Thoughts on Girlhood

“I don’t know how it is with boys. I’ve never been a boy. But girls somewhere between the ages of, say, eight and puberty, girls forget they have bodies. It’s the time she has trouble keeping herself clean, socks always drooping, knees pocked and bloody, hair crooked as a broom. She doesn’t look in mirrors. She isn’t aware of being watched. Not aware her body is causing men to look at her yet. There isn’t the sense of the female body’s volatility, its rude weight, the nuisance of dragging it about. There isn’t the world to bully you with it, bludgeon you, condemn you to a life sentence of fear. It’s the time when you look at a young girl and notice she is at her ugliest, but at the same time, at her happiest. She is a being as close to a spirit as a spirit.”

—From Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (Pages 433-434)


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Recently Reading Rainbow Mom Jenni Buchanan blogged about “The Best Friends That Never Were: 3 Unlikely Pairings.” This got me to thinking about some dream best-friend pairings from my favorite books. Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and Scout from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird were at the top of my list. While daydreaming about other literary friendships, I started thinking about girlhood in some of my favorite books. At the beginning of their books, both Lyra and Scout embody the kind of girlhood Cisneros refers to in the passage above. Caramelo itself takes up the notion of girlhood in this passage and tells us the story of Lala.

It’s a freeing sort of idea to remember a time when things like skinned knees, messy hair and the fact that I had not showered for a couple days didn’t bother me. Reading the stories of these girls makes me nostalgic for a time when I was not worried about how others saw me.

We are constantly bombarded with messages about how a woman is supposed to look and behave and what products she needs to buy to achieve that. Every time we step out of the house, it is hard not to think about whether our appearance is acceptable. If we opt for sweat pants, it is often with an excuse about why we had to dress down that day. It is hard for women to feel free in their bodies when we are constantly aware of how others may see us and judge us. 

I am a big fan of Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. Aside from awakening a lifelong interest in stories about time travel, this book gave me a main character I could identify with in her struggle to fit in—even as an adult. Meg is taking her first steps beyond the phase of girlhood Cisneros mentions. She finds her strength in realizing she has the ability within herself to save her brother. For this reason, I think it is important that we go back and revisit our favorite literary girls from time to time. Girls like Scout, Lyra, Lala and Meg show us that there are possibilities for being smart, brave, strong and free—even as we look back on girlhood and realize what it means to be women. They also remind us that deep inside us there is still the girl that Cisneros writes about.

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Click on the titles of the books mentioned in this post to be taken to Powells.com to buy a copy, or head to your local library or favorite independent bookstore.

Work Cited:

Cisneros, Sandra. Caramelo. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Print.

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