One of GRRRL’s resolutions this year was to wear more eye black. Here’s why:
During the girls sports after school program I have been running at an elementary school, I decided to teach the girls how to play flag football. I also decided that this would require eye black. I knew it would be fun, but I never could’ve predicted the immediate change in behavior I saw in the girls once they were wearing it.
It started with groans from some of the girls when they realized we were going to play football. The usual “I HATE football” was heard a few times from girls who had actually never been given the opportunity to try it. Then I announced we were going to be wearing eye black, just like the professionals do. There was some confusion because some of the girls thought I meant eyeliner. I explained what it was for, ending with “plus it makes you look really tough.” Once it was on, there was a rush to the bathroom mirrors to see if I was right.
Their re-entry into the gym was when the behavior changed. Some of the most timid girls in the group were growling at each other and pretending to tackle. I asked if I could take a picture of all of them, which prompted game faces, powerful stances, and none of the usual attempts to look like a model that often come out when you ask girls to be in a picture.
Once we started playing, the girl who had proclaimed that she hated football suddenly wanted to be the (still growling) quarterback and ended up throwing multiple touchdown passes. Then the eye black started to smear. At first, worry was expressed, and requests that I fix it stopped the whole game. Then I said, “No no, this is just what happens when you play hard. Now it looks like you’re REALLY tough.” As soon as one girl agreed with me, there was peer pressure to have yours smeared (on purpose or not).
Despite the growling and unforeseen aggressive behavior, we maintained our teamwork dynamic, sometimes allowing a team to play beyond 4 downs so that they could score and everyone could celebrate with them. Beyond being aggressive, the eye black helped the girls take on a confidence I had never seen them display. There was 100% enthusiastic participation on eye black day.
This enthusiasm spread through the halls as the girls went on to their next after school session, showing off their eye black to everyone they passed. One girl even had the remnants of it on her face the next day because she refused to let anyone wash it off.
If girls could come to school every day and tackle new challenges with the same confidence I saw that day, their school experiences would be vastly different. They would be empowered to raise their hands more often, they would be willing to take risks in front of their classmates, and they would have the confidence to lead their classmates who needed help. I wish I could greet them every day before school with my stick of eye black. Maybe I’ll run it by the principal.