“As girls grow up and download what it means to be a culturally acceptable ‘good girl,’ they learn to please others at the expense of themselves. They worry about protecting relationships and what people think of them at all costs.” ~ Rachel Simmons ~
Good girls make their parents proud. They are polite. They stay out of trouble. They don’t push boundaries or question authority much. They work hard. They are kind and friendly. They are successful and put together and never too busy for those who need them. Good girls are selfless. Good girls do what is expected of them because they want to please, be liked, and keep others comfortable. Good girls are wonderful daughters, friends, wives and mothers.
While being “good” seems great, it is mostly about living for everyone else. Being “good” means making yourself smaller to conform to others’ expectations, it means following rules that don’t actually exist, and it means putting yourself last, always. Rachel Simmons, psychologist and author of The Curse of the Good Girl explains that the good girl is socially and academically successful, smart and driven, pretty and kind, but she is also an individual who aims to please (wants to be liked), toes the line (no divergent opinions), doesn’t take risks (follows the rules), and represses what she really thinks (keeps the peace).
The good girl walks a treacherous line, balancing mixed messages about how far she should go and how strong she should be: she is to be enthusiastic while being quiet; smart with no opinions on things; intelligent but a follower; popular but quiet. She should be something, but not too much.
I’m done being a good girl.
The Struggle is Real
Being “good” is the path of least resistance. It’s easier to fall in line than forge your own way and unlearn everything you’ve come to believe. I still wrestle with the good girl who is always in my head reminding me I’m letting everybody down. She’s a sneaky little devil because most of the time I don’t even realize I’m changing my behavior to please or impress others. Being “good” is so deeply engrained in who we are it’s hard to figure out what is real and what isn’t.
I want to be liked. I care far too much about what people think despite the fact I know I shouldn’t. I’ve always walked a tight line between saying what I want and knowing what’s accepted. Being 100% authentic feels strange and out of bounds. Writing for this blog is a constant battle between the woman I want to be and my inner good girl…she encourages me to paint myself in a likable light, keep people happy, not embarrass my family, be wise yet unassuming, and never rock the boat. I want this blog to be honest, true, and authentic…which like life often ain’t pretty. Putting it all out there is reeeeeealllyy uncomfortable for me.
The Good Girl Lies
The good girl doesn’t like speaking up. She wants you to stay small and humble. She doesn’t believe you deserve to brag, push back, or demand more. The good girl is a liar.
I’m working on recognizing truth from the lies the good girl tells me and I’m paying attention to where she shows up. Your good girl may be calling the shots if you…
Find yourself down playing your accomplishments as to not seem “too big for your britches”
Laugh along with a racist joke because you don’t want to make a fuss or seem to be too uptight, even if it makes you cringe
Apologize constantly…for the state of your messy house, for your kids’ behavior, for your disheveled appearance
Let other’s get away with bad behavior (not returning texts, constantly being late, ignoring your requests or boundaries, treating you rudely)
Never negotiate for a higher salary or more vacation time when you know you deserve it
Put your needs and wants aside in order to prioritize others
Last month, a group of fellow football moms and I were standing around waiting for our kids to wrap up practice. A clearly drunk (or high) dude wandered over, interrupted our conversation with slurry words and near incoherent ramblings, begging to use someone’s phone charger. He delivered phony compliments and slathered on thin, disingenuous charm. Every.single.woman in the group of about 8 women smiled politely, laughed at his jokes, and listened patiently. When we explained we couldn’t help him, he persisted, begged, made us feel guilty, and wouldn’t let it go. For the first time in my life I felt like I was watching this encounter from the outside, not from within. I could see as clear as day what I never noticed before, women not only tolerating bad behavior, but going above and beyond to protect HIS feelings and ego. He badgered us, guilted us, whined, and overstayed his welcome. And every woman there responded with kindness, patience, sympathy, and more tolerance that the situation deserved.
Ignoring our instincts, being kind, and putting others’ feelings first is like second nature to most women. When he moaned for the tenth time, “but my phone is almost totally dead,” I finally spoke up. “Well, I guess you won’t forget your charger next time.” He turned to me with cold eyes, his lips pressed into a thin line. The group grew silent and he stared straight at me. “We’ve got a feisty one here now don’t we?” I stared back, unwavering. Finally, he turned and walked away.
Let It Go
Speaking up was definitely not something this good girl would have dreamed of doing even a year ago, but when you start to see the shit we tolerate all in the name of being a “good,” it becomes impossible to stay silent. It took over 75 years of perfectly pleasing Disney Princesses before Elsa had the balls to say enough already! “Be the good girl you always have to be/Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know!” – Forget that! Her only path to peace was running away to an ice castle of her own making.
And speaking of Disney, since the 1930s the princesses have both influenced and reflected society’s image of women. According to the author of The Evolution of Disney Princesses , “No longer do pretty princesses fall head over heels for a prince in day. They now inspire, empower and teach us to be conscious of culture, race, as well as valuable lessons in love and dreams.” This is a reminder that what it means to be a woman in society is ever changing. We too must continually evaluate our paradigms and release antiquated ideas.
Breaking up with deeply engrained beliefs about what it means to be a good girl is far easier said than done. From the time we can speak we are encouraged to be “good little girls” full of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” We need to stop teaching our daughters to be good and nice and instead teach them to be honest and kind. The words we use matter and the message we receive (and send) are powerful.
Tune out everyone else’s voice, find your own, and the good girl will lose her strangle hold on you. “To thine own self be true.” Begin by paying attention. When are your your thoughts and actions misaligned? How often do you seek permission and approval? What does it feel like when you know what you want but don’t have the courage to act?
You can stop sacrificing your wants and needs, determine the rules you want to live by, stand up for yourself, AND be a nice human. Above all, remember what you want and need matters. You don’t have to be a good, quiet, rule following, self-sacrificing, small, selfless, woman. You get to be as loud and big, ambitious and daring as you chose. The world needs you to show up as you are, ready or not, and live life on purpose. Our daughters (and sons) need to see women take what they want without apology.
Are you a “good” girl? Do you struggle with finding balance between being accepted and being yourself? Have you overcome the desire to please others and be “good?” I’d love to hear your thoughts!