Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, endless bay, and rolling fog, I felt incredibly lucky that this was my view from lunch every day. I played basketball on the same rooftop where Anne Hathaway filmed a scene of the The Princess Diaries. I wore a perfectly pleated skirt that was rolled up just high enough to pass the fingertip rule. Attending a single sex school was a privilege, but it was certainly not as glamorous as TV shows make it seem. For four years, I attended an all girls school where I learned the lessons that have molded me into the woman I am now.
Many people assume being surrounded by girls must have been a catty or cliquey experience, but it was the opposite for me. I was the new girl in school after my class had spent five years together. Despite that, the girls immediately welcomed me with open arms on my first day, each inviting me to sit with them or offering to show me around. Everyone in your class was your friend, your sister. These types of close friendships fostered a supportive environment where girls weren’t afraid to speak up, take risks, or make mistakes. This taught me that no matter what environment or new space I find myself in, it is important that I build this same camaraderie and continue to uplift other women in my community.
In a learning environment tailored to girls, I had the privilege of being free of typical gender stereotypes found in the classroom. There were no “male” or “female” subjects where one gender dominated. I was inspired by the girls around me as they became leaders. While not all spaces can be free of gender stereotypes, the confidence I gained at my all girls school allowed me to combat social norms when I finally encountered them.
As much as I would love for this story to be only filled with the joys and beauties of a single sex environment, it was also oftentimes suffocating. The food we ate and the clothes we wore were controlled by the school. If we ate food the school hadn’t provided, we were to throw it away. We were reprimanded in front of the class if our socks were not navy or white, if our skirts were too short, if our leggings were too tight, or if we forgot to put on our ties before class. My friends and I noticed that it was oftentimes the girls of certain sizes that were scrutinized more heavily. It felt like our bodies were constantly being policed, and that we had limited agency over them. Due to this environment, I developed a difficult relationship with food and became self conscious of the way I presented myself. It took years to undo the mindset I had regarding my body. When I finally left my single sex school, I understood how important it is to fight self-criticism. The resilience it took for me to unlearn these unhealthy habits has only made me stronger.
Despite the imperfections of my experience attending an all girls school, I was grateful for the lessons I still hold to this day. I left with a deep sense of empowerment and belief that young girls surrounded by other young girls during their most formative years can become incredibly compassionate and assertive women who help other women succeed.
I also discovered that we must take the good with the bad when it comes to the lessons we learn. Attending an all girls school had a large impact on my self esteem and confidence in both positive and negative ways. These lessons helped me navigate what it meant to be a woman and grow into the person I wanted to see myself become.