Breaking the Girl Code

To fit in as a high school girl you have to "dress well," "not be too fat or too skinny," "not be too white or too ghetto," "be sweet and lady-like," "please others," "wear heavy make up," and "be fake." Phew. These are some of the "rules of high school" the girls shared with me one Mondayafternoon in Girls Group. 

Being an adolescent girl is obviously no joke, as many of us can remember. Day to day these girls are trying to navigate more than the pressures of school and work, but incredible social pressures too, in both physical and virtual realities. This is why I looked forward to every Monday at 5 pm at St. Stephens. And from what the girls tell me, it's why they did too. Throughout this past school year, Girls Group has been the time when the female CITs at St. Stephens got to step away from their roles as "counselor," or "mentor," or "student" or "daughter," and be with each other, as themselves. For those fifty minutes they got to just be teenage girls. 

As part of St. Stephen's Social Emotional Support team (and a counseling intern with Trinity Boston Counseling Center), I facilitated this Girls Group weekly. We covered topics like relationships, body image, social life and stress relief. The girls were a bit hesitant at first. They didn't know me and barely knew one another. There was lots of talking but not a whole lot of sharing. They stayed safely within the boundaries of the invisible "girl code," talking about school and fashion, Justin Bieber, and the latest bachata hits. But they kept showing up. Maybe for the food and the laughter, or maybe for more. Either way, as the year progressed, the girls slowly began to open up to one another. The "girl code" started to disintegrate and Girls Group became a space where they could risk being truly themselves. The girls revealed personal struggles, shared in the collective struggles of being a teenage girl, and showed each other kindness and empathy through it all. 

One theme that ran through much of our time together was a focus on self-care and self-love. Whether we were doing basic yoga or meditation exercises, talking about the ingredients in the foods we eat, or getting fired up about the sexualized images of women in the media, my goal was to help each girl find a way to feel empowered and to stay in touch with her own voice, despite a society that will often encourage her to do otherwise. 

This week will be our final week of Girls Group. We'll take a trip to get ice cream and likely end with the perfect mixture of laughter, hugs, and tears. I'll walk away feeling sad for our ending but hopeful for the future. Over the past eight months these girls, these young women, proved that they don't want to follow any societal code or anybody else's rules, but want to fully embrace their strength, their sensitivity, their beauty and their intellect. They want to be unapologetically themselves everywhere they go. I have faith that they've tapped into an inner compass that will navigate them through the remainder of their adolescent years and beyond.

I end my time at St. Stephen's with much love and gratitude to these young women, who trusted in me and filled my Monday afternoons with life. 

By Jody Grimm, TBCC intern