinizes, in a, unhealthy way, the image that she is trying to project. On what basis does she want to be judged? Does she want to join an online pageant in which anyone can be a judge? Suggest she also take pictures that convey her personality, not just her looks. Help her to make a collage of the items that represent her, such as her hobbies and the passions that inspire her. Tell her it’s these things that make her special, not how she appears to other people.

The never-ending beauty contest

Our children are growing up in a culture where anyone whose looks do not live up to the high expectations set by celebrities, Photoshopped models, and the tidal wave of size zero selfies is considered to be failing. We mothers need to recognize that from an early age, many of our girls feel locked in a constant beauty contest they feel they can never win.

Counteract this trend by training your daughter how to look in the mirror and concentrate on the good—how her body works and serves her, not just how she projects it looks to others. Make a point of valuing character over appearance in all of the people you know, including, especially, your daughter. Show her looks are just a small part of who she is and model that for her yourself.

Remind your daughter that, in the words of the late Anita Roddick, there are over three billion women who don’t look like supermodels and eight who do.

Mean girl behavior

Meanness among children has existed since the words “No, you can’t play with us” were first uttered on a street, in a field, or anywhere children gathered before there were playgrounds. The sad thing is that nasty behavior among kids, particularly among girls, appears to be starting sooner than ever, even in preschool.

These days, girls know better than to organize overt campaigns of bullying. Yet, in a culture in which they are made to feel like they are not measuring up, they sometimes launch pre-emptive and under-the-radar strikes on female peers to temporarily shore up their fragile self-confidence. From the other side of the school walls, it feels like we have to no choice but to leave our children to it.

But there are steps you can take. Teach your daughter how to respond before she is devastated over being called fat, excluded by friends, or at the receiving end of sarcasm.  Explain that meanness says more about the person who says it than the person it is said to. Be a good role model in the way you treat others, and teach empathy so she is not tempted to resort to mean-girl bullying herself.

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I am so pleased to host a giveaway for one signed copy of Tanith Carey’s Girls, Uninterrupted. Enter the contest via Rafflecopter below. The contest will run this entire week, and I’ll announce a winner on April 5th. Good luck, and please spread the word!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lori’s Book Launch at Jabberwocky Bookshop

Here is a short promotional video created from the talk my daughter Charlotte and I gave at our book launch at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, MA, on October 19, 2014. The talk–and this video–are focused on girl empowerment through mother-daughter book clubs, as was appropriate for the book launch. I am available as a speaker for schools, libraries, bookstores, and other community organizations on this topic and others, including the effects of marketing and media on children, and the individual topics within Her Next Chapter. Those include gender stereotypes; sexism; sexualization of girls; beauty and body image issues; girl bullying: healthy relationships and avoiding abuse; LGBT & gender nonconforming girls; female leadership; and global human rights issues for girls and women. Please contact me for details, fees, and to discuss a presentation that would meet your needs and those of your audience!

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