The struggles of my little great one
October 16, 2022
I was twenty-nine years old, carrying my first child, when I learned that I was expecting a daughter. I couldn’t explain the mixture of conflicting emotions between love and worry. Now, eleven years later, I realize that in my little one, I see my past, my present, and my future. How can I protect her flame from a world that views vibrant women as “excessive”? How can I help her hold onto her free nature when girls are raised to fit into narrow constructs of beauty and “moral” boundaries? How can I assist her in nurturing her deep love for herself and her truth in a world that expects women to be loyal to everything but themselves?
After eleven years, I face these questions daily as I look at my little one taking her first steps toward becoming a young woman. Every day, I search for ways to push back against the limits of expectations, standards, and customs that surround her and surround me.
Last year was an important year for my little girl. She began to bend forward to hide her budding chest as her body made its way from childhood to adolescence. It was her way of telling the world that she wanted to hold onto her childhood a little longer. This makes me think about how much we betray young girls when we make something as simple as body growth signify the end of a childhood that still largely exists. My little one stopped wearing white shirts because they were “too revealing,” even though there weren’t many signs of her femininity yet to be prominently displayed. However, at the age of eleven, my little one spontaneously realizes our excessive preoccupation with the sexuality of girls and women.
I suggested she wear a sports bra, but she told me she feels uncomfortable in it; as if she can’t breathe, as if something is suffocating her. She told me she doesn’t like it when the bra shows from under her clothes, as it implies she has something to hide. I am amazed by her profound awareness of all the foolish ideas that surround us as women in our bodies, and I tell myself that one day I will tell her all about the political history of the bra and how it has governed our bodies for a long time, and I will share the story of my Palestinian grandmother who never wore one, yet cultivated her land with dignity and pride.
Last year was a significant year for my little girl. Her struggles extended beyond the confines of her growing body and the clothes that restrict her movement. As she transitioned from the fourth to the fifth grade, she returned from school with a different demeanor than her usual cheerful self. Eventually, she confided in me about the changes in friendship dynamics during the past year. She shared that the boys now only hang out with each other and don’t interact much with the girls and that there is more “drama” among the girls. Additionally, she experienced her first encounter with competition among girls, centered around gaining a boy’s attention. Since then, she started scrutinizing herself in the mirror more often, monitoring her diet, and asking if she could remove body hair with wax. All of these changes seemed to happen overnight, highlighting the confusion and pressures she faces while still just a child.
I told my little one that as young girls and women, we are socially conditioned to compete against each other, but such behaviors are wrong and destructive. I emphasized the importance of uplifting one another and that she will eventually realize that boys come and go, while true close friends remain. When discussing beauty standards, she replied, “Mom, being a beautiful girl is a privilege.” And when I mentioned the pain of waxing hair removal, she responded, “Beauty requires sacrifice.” Here she is, my eleven-year-old, bravely facing the harsh winds of patriarchal norms, just as I did at her age and continue to do at forty.
In the face of these winds, I realize that I cannot protect her from them completely. She must confront the limits, restrictions, controls, and foolish standards herself. All I can offer her is my presence and a hand to hold as she forges her path as a young woman. I will share stories with her, discussing the present and the future that lie before her, for her to shape as she wishes. I make a promise to my little one that I will always support and uplift her. However, I fully understand that the most crucial aspect of all this is that I must do it for myself first because my little one sees in me her past, present, and future, just as I do in her.