In the first chapter of her new book, Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture, LSU professor Laura H. Choate asks readers to assume the role of an alien studying the earthly phenomenon called “girlhood.” She suggests some observations, then breaks down the alien’s final report and the perplexing contradictions within, from the way a girl’s body is critiqued to how much online attention she receives or how successful she is in crafting an image of perfection. Girls should work hard on their appearance, for example, but not appear to have tried too hard. They must exude sweetness, but stay competitive with female friends. As another writer, Peggy Orenstein, has noted, they must be both Cinderella and Supergirl.
As a mother to a daughter of her own, Choate recalls fearing these pressures firsthand, and her investigations into sexism, mental health and body image are necessarily critical. But her solutions are thoughtful, encouraging parents to practice mindfulness as a way to counterattack the cultural toxins debilitating female adolescence.
“What I hope to do in this book,” Choate writes, “is to help you step back and reflect on what is happening in our culture—both for girls and for parents—and then recognize that these messages are not mandates for us.”
By honing in on the way parents can foster both awareness and individuality, preparing their children for assessing pressures and questioning expectations, Choate puts the solution into the hands of both generations.
“She can survive while going with the flow,” she writes of young daughters, “but to thrive she will have to learn to swim upstream.”
Whether through the eyes of a parent or an alien trying to make sense of the waters of adolescence, Choate depicts a world of troubles but provides the tools required to assess the current, grab a life jacket, and arrive on solid ground.