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Pointers from the Program: The Whole Girl

By Heather Pressley, PhD on 07/31/2015 | Featured Columns & Series

My teen years were not easy.  In my early teens, I was all about my body. I cut out pictures from magazines of super models and hung them around my bedroom; I obsessed about how I could look more like that and worked hard at making myself into their image. Then later in my teen years, when my body failed me by not being skinny enough, not being pretty enough, not being _______ enough, I became all about my brain. All that mattered then was school and grades. I stayed after school to get extra help, studied late into the night, lost all friendships and had no social life. Those were my teens: body and brain. That’s all. That was the whole me.

I wish someone had taken the time to tell me that there was more to me than my body and my brain. In fact the opposite happened. I was praised for my focus on each which just confirmed my strategy. I got asked out by the most popular boys. I was crowned a beauty queen. I received straight A’s, awards and scholarships. But what I missed was the opportunity to develop (even acknowledge) the other parts of myself during that pivotal time of life. So, I continued through college, vacillating between body and brain, until those two couldn’t hold me together anymore. Until other parts of me needed to come out in order to survive.

It is difficult for teens to see themselves in complex ways. Most often girls will focus on one or two areas, typically their physical appearance, school or peer relationships. However, when they do they run the risk of feeling and living in a one dimensional world, and when that world goes awry (which it will), then they believe their whole life is ruined. Yet, if they are able to see that they have other parts to themselves and their lives, they can learn the skills to overcome disappointment and learn to balance these different areas. This is a more holistic view which might make these years a little more manageable for them and for those around them. These are also skills they can take with them into adulthood.

In our new middle school program, Heart & Sole, the Girl Wheel is the centerpiece of the curriculum and its purpose is just that - to introduce the girls to the idea that they are multi-dimensional and that they have many parts which make them whole.

Each part of the Girl Wheel - Brain, Body, Heart, Spirit and Social - is broken down into more discreet parts. This helps the girls realize that Body is not just the physical self but also how we care for ourselves. Social is not only about having friends but about making other important connections in our lives including volunteering. Heart is not just about love but it is also about our dreams and passions.  Brain is not only about school but also about how we make decisions. And, spirit is not just about personality but it’s about expressing gratitude and joy in our lives.

Through the program girls realize they have strengths in each part of the Girl Wheel and can grow in all of these areas.   They learn that they have connections with one another and that they can be problem solvers for themselves and others. They are empowered to create change in their lives and those around them.

Looking back, it’s not surprising that I went into education as a way to help girls through this tricky time in their lives. As a teacher and later an administrator, my classroom and office were always the places where students (mainly the girls) would congregate to talk about their day and seek support and advice. And now, as I’ve worked with our team at Girls on the Run to create Heart & Sole, there’s no doubt that my teen-self was in the back of my mind. As were the voices and stories of girls I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with over the last 20 years.   They taught me that I am much more than my body and my brain. I am a whole girl. Body. Brain. Spirit. Heart. And, Connection.

Heather Pressley, PhD

Author

As a teacher and administrator in public, charter and independent schools for 18 years, Heather Pressley continues to educate the world through consulting and writing. Along with geeking out over childhood development research, Heather navigates the world as a Gen Xer among Millennial parents and enjoys spending time in her garden discussing gender roles and race with her daughter. 

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