girl box

I had the pleasure of hearing Molly Barker, social entrepreneur and founder of Girls on the Run, speak to a group of McGehee girls the other day. Her message was appropriately directed to her audience of 3rd-12th graders but it resonated with me as well, as I suspect it would for most women and especially those of us with daughters.

Molly Barker founded Girls on the Run to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that integrates running. There is a chapter here in New Orleans–Girls on the Run-NOLA.

The introduction was made by First Lady Cheryl Landrieu who recently launched Girl Up NOLA, an initiative designed to “empower girls to play an active role in their own personal development and assist them in navigating the pathways to a successful future.”

There was a lot of girl power in the room. It was awesome.

Molly began with a story about her four year old daughter, Helen, who was confidently admiring herself in the mirror:


I love my eyes.
I love my mouth.
I love my belly. {audience giggles}
I love my heart.

It was so powerful to hear Molly tell us about this little girl who, in her innocence and youth, had this beautiful freedom to unabashedly love her body and an awareness to know and love her heart. I thought it was incredible to hear that a child so young identified her “self” with her “heart.”

When was the last time you felt a freedom to unabashedly love your body? For me, it’s been a while; I’m too busy judging and wanting it to be different.

When was the last time you acknowledged all the good you do in this world and all the love you selflessly give to your children, spouse, family, friends, animals, community? For me, it’s never enough; I always feel like I could be doing more.

Cultural messages (the good, the bad and the ugly) are loud, constant and come from all directions. For girls in fifth or sixth grade, the noise of cultural and gender expectations becomes so loud that, without a strong foundation, support system or champion on the ground, a girl’s sense of self can be compromised.

Things that once energized our daughters (excelling in sports, school, family, positive relationships) take a back seat to the ideas and stereotypes (sexy, skinny, pretty, dumb) that our culture imposes upon their delicate, developing social/emotional ecosystems.

The transition from who she is to who she thinks the world expects her to be is what Molly coins the “Girl Box.” It is a place where the once happy, confident, self-assured young girl goes because the world tells her that she should be something else (the popular girl), look like someone else (air brushed models) and behave in ways contrary to who she instinctively knows she really is.

The “Box” hides the girl.

As women, I think we can all relate to the Girl Box. In retrospect, sixth grade is about the time I heard the call of the Box. Maybe my parents realized this, maybe they didn’t but I began my all-girl education in seventh grade. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I shed the Box and I became confident again in who I was and wanted to be. I think motherhood put me in a new, different kind of Box that I am just now, 7 years later, beginning to shed… but that’s another post.

As a mother to three young girls, how do I protect my daughters’ natural born freedom to love themselves and preserve their curiosity of and confidence in the world? How do I prevent them from conforming to unrealistic, unhealthy and potentially dangerous cultural stereotypes?

After pow-wowing with a few girlfriends, this is what we came up with:

1. Accept that the Box exists. Regardless of how aware and prepared I am as a mother to keep my daughters out of the Box, understand that the Box is waiting for her.

2. Shed my own Box (or it’s remnants). How can I model freedom from the Box if I’m still living in one?

3. Do not become the Box. Let go of my own unrealistic expectations of who or what I want my daughters to be or do and give them the gift to freely explore their talents and interests and allow their unique personalities to shine. Recognize that I am not them and they are not me. They are born exactly who they are. That is their gift to give to the world. Honor that.

4. Be louder than the Box. My daughters will someday be surrounded by the noise of the Box. But I am the mother. My messages will be louder and stronger. They will sound like this:

I love your eyes.
I love your mouth.
I love your belly.
I love your heart.

Can you relate to being in the Girl Box?

For more information about raising daughters and understanding the girl brain:

Dr. JoAnn Deak, renowned international speaker, author, educator, and school psychologist has spent over 30 years helping children develop into confident and competent adults. Dr. Deak kicked off McGehee’s Second Century Speaker Series last fall and is a true believer in the importance of single-sex education for girls. Be on the lookout for her new book on the latest brain research which will be released this fall. Recommended Reading from her works: How Girls Thrive and Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters.

What do Girls’ Schools Do Best?

This post is sponsored by Louise S. McGehee School.

Written by Ashley Bond

Ashley Bond

Founder of parenting blog, entrepreneur, underestimated disorganized overachiever.


  1. What a lovely article. I’ve seen these issues arise in my female friends, and my wife, and I worry about how this will affect our daughter while she grows up. I’m ordering Dr. Deak’s books now!

  2. I don’t have any girls, but I love this post. I’d also love to hear about that motherhood box–maybe I’m in it?!?

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