I just came across an article posted by Ashley Judd in response to the media frenzy surrounding the news of her “puffy face.”  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html

I simply can’t imagine what the world must be like for women in such highly visible positions…whether it’s the entertainment industry, politics, news, sports figures…the quick analysis of the person based on their appearance is often both the starting and ending point for many conversations.  I wonder what it must feel like to be portrayed as something you are not on the cover of a magazine, air-brushed and altered.  The pressure to live up to even your own unattainble standard must be excruciating.

I just find that I feel so helpless.  The way women are portrayed in so much of what we see in the current popular media (and further reinforced by the comments made anonymously by those beneath many of these articles) goes beyond just appearance and whether a woman is pretty or not.

A woman’s worth is often tangled up in her “sexual-willingness” and her desire to please others.

Or because there are still so few seats in the corporate boardroom we fight for our chance to sit in one.  We are labeled as bitchy or manly. On the other hand if a woman expresses too much emotion she is labeled hormonal, premenstrual, or professionally inappropriate.

This creates a natural divide between women.  Competing for attention, there is only so much room in the spotlight and we oftentimes nudge each other out to just get our toe in that circle of light.

I tend to think all of this competition starts on middle school playgrounds when our true worth often begins its complicated game of tug-o-war with our sex sppeal and appearance.

(For those of you who have visited here lately, a small portion of what follows is a repeat.)

I think practically every woman (and man for that matter) has a memory that dates back to middle school when this tug-o-war between our true worth and our search to find it externally  begins.

For me, it began in sixth grade.   My best friend Frances, “physically matured” and I didn’t. The attention I had previously received on the playground, especially from the boys began to wane, at least in comparison to the attention Frances was getting.  The spotlight I had previously enjoyed standing in, for being smart, funny and a good athlete disappeared and a new spotlight appeared…one that focused on physical parts I just didn’t have.

I felt invisible. I wanted to be “mature” like my friend, Frances.  A tension between the two of us arose. We drifted apart. Playing “girl” came to her much faster than me and it’s like the two of us were living in two very different worlds; and because I suddenly felt invisible, like any little girl just trying to make sense of it all, I blamed my good friend, for caving, for giving into “being popular” instead of realizing that something else was going on here. I blamed her for my feeling less than, invisible, unloved. I blamed her as if she was intentionally pushing me away. And when I was 11 and feeling “yucky” the easiest way to relieve myself of all that unexplained angst, of not feeling loved, liked or accepted was to speak unkindly of what I thought was to blame.  And in this case it was my good friend Frances.

I’m convinced that the Great Divide that separates women begins here…in 6th grade.

In 1996, I started Girls on the Run.  The program began right here in Charlotte, NC with 13 girls.  Thanks to the hard work and passion of literally thousands of volunteers and staff, the program now serves over 120,000 girls in 200 North American cities.  The program creatively integrates running into a curriculum which provides girls with an opportunity to lean into the challenges that come during adolescence, when this limiting mindset many of us get around that time that somehow who we are isn’t quite smart enough, pretty enough, sassy enough, good enough, can take root.  The girls support each other, open their hearts to one another, grow, evolve and stretch together.

I’ve learned so much from these girls.  Their spontaneity of spirit and curious minds have at times been unsettling in their candor; but it is thanks to the time I spend with them and the values woven within the Girls on the Run fabric, that I’ve taken a really hard look, and even more so recently thanks to the Naked Face Project, at how I may at times, unintentionally perpetuate this culture of separation, this culture of comparison that starts as early as our middle school years and plays out on numerous playgrounds of our lives since then.

It’s hard to stay away from the 6th grade drama, even in our adult lives.  These playgrounds exist everywhere. The temptation to hit the link to a story on Jessica Simpson’s latest “weight issue” or Demi Moore’s current “mental status” is not only strong, but so easy to access. Skipping over the “Housewives of….” series where women are pitted, one against the other is difficult. Putting away the pop-culture magazines and television shows that question whether Sarah Palin has breast implants or Hilary Clinton looks old and haggard is tough.  I mean this stuff is everywhere!

I’m beginning to see, at least for me, that the only way to shift this culture rooted in appearance, competition, and harsh judgment of one another, that starts as early as 6th grade, is to realize we are all valuable, worthy and important to society–every last one of us–me, you, Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Snookie, my mom, Brooke, the girls I serve.  It’s quite simple really…we are all human, just trying to figure it out, brave in the attempt and worthy for simply being here.

So I’ve made a decision, for my own daughter and the daughters of so many in Girls on the Run:  I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and put aside anything–conversation, commentary, magazines, television, music, systems, mindsets and philosophies—that compare and pit women, one against the other, and channel all of my energy (and the additional amounts I’ll have as a result of letting all that stuff go) toward the elevation of my little sisters, each other and ourselves, to as the Girls on the Run vision states, cultivate a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

Recently, a Girls on the Run coach shared a humorous exchange she overheard between two of our participants during the Girls on the Run 5k.  A friendly spectator had placed a sign on the course that read “Run like the wind!” One of the little girls read the sign and said, “Run like the wind? That’s impossible!” The other little girl said, “I can run like the wind. I just choose not to.”  I am beginning to see that what I choose and choose not to do is entirely up to me…and that our culture…the one I wish for my daughter and all our daughters is a direct result of the choices, the words, the thoughts and actions I take in my own life.

The world I live in begins with me.