Thank Heaven for Little Girls

My life changed last October. It had nothing to do with romance or even the fact that my memoir, How to Love an American Man, was making headlines. My life changed last October because that’s when I first experienced the phenomenon that is Sophia Grace and Rosie.

Sophia Grace and Rosie compose the pair of English cousins who have taken American media by storm. Ellen DeGeneres invited them on her show after she spotted YouTube video of eight-year-old Sophia Grace and her cousin, five-year-old Rosie, singing Nicki Minaj and Adele songs to a camera at a family gathering.

You know that saying, “Dance like nobody’s watching?” Sophia Grace performs that way even when millions of people are watching. When she takes the mic, she forgets herself and becomes a vehicle for untethered expression.

Even bigger than her performance skill is her talent for simply existing as who she is, and that’s earned her everything a little girl dreams of: chances to meet her favorite stars, toy store shopping sprees, a wardrobe stuffed with pink tutus and crowns and recurring TV appearances.

Sophia Grace’s approach is so effective at touching the audience that her plethora of YouTube videos has garnered well over 100 million views.

Why do we love her so much? Because just like us, she was born fearless. The first time my mom watched video of Sophia Grace, she said to me: “You used to act just like that.” I remember: there was a time when I was pure passion and guts; when I wore leotards and my mom’s high heels and told anyone who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up: “I’m going to be a Solid Gold dancer.”

It was before I worried about my body or being “good” or being liked. Before there were teachers, before there were boys, and before any outside factors influenced my self-perception.

I was myself. I was four.

Nature has an intelligent way of protecting the developing psyche by focusing our thoughts so shamelessly on ourselves. A young child thinks mostly about himself or herself and his or her own needs because we depend on others to meet those needs; and if we’re not thinking about those needs, what if no one else is either? As children, not having fear to demand what we want is the only control we have over actually getting it.

Reaccessing this child-like spirit as adults can serve us powerfully. As many of us grow and develop the capacity to provide for ourselves, we grow more capable of satisfying needs in general. People for whom the approval of others is important learn to operate in a way that earns this approval.

Often it’s addictive. We grow concerned and even obsessed with having others think we’re “good”: good students, good workers, good performers, good souls.

One of the most giving women in my life made a New Year’s resolution “to be a better person.” Two months later, she ended up in the hospital with chest pains caused by stress.

As this pursuit occupies us, we’re less free to be happy. We’re less free to be ourselves. It’s probably why TV shows like Girls are so relevant right now: growing up as Western girls, we’ve gotten so used to being good at everything; to receiving praise and reinforcement and encouragement to forge ahead.

Then we figure since we’ve done consistently well up to now, our work ethic will crush bigger challenges, too: establishing notoriety with an influential job. Paying the rent. Winning someone’s love. Often we fail. Usually we keep trying. Eventually, I like to think, we get it right.

I hear so many friends say they felt themselves relax when they turned 30: after a decade of building a hyper-good persona in our twenties, we learn which parts of that actually have brought us pain. We burn them down. We begin to excavate our true identities again.

I hear some women whine about life as a twenty-something, but I have to say: I think living the strength and beauty that’s inherent to being female is getting easier than ever in our culture. Three weeks ago, I wandered into a movie theater to fill a Saturday afternoon. Just before the lights went down I tweeted: “The theater for #MirrorMirror is full of females ages 5 to 85. This is very cool. Fairy tales must be ageless.”

I’d never seen anything like it: real-life girl power. As Lily Collins’ character learned how to defend herself in battle and put the prince in his place when he wasn’t giving her respect, the little girls cheered. Listen, I thought. That collective voice, celebrating the fortune of being a girl.

The dad sitting in front of me leaned in and kissed his daughter on the cheek, and I felt goosebumps rise when she gave him a smile like, Yeah Dad. It’s a good time to be me.

How awesome to have been seated among a group of girls who are comfortable with the notion that being powerful is positive; that getting the approval of someone — even a boy! — is secondary to a girl’s other goals.

Twenty years ago when I was their age, I honestly thought boys didn’t like the smart girls. But today, smart is hot. As journalist Hanna Rosin has said, “The global economy is becoming a place where women are more successful than men … and this is starting to affect our culture: what our romantic comedies look like, what our marriages look like, what our dating lives look like, and our new set of superheroes.”

My superheroes are featured on a Pinterest pin board I titled Women Who Inspire Me. There I post images of women who taught me that being who I am is the most fruitful way to exist: women like my mom, my grandma, Oprah Winfrey, Maria Shriver, Ellen DeGeneres…and, of course, Sophia Grace and Rosie.

They’ve reminded me how living boldly and loving fearlessly will continue to bring me everything I hope for.

I didn’t become a Solid Gold dancer, but I did become a writer; and the desire in my heart has remained very much the same: for the way I express myself to be recognized as beautiful.

Sophia Grace and Rosie might be little girls, but their femaleness is big. Theirs is an untouched wisdom about humanity and being a woman that we can all learn from.

More Posts from Architects of Change