Gretchen smiles, but it's not a smale, and I'm thinking that girls never really smile at each other because they don't know how and don't want to know how and there's probably no one to teach us how, cause grown up girls don't know either. - Toni Cade Bambara
The above quote is from a short story that I teach my students every year and every year, it strikes me as so poignant. I want to highlight it and frame it, because it's so very true. Isn't it? I never had really close girl friends growing up. The few I did have, well, our smiles were always veiled by judgment. Once a girl who I called my best friend got mad at me because I wore the same shirt she had, only in a different color. I didn't know she had the same shirt. My mom bought it for me, and I'd never seen her wear the shirt. I explained this to her, but she flounced off. I mean, really, what does it matter? It wasn't like we were both wearing the same shirt on the same day. This is why I had mainly guy friends. See, they knew how to smile and they didn't care what shirts I wore. When I coached the dance team my first year of teaching, I used to periodically lecture the girls that if they called each other names, implying that someone was cheap or slept around or any of that, then they made it okay for men to call them those names, too. And it's not okay, of course.
I've learned a lot since then. I have a group of amazing girl friends who will always get my smiles. Once recently, I went to dinner and a friend was wearing the same dress. We laughed about it. I said I was jealous because hers was longer on her than mine, but it was funny. That's all, because somehow along the way, I've learned to smile at girls.
It's still true, though, that sometimes I don't smile at girls. Sometimes I judge myself against them, frowning that they're skinnier than me, that they still have a flat childless stomach and when they brag about losing weight, it's so EASY for them because they haven't had kids. But see, that's not their fault. And I don't really mind my post-baby belly, because it's brought such good things to my life.
Why is it, though, that we can't just take other women at face value? That we have to judge their clothing choices, their mothering choices, and why can't we just smile, without having to first hide a frown? What if instead of measuring ourselves AGAINST them, we measure ourselves WITH them? If instead of wishing we had what they have, we love what we have, too. Because I might not have a flat stomach, but I have two beautiful children... and maybe she would trade her flat stomach for that.
And maybe for all the girls out there that watch us, whether they're daughters or nieces or just girls in our lives, maybe we can teach them to smile. In teaching them to smile, maybe we can teach everyone to respect and love and not live life wishing that they had something else--instead, maybe we could teach them to live life being proud and happy in what they are, while also being proud and happy of those around them.
We don't practice real smiling every day, you know, cause maybe we too busy being flowers or fairies or strawberries instead of something honest and worthy of respect...you know...like being people. - Toni Cade Bambara