image of book cover titled Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons

Good Girl or Real Girl: Insights from The Curse of the Good Girl

book review parenting

Rachel Simmons' book, The Curse of the Good Girl, has blown my mind twice now! My copy is dog-eared, highlighted, and sticky-noted like crazy. This book’s insights into the social pressures faced by girls are crucial for us, as caring adults, to understand. I’ll share points that really resonated with me and simply encourage you to read it yourself. Here’s just a tiny nutshell of the wisdom Simmons offers--all of it too good not to share with you!

First, Simmons is also a co-founder of Girls Leadership, and has dedicated decades to working with thousands of girls. She has written four books over the years covering her research and interactions with them.

Understanding the "Good Girl" Concept

Simmons begins by exploring what a Good Girl is and how girls are socialized from a young age to prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own. According to girls themselves (groups of middle-class, middle- and high-school girls at Girls Leadership), a Good Girl is:

“ . . . socially and academically successful, smart and driven, pretty and kind. But she was also an individual who aimed to please people (people pleaser, toed the line (no opinions on things) and didn’t take risks (follow the rules). She repressed what she really thought (doesn’t get mad) and did not handle her mistakes with humor (must do everything right).”

Can you relate? I certainly can. That was me for years as a young person (always unerringly nice, polite, quiet, modest, etc.) and I fully understand the ramifications (well into my adult years) of being a Good Girl.

So, why might it matter?

The Impact of the "Good Girl" Mentality

“The Curse of the Good Girl restrains girls from exploring their most challenging emotions, turning the volume of self-expression down like a knob on a stereo. So much silence leaves much to be imagined, and girls do: they make anxious assumptions about what people mean, what they feel, and why they act the way they do."

Simmons emphasizes that good girl socialization leads to self-silencing, perfectionism, and an overwhelming fear of failure, hindering personal growth and perpetuating gender inequality. 

“Girls’ psychological resumes lag generations behind the twenty-first century girl power. Being a Good Girl erodes girls’ ability to know, say, and manage a complete range of feelings. It urges girls to be perfect, giving them a troubled relationship to integrity and failure. The curse is the product of a culture that remains confused about gender equality.”

Without those constraints, girls are more likely to try new things to build their self-confidence, have higher career aspirations and will be better equipped to make an impact on the world in a way that is meaningful to themselves--not other people. We, as caring adults, are basically given a directive to encourage girls to embrace their authentic selves, speak up, set boundaries, and pursue their passions without fear of judgment.

Emotions as Strength, Not Weakness

At BaseCamp Girl, we encourage girls to recognize their feelings, address them appropriately, and not feel bad about having them. This ability enhances their navigation of healthy relationships, a primary discussion in this book!

"Teach girls that their emotions are a source of power and information, not weakness. They need to understand that feeling angry, sad, or afraid is normal and healthy, and that expressing these emotions is not a flaw but a strength."

Encouraging Authenticity and Resilience

"We must show girls that their value is not tied to how well they conform, but rather to their unique perspectives and voices. They have to know that they are worth more than the sum of the praise they receive or the grades they earn."

There is so much more to every girl than her academic performance and how people notice it, but I have seen this emphasis so often, especially in the last decade. This theme aligns with another equally important book, How to Raise an Adult, which emphasizes moving beyond measuring success by outcomes alone. Read both books! 

The Curse of the Good Girl offers valuable insights, strategies and tools for girls and those who care about their well-being.

"The goal of a healthy girlhood is not perfection, but the ability to develop resilience and self-compassion. It is about building a sense of self-worth that can withstand setbacks and failures and knowing that it's okay to prioritize one's own needs and desires."

Raising Strong Girls 

I believe my daughter matured into a more fully formed adult much earlier than I did (thank goodness) because she was not raised to be a Good Girl. Instead, she was encouraged to recognize her strengths, always have an opinion, take constructive criticism (from teachers and sports and music coaches) without taking it personally, value her body for its strength and abilities, bounce back from challenges, and not wake up to please others. It wasn't always easy. She didn't always fit in, but she was a Real Girl. 

I cannot recommend this book enough if you want to help break the Curse of the Good Girl and help your tween evolve from (or keep from) being a Good Girl to a Real Girl.

“A Real Girl stays connected to a strong inner core of her thoughts, feelings, and desires. She also maintains a balanced self-concept.”

What could be more affirming for a young person (or any person)? And even though I absolutely recommend this book for all caring adults, Simmons, points specifically to mothers. So, I also recommend it if you want to evolve from being a Good Mother to being a Real Mother.

From Good Mothers to Real Mothers

“Mothers are constrained by rules like the ones that bind their daughters. Just as the terms of being a Good Girl undermine a girl’s potential, the pressure to be a Good Mother can limit a woman’s ability to set the right example for her daughter.”

It's so important that we model the behavior we want to teach our tweens and teens to adopt! I hope this book inspires you to raise girls unafraid to define their own success and happiness.

Please read this book and let me know your thoughts about it and your own experience around being a Good Girl/Mother or a Real Girl/Mother. And share this article and the book with other caring adults who might find it interesting.

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