I have a guest post today from my friend Vanessa Schenck. Vanessa is my kindred spirit. We both are working towards trying to be happy when we have everything to be happy about. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but we’re learning. We also both have daughters, and we are working hard to make sure they grow up as strong, confident women. Most importantly, however, I am wildly excited about a new organization she is about to launch: TIA Girl Club, a Clubhouse for girls to come play and receive the support and encouragement they need to live their authentic lives.  To follow their dreams.  To learn happiness is a choice. As Vanessa said in her own words: “It’s a way of supporting and encouraging all the girls who I didn’t give birth to myself,” the ones that don’t get the support from their moms or dads or anyone else. I love that message, and I love this thoughtful, funny post she’s sharing today. I hope you do too. Find out more information about TIA Girl Club here or follow Vanessa on Twitter @vanessaschenck.

I was having lunch with a few close girlfriends the other day when the subject of Barbie surfaced. My friend shared the story of how her mom buried her daughter’s Barbies in the backyard.

Yes, I just said that.

You see, my friend’s mom came for a visit, saw the Barbie in the playroom and decided to teach her granddaughter a thing or two about having a positive body image. And this lesson was taught by taking Barbie, her clothes,  and all her accessories, putting them in a cardboard box and burying it like the dead in the backyard.

“Did you know this was happening?” I proceeded to question.

“Well, no,” she told me. Apparently she didn’t find out until her 8-year old shared the story at bedtime.
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 I love this story. I just think it’s funny as all get out. The images alone of the actual digging of the hole are beyond hysterical.

But, funny aside, my friend agreed that Grandma had legitimate reasons for sending Barbie into the grave. After all, Grandma is a major smarty-pants — she has her Ph.D. in English Literature AND her Masters in Social Work AND she teaches gender studies to undergraduates and law students at Washington University.  Grandma knows what she’s talking about.

There are numerous studies about the impact Barbie has on girls’ self-esteem and eating habits (aged 5 to 8). Those who play with Barbie have less self-esteem along with a desire to be thin than those that play with “realistic” dolls.

Shocker?  Not really.

So, as I was driving home from said lunch, I got to thinking:  “Heck! I’ve given my own daughter Barbie dolls!  Do I now need to perform a ceremonial Barbie burial in my backyard too?” I started to drive faster.

When I arrived home, I had successfully come up with a list of reasons to tell Julia, my 9-year-old daughter, why she needed to gather her Barbies and bury them!  And while it’s not like she plays with them night and day, she does still love them, and prying them out of her hands was not going to be easy.  I had to get my ducks in a row to convince her it was for her own good.

As I got out of my car, ready to gather-up everything Barbie, it hit me. What was I doing?  I didn’t need to toss out her Barbies. Julia loves them!  And, I realized, Barbie is not the problem.

Clearly I had gone off the rails after listening to my friend’s story.  As in, I momentarily failed to remember what I know to be true.  This particular afternoon’s journey had me forgetting where my daughter’s self-esteem comes from; but with any misstep, the important thing is how quickly you recover.

Let me explain.

There was a time in my life I had no idea where my happiness, my joy, my self-esteem, came from. I would get up in the morning either feeling happy or not, and that was that.  If I was feeling down, I’d say things to myself like, “Well, it’s just one of those days.”  I’d invent excuses for feeling blue.  My boss was upset about the numbers…I couldn’t find a taxi in the rain…some guy didn’t call me back.

If I was happy, well, more power to me!  It was a stroke of good luck, and I just went with it.  I would reason my happiness came from that awesome night’s sleep — or even just because I was having a good hair day.

Back then, my happiness was circumstantial.  When the universe was favoring me, I was happy.  When it wasn’t, I was Ms. Crabby-Pants.

But then things changed. I started to understand I was in control of my happiness.  I started to read books that gave me a new perspective on how to be happy. I read everything from Deepak Chopra to Tony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle to Elizabeth Gilbert.

An episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter also opened my eyes to the idea of choosing happiness.  In it, Oprah spent time in the slums of Mumbai.  She was invited by a poverty-stricken family to visit their home —  a 10×10 foot concrete box housing five people. During the show, Oprah asked the 12 year-old daughter: “Are you happy?” as if to say, “Who in the heck could be happy living here!”

The girl looked at Oprah, smiled and said, “Yes, I’m happy.”  You could tell from the genuine smile on her face that she so obviously was.This young girl, living in poverty in the slums of Mumbai, sleeping on the floor of her concrete house with four other people was happy.  Not because she didn’t know any better, but because she was choosing it.

So why, if this awesome, self-confident girl living in the Mumbai slums can choose happiness, why can’t I?  Why can’t we ALL?

Well, we can. We either don’t choose to, or, as was my case, we don’t know we can. We need to learn it. Someone needs to teach us, or we need to find it out for ourselves.

How does this relate to keeping Julia’s Barbies above ground? It’s been my husband and my mission to give Julia the encouragement and support she needs to become a strong, empowered girl.  And, thus far, I’m thrilled with how things are going.  Julia’s self-confidence, how happy and satisfied with who she is, is so clearly not dependent on Barbie.   mandy wedding 432_pe

The girl knows herself, so much more than I did when I was her age. She knows to choose happiness, and she knows to choose her thoughts and words carefully.  She speaks what she wants to see in her life.  No doll is going to change that.But what about the girls (and boys) who don’t receive the support and encouragement they need to grow their own self-confidence?  What about the ones who don’t have parents or teachers demonstrating that happiness is a choice?  The ones who do find self-esteem (or a lack thereof) in Barbie?  Those are the girls I sit up at night thinking about.

So, do I think my friend’s mom was a little nuts in burying the Barbies?  No, I don’t. It wasn’t so much an exorcism of Barbie from the house (although, clearly, Barbie was sacrificed), but a lesson in becoming aware of where self-esteem comes from.  That it comes from within.  And for that, I applaud her.  Go, Grandma!

Just this morning, Jules woke up, made her way downstairs and said, “Mommy.  I don’t know why, but I woke up feeling really sad today.”  And I understand this. I sometimes wake up feeling blue too, for no apparent reason.  The old Vanessa?  Well, she would have rolled with that.  Taken no action.  Been a sour-puss all day and blamed it on the fact that, “Well, I just woke up this way.”  Me now?  I know better.  And that’s exactly what I told Jules.

“Honey, I get it.  Sometimes we just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it happens.  But now that you’re awake, you decide how you’re going to feel today.  What’s it going to be, kiddo?”

She reached for her morning bagel and said, “Mom, I’m choosing to be in a happy mood.”  And just like that, she was.  Magic.

That’s my girl!  My Barbie-loving baby girl.

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