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Life and Religion

Educator: More focus on brains, less on beauty
Society teaches girls to value looks over their intellect
Published Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12:00 pm
by Michaela L. Duckett

Arethea Bristow owns Mathnasium of North Charlotte with her husband, Christopher Bristow. The franchised learning center has over 200 locations in the United States and focuses on teaching math skills in a one-on-one setting. 

On any given day, American girls are bombarded with images of commercialized beauty and the capitalization of sex appeal.

For many, it leaves the impression that marketing their good looks and body is the best way for them to receive attention or achieve some level of success.

Case in point: When singer Miley Cyrus played Hannah Montana on TV, few adults outside of those with teenage daughters who were fans of the Disney show, knew her name. This past weekend, when she stripped down to near nudity and twerked all over Robin Thicke during their MTV Video Music Awards performance, she became the talk of the nation. The raunchy performance garnered Cyrus over 300,000 Tweets per minute, which is more than the Super Bowl received.

Educator Arethea Bristow, owner of Mathnasium of North Charlotte, worries that society’s preoccupation with beauty and sexualization is sending the wrong message and teaching girls to use their bodies to get ahead in life.

“We bombard our young girls with issues about body image,” said Bristow. “We focus on hair, makeup, how we look and present ourselves. We don’t focus as much on our intellectual capabilities. So some young girls become distracted and don’t grow those other pieces of who we are, which then limits our abilities to make choices on which careers we are going to take as adults.”

Left behind

Bristow believes that teaching girls to focus more on beauty than on intellect is one of the primary reasons that women remain so underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (collectively referred to as STEM).

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold fewer than 25 percent of jobs these fields and the ratio of male to female college students currently enrolled in STEM courses is six to one.

Unless these trends change, women will find themselves at a greater disadvantage in the next decade because U.S. Labor Department statistics indicate STEM-related jobs are growing twice as fast as the rate of jobs in other areas and in the next 10 years, 80 percent of all jobs will require technical skills.

Bristow adds that the importance of encouraging female students to excel in math and the sciences goes beyond making good grades and having more career opportunities. She said it’s a necessity for everyday life.

“Math and science are about critical thinking, solving problems and creating inventions,” she said. “Even beauty products are science based.”

She adds that it’s impossible to be a responsible consumer without basic math skills.

“It’s a life skill,” she said. “In life we have to have a budget. You have to learn to live within your means. There are calculations of interest rates, discounts, taxes and figuring out if something is a good- or bad-buy. All that is math… You use Math in everyday life as you get older.”

Another benefit, she said, is increased self-esteem.

“Self-esteem increases as you learn,” she said. “I believe that all girls can learn math and learn science. As they improve and accomplish more everyday they become more confident in who they are and what they bring.”

Encouraging excellence

Bristow helps dozens of students improve their math and science skills at her learning center. She said parents of female students she has tutored often comment that they have not only seen improvement in their grades but in other aspects of their lives as well.

“They are better at home,” she said. “They are better at school. They are reading books more often. They are more energized and excited about going to school.”

So what are some ways to help female students succeed in math?

Bristow said the first step is helping them understand that looks can only take them but so far in life.

“We look how look by no effort of our own,” she said. “Our skin color is something we’re born with. Your hair texture was inherited. The only thing that we can actually do anything about is how you think. But we don’t actually invest in that thinking piece of being a woman the way we should with our girls.”

She also advises parents to use simple things in everyday life to help their daughters gain a better understanding of math.

“Use common things,” she said. “When riding in the car, calculate time, speed and distance.”

She said the kitchen is also a great place to start.

“Start talking about measurement and quantities when cooking food,” she said. “Another idea is to give your child a budget when spending money on things like buying clothes to help them make better decisions. That starts to give them an appreciation of how math works in real life.”


Thank you for taking the time share the tremendous body of knowledge and experience that has been poured into you. Your perspective is unique, timely and much needed. Continue to share with others what God has blessed you with. That is our purpose and our greatest sense of fulfillment in this life. I love you. Uncle William
Posted on August 30, 2013

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