by Ty Slobe

If you are in-tune with marketing and media aimed at young girls, you’ve probably noticed how limiting it can be when it comes to the kinds of girls who are portrayed. Girls are pigeonholed into princesses, pink-lovers, makeup artists, shoe-fanatics, and other “girly” stereotypes. Girls are taught from an early age that they need to have a certain body type and that they should grow up to be boy-crazy and glitzy.

If you’ve moved past childhood yourself, you surely have a better understanding that women and girls are dynamic and have a variety of different interests and goals. Not that there’s anything wrong with girls that fit these media stereotypes, but as a whole, girl-kind is far more complex than the same old stereotypes that the media forces upon us.

Brave Girls Want is working to change the media discourse pushed on young girls, because they know that these stereotypes can limit girls’ creativity and lead to negative self-esteem. They’re empowering girls to be proud of who they are by asking media creators to recognize girls as complex and dynamic, and to reflect these realities in their portrayals of girls.

When I was in elementary school I thought that I had to be a cheerleader when I grew up. Whenever I went shopping, the racks of my favorite stores were lined with sparkly t-shirts with “CHEER” written across the front. It seemed that everything that I saw on TV about older high school girls revolved around the idea that all of the popular girls were cheerleaders. I knew that if I were not a cheerleader too I would be a social outcast forever.

The biggest hindrance in my quest for cheerleader-hood, however, was that I was terrible at it. I went to a few cheerleading camps and never made any friends, I didn’t enjoy the cheers, I couldn’t jump high enough, and I injured myself. I’ve never been flexible enough to even touch my toes and I couldn’t do a flip-flop. I wasn’t coordinated and I hated yelling. I could never do my hair and makeup in the pretty way that the cheerleaders on TV did.

I thought that because I was a failure of a cheerleader I was a failure of a girl.

There were plenty of things that I was good at that were not cheerleading, however. I won an award for being the “best reader” in my third grade class. I wrote fabulous poems and short stories about dolphins. I could simultaneously read Harry Potter books and hula hoop for hours. I had a unique sense of fashion and wore bright orange pleather pants with my faux-snakeskin top to school at least once a week. I had a knack for learning other languages.

Yet, I didn’t think that any of these qualities were worth being proud of, because I didn’t think that anyone would like me for who I was as much as they would like me if I were a cheerleader.

While there were so many things that I was good at, I never really pursued any of them because I didn’t think they mattered. Instead, I consistently felt bad about myself because I did not fit the image of the cheerleader girls that I saw on TV; the same types of girls that my favorite stores were marketing to as well.

There is certainly nothing wrong with being a cheerleader, and girls should be able to pursue any activities that they are passionate about. The problem is that so many girls are taught by the media growing up that their passions, their bodies, their personalities, and their interests just aren’t good enough. This is a consequence of uncreative media production that limits the definition of how girls are portrayed. Just like I saw so many cheerleader-types that were unobtainable for me when I was growing up, young girls today are growing up with similar influences.

I am supporting Brave Girls Want because I don’t want other young girls growing up feeling bad about themselves as a result of not seeing girls similar to themselves represented in the media.

Next month Brave Girls Want is planning on invading Times Square by renting a billboard and displaying curated tweets from women and girls around the world about what it really means to be a girl. As you can probably imagine renting this billboard space is quite an expensive investment, which is why they are fundraising for the $25,000 that the action will cost, and they’re already 70% there – but they need your help for the final push. Brenda Chapman, the director of Disney’s Brave recently donated and offered her full support. This is getting big!

Supporting Brave Girls Want and their “Times Square Takeover” means supporting a new generation of girls who grow up believing that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. Today’s girls don’t deserve to be pigeonholed into roles! They deserve to grow up being proud of themselves for who they are, and the media needs to reflect girls as being the dynamic people we are!