‘Enough’ gives girls guide to ‘lean in­side’

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - BOOKS - Sharyn L. Flana­gan

Girl power. Break­ing glass ceil­ings. Any­thing is pos­si­ble. You can be the first fe­male pres­i­dent.

Pos­i­tive mes­sages, right? Well, maybe not so much when we push our girls and young women to achieve, or over­achieve. But they’re in­vin­ci­ble, right? Young and in­vin­ci­ble. Ca­pa­ble of do­ing any­thing merely be­cause of their youth and prom­ise.

In her new book Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Be­yond Im­pos­si­ble Stan­dards of Suc­cess to Live Healthy, Happy, and Ful­fill­ing Lives (Harper, 234 pp, ★★★☆), au­thor Rachel Sim­mons clearly shows the dam­age be­ing done to girls.

Enough as She Is shows par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors and girls what it means to try to achieve at al­most any cost — am­pli­fied by so­cial me­dia. That in­cludes pres­sure to be ad­mit­ted to just the right col­lege — and in some cases just the right high school — cou­pled with un­re­al­is­tic bodyshape ex­pec­ta­tions.

Girls don’t have it easy. Sim­mons has been on the front lines with young women as co-founder of Girls Lead­er­ship, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that teaches re­spon­si­bil­ity and self-aware­ness to girls. She also is the au­thor of Odd Girl Out: The Hid­den Cul­ture of Ag­gres­sion in Girls and The Curse of the Good Girl: Rais­ing Au­then­tic Girls With Courage and Con­fi­dence.

“In my of­fice on an all-women’s col­lege cam­pus (Smith), and as an ed­u­ca­tor and re­searcher, I’ve learned that what girls re­ally need are the skills to lean in­side as much as to lean in: to prac­tice self-com­pas­sion, nour­ish their most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ships, and seek sup­port when they need it,” Sim­mons says. “As a re­cov­er­ing over­achiever my­self, I have had to learn the same skills.”

Many women take pride in do­ing it all or hav­ing it all. Set­ting lofty goals and reach­ing them can be a source of pride. And when you hit a wall, you’re sup­posed to go it alone and pick your­self up. Sim­mons shows how this is push­ing girls be­yond good men­tal health.

She says that in high schools and col­leges across the USA, there’s a com­pet­i­tive com­plain­ing game called “Stress Olympics”:

Stu­dent One: “Ugh­h­h­hhh I’m so tired, I only slept five hours last night be­cause I had a pa­per due at nine and I started it at two a.m.”

Stu­dent Two: “I know, ugh, I only slept three hours and I had cross­coun­try prac­tice this morn­ing at six.”

Stu­dent Three: “I have three pa­pers due to­mor­row? And I’ve only started one? I’m go­ing to be main­lin­ing cof­fee for the next twenty-four hours.”

As Sim­mons writes, “Stress Olympics are a test of men­tal and phys­i­cal bal­last, and of boot­strap suc­cess.” But they of­fer no medals, ac­claim or Wheaties-box fame.

She backs up how dan­ger­ous “suc­cess at any cost.” Be­tween 2010 and 2015, girls’ de­pres­sive symp­toms in­creased by 50%, more than dou­ble the rate of boys.

Many girls see set­backs as per­sonal flaws and that leads to de­pres­sion, Sim­mons writes. Fail­ure in­creases neg­a­tive feel­ings, while achieve­ment feeds con­fi­dence. The au­thor tries to show girls how to “fail well,” or prac­tice “fail­ure re­siliency” and “self-com­pas­sion.”

Fail­ure holds valu­able lessons. Self­worth isn’t tied only to suc­ceed­ing.

Sim­mons em­pha­sizes to girls and those who love them that em­brac­ing fail­ure can lead to fu­ture suc­cess — and healthy and happy lives.


Au­thor Rachel Sim­mons

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