Last month I "opened" the Museum of Me.
And this month I'm back with another exhibit. . . Growing Up: On the Cusp of Adolescence.
From the early 1990s until 2007, I worked as the Executive Director of a private women's foundation in Grand Rapids. (Best job EVER.) (The foundation has since "spent down" its assets and is no longer an active foundation.) Anyway, early in my tenure at the foundation, Harvard researcher Carol Gilligan had just published a groundbreaking piece on the developement of adolescent girls. Gilligan found that girls at age 11 were on top of the world. They were confident, sure, outspoken. They knew who they were. But. By age 16, those same girls were . . . not. Gilligan found that as they went through adolescence, girls quickly got the societal/cultural message that they should keep quiet and say nothing.
Back in 1991 - as a personal "survivor" of that very phenomenon AND as the mother of a 2-year-old daughter - I was deeply disturbed by Gilligan's findings. I made it my mission at the foundation to do whatever I could to change things for the girls of the 1990s. (Of course, recent research finds that not much has changed for girls in the past 30 years. It's hard to move the needle when it comes to social and cultural norms. But that's for another day.)
I used to keep this photo of myself in my office at the foundation.
It's me. Age 11.
I've always loved this picture of myself as a young girl. There aren't many photos of me at this age/stage of my life, so it feels . . . precious. It was taken in the summer of 1970 when I had just returned home from two weeks at my first-ever sleep-away camp experience. Although I had a great time at camp, I had also been terribly homesick, and I was thrilled to get back home to my family and my house and my own room . . . which had been totally transformed while I was away! So I'm posing here, fresh from camp (wearing my trusty camp sweatshirt) in my newly-painted and decked out room at home.
But there's more to this photo than just a welcome-home-from-camp memory. Because in this photo, I am on the cusp of adolescence. And I can see it.
I was an 11-year-old with Big Ideas! I knew what I liked, and I was pretty vocal about what I didn't. I was a ballet dancer and a swimmer. I was learning to play the flute. I loved to read and was proud to have been the school spelling bee champ for 3 years running. I liked to draw and make things. I liked to play games and had a big imagination. I bossed people around a lot. I had a crush on Donny Osmond. And David Cassidy. But I was also a Motown fan and loved listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. I dreamed about being an astronaut. Or an artist. Or a fashion designer . . . even though I wasn't worried about the clothes I wore. If you asked me then, I'd have told you I was was smart and fast and strong.
Just like Carol Gilligan said . . . the "me" in that photo, age 11 . . . was confident, sure, and outspoken.
A few weeks later . . . I started middle school. And then several months after that, I moved half way across the country and started a whole new life in a new state in a new (and bigger) junior high school. A lot of my 11-year-old confidence and sure-footedness . . . evaporated. Some of it was puberty. Some of it was family turmoil. Some of it was moving and losing familiar people and childhood friends at a pivotal age. Most of it was just that mine field that is . . . adolescence. A lot it was the pervasive cultural and societal messages about who was "pretty" and how girls "ought" be. Those messages? They did me in.
For a while.
Eventually, I found my footing again. I practiced things I was good at. I stopped feeling bad about being smart and "bookish" and an introvert. I started keeping a diary. I shed toxic relationships and dropped friends-who-weren't-really-friends. I went to college. Met Tom. I stopped trying to be someone I wasn't.
And gradually, I . . . found myself.
In the end, I "met up" with my 11-year-old self again . . . and became more like her.
(Turns out . . . we have a lot in common.)
And these two photos of me in my new purple bedroom - on the cusp of adolescence - are a perfect reminder to me. . . of just that!
Now that I've officially created The Museum of Me, you can watch for new exhibits . . . maybe once or twice a month. And if you're a blogger and you'd like to create a Museum of Me along with me on your own blog, let me know. I'll send you my "exhibit schedule" (a list of my prompts) and we can talk about ourselves together. (It might be fun?)