In addition to the tyranny of beauty and niceness, there are other standards of perfection teens are compelled to meet. Teenage girls are obsessed not only with how they look but also with whether they belong to the right crowd and how popular they are with boys. Overemphasis on fitting in fosters a disregard for uniqueness and individuality. The pressure to fit in, to achieve in school, and to be nonthreatening to boys and other girls can chip away at a girl’s self-image. Consumed with being liked by others, she doesn’t get around to liking herself.

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As Susan, Hillary’s mother, said, “Hillary is reserved and anxious to please. She wants to be liked more than anything else. She is so self-effacing that she doesn’t take credit for what she does and is much more comfortable in the background. I know this because I watch her stepping back and waiting to hear how her friends think before she speaks. Sometimes I overhear her agreeing with her friends about something that we’ve talked about, and I know she really has a different opinion.”

In general, teenage girls are continually stuck in the cycle of wanting to be unique and accepted all at the same time.

Julie, 16 years old, said, “On Monday, I had five girlfriends who ate lunch with me every day at the same table in the cafeteria. On Tuesday, I felt an icy chill when I put my tray of food down at the table. Natalie looked up from her sandwich and snarled, ‘Julie, there’s really no room here for you!’ I was totally clueless about what was going on, and I practically had to get on my knees to find out why Natalie was mad. I apologized for something I don’t even think I did, but it was the easiest way to avoid her anger. I was scared that she’d get my other friends to treat me like a leper. What really gets me is that I never call her on how petty she is. I’m too chicken to shake the boat, so I suck it up and hold it in.”

In these instances, Hillary and Julie, like so many other girls, have chosen to be silent and hide their real opinions to avoid conflict. They have learned that hiding part of themselves is a way to maintain their place in their groups. Girls’ friendships in adolescence are filled with pitfalls because their social life involves negotiating cliques, gossip, and power plays. Gossip is the noise that girls accept within their peer groups and allows them to express unsafe feelings, such as anger and aggression, which are not permitted in a more direct way.

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Nothing can protect your daughter from rejection and the worry about whether she fits in. To protect herself, your daughter must be able to create, maintain, and communicate her personal boundaries to other girls. If she can hold onto the knowledge that she is ultimately “OK” in the face of power plays and feeling rejected, then the pain of unkind words will lose some of their power and she’ll feel more self-confident.

Low self-worth contributes to a more general dissatisfaction, which can set a teenage girl up for free fall. Besides a decline in academic performance, researchers such as Elizabeth Debold, writing in Principal, have found that “Compared to boys, adolescent girls experience greater stress, are twice as likely to be depressed, and attempt suicide four or five times as often (although boys are more likely to be successful).”

Being accepted is the holy grail for teenage girls, who put enormous value on fitting in. Society has taught women to become so focused on their imperfections that they fail to see what is unique about themselves. Girls want to be popular because being so mitigates their imperfections. Popularity depends on fitting in, which includes dressing just right and conforming to the rules of the group. This desire is so strong that many are willing to go under the knife to enhance what they didn’t get naturally, deny their hunger, and lose touch with themselves.

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You are better able to cut through the noise when you are able to identify the challenges in your daughter’s life. This knowledge gives you an entry into many conversations that you can use to help your daughter sort through and make sense of her feelings in order for her to make good choices. This process will allow your daughter to begin to know and appreciate who she is, identify what she stands for, determine what her values are, and set boundaries that can better protect her from unhealthy and risky behaviors. Your daughter’s tales and endless information may distract you, but this period requires looking beyond the actual words to fully comprehend the reality of her experience.

Girls are influenced and formed by the strong messages they receive from parents, culture, their peers, and schools. Girls need to disconnect from cultural pressures that require them to subjugate their self-esteem and their voice to the group (peers and/or culture). They should be encouraged to find and speak their own truth.