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6 Toxic Traditions I've Had to Unlearn as a Girl

By HERWriter
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What I Had to Unlearn as a Girl Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Social media has done wonders for me in helping me to understand that I shouldn’t have to deal with the microaggressions that arise for someone who identifies as female. It has also made clear the systematic sexism that exists in the United States.

It boils my blood to see #RepealThe19th trending on Twitter. Ultimately, however, it breaks my heart and it isn’t something I can wrap my head around. Joking or not, how does someone rationalize taking away the right to vote from another human, woman or not?

There are other trends on Twitter that are unfortunate, yet progressive for women.

Last week, #WhyWomenDontReport started trending. People used this hashtag to tweet about why women don’t report being sexually assaulted. The level at which this hashtag was trending is indicative of a societal problem, but it is refreshing to see this topic being talked about.

In order to fix issues, we need to talk about them first. Trends like these on Twitter and other content, like a personal essay on Buzzfeed or a Facebook status venting about an encounter, have helped me unlearn toxic traditions taught to us since we were young girls.

These are my top six:

1) You don’t have to smile.

It always bothered me when random older men would tell me to smile. I have what I’ve come to call “Resting Sad Face.” Multiple people have told me it looks like I’m going to cry.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I am probably not. In fact, I am probably happy, but who wants to be smiling 24/7? Not only is that kind of creepy, but it makes my mouth tired.

I was so relieved when I saw posts on Tumblr and tweets from girls about how they hate it when they are told to smile. Can’t we run errands in peace? We are not here for you to stare at. We are not here to be a ray of sunshine. It’s condescending and makes me uncomfortable. I am trying to think. I don’t have time to put effort into smiling!

2) You don’t have to wear makeup. Or you can.

Glittery eyelids. Matte red lips. Contoured cheeks. Who wouldn’t want to wear makeup? You literally get to paint your face. It’s like the grown-up version of a coloring book.

Unfortunately, advertising for makeup has led many to believe makeup is solely worn to make you look better. Indeed, there are people that wear makeup to cover acne or to help with their self-esteem. However, a lot of girls wear it just because they like it.

Makeup isn’t meant to deceive, so it would be cool if those tweets about taking a girl swimming on the first date would stop. Who in their right mind thinks anyone has shimmery purple eyelids and perfectly bronzed cheeks naturally? And if you don’t feel like applying foundation before work, that’s cool too.

I don’t wear makeup, and while it was nice of that girl to tell me I’m so brave to not wear any, I don’t have some sort of agenda. Not wearing makeup does not mean you are making a statement. It’s like choosing if you want rice or pasta for dinner — whatever you’re feeling.

3) Dress codes for schools are sexist.

The point of dress codes is to make sure the students are dressed appropriately. So how can strict guidelines truly fulfill that requirement when we all have different bodies?

My friend constantly got dress coded for her shorts because they did not meet the “fingertip rule.” Where would she find such shorts, though? Her legs were long and thin. Try to find lengthy shorts for someone with a small waist.

Furthermore, these dress codes often sexualize girls. A common rule is no spaghetti straps, and especially, no strapless tops. This is highly inappropriate.

Telling girls they can’t show their shoulders sexualizes a body part inherent to the functioning human body. Worse, it sexualizes a minor. Knees, thighs, calves and collarbones are vital to living. Why does hiding such body parts indicate respect?

P.S. I’ve worn shorts above mid-thigh and a tank top to class in college. Heck, a sliver of my stomach even shows sometimes. (It’s hot in Arizona!) And guess what? The world didn’t end.

4)“You’re not like other girls.”

This.Is not. A compliment. I recall this from countless movies. Maybe you remember it from Nicholas Sparks’ “The Last Song.”1 It might seem cool at first that someone is saying you are unlike anyone they have ever met, but it’s not.

“You’re not like other girls” implies a whole gender is the same. This belittles girls as one-dimensional beings. But how is that possible when humans are so complex? To group all girls together is to diminish a girl's character, which is created by the composition of one’s life experience, which are not all the same. So, no. Girls, like all humans, are not all the same

5) It’s not a competition.

Mean Girls, The Clique, gossip rags. Competition among girls is everywhere, and it’s not because we are competing for something important, like, you know, a research grant or a dream job.

Sections in tabloids for “Who Wore It Better” dissect female celebrity bodies. The rise of a new female pop superstar makes some wonder: “Is she the new Madonna? Britney? Whitney? Mariah?” I’ve never heard someone say, “Are they the new Beatles?”

These patterns in entertainment news infiltrate the lives of us commoners. I can't count the number of times I’ve seen girls get mad at the girl their boyfriend cheated on her with — it doesn’t make sense! Your guy was the one you’re in a relationship with. Aren’t you supposed to be mad at him?

Sometimes when I’m out with my friends at a bar, I feel really self-conscious because I look so young. Luckily, that feeling usually passes because I realize to feel that way is pointless. I’m out to have fun with friends, so why does measuring myself against other girls even matter? It doesn’t.

So unless you’re actually trying to win something tangible, leave the side-eye at home. We need to champion one another, not tear each other down. We have the prerogative to make our own choices according to our own preferences.


I don’t believe in the word “slut.” I never really used to use it before, except maybe to describe an outfit or behavior, but who I am to make such a judgment? If someone is wearing a skimpy dress, good for them to feel confident enough. When a girl’s Instagram is loaded with selfies, cheers to her for having such self-esteem. If a girl sleeps with many guys (and hopefully safely!) that’s her choice.

But what about when a girl breaks up another relationship? Well, that’s what I’d call malicious. If a girl is leading on a guy then that’s toying with someone’s emotions, and that’s cruel. But then again, maybe her motivation is misunderstood and she was just trying to be nice. I swore off the word “slut” because there is always a better, less demeaning descriptor.


After writing this, I was in the elevator and a man sarcastically asked if I was on my “way to the fun bus” because I wasn’t smiling.

Edited by Jody Smith Read more in Being HER

Movie Tropes That Need to Retire. The Odyssey. Retrieved October 18, 2016.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.