Bear Girls
Project info

Some Place in North America or Canada there is a tribe of indians that dress up their pubescent girls in large bearskins. A little offside the Indian village the girls live together with other girls of the same age, beeing well protected from the glances of grown-ups and boys by wearing the bearskins. They are even advised to move especially dull and clumsy - just as bear would. This well protected atmosphere allows them to mature untroubled and undistubed. They will determine the point in time when they will eventually take off their bearskin all by themselves. From that point on the girls will become part of the community of grown-up indian women. Further more indian girls of that tribe may decide freely wether they want to become a brave. Not many decide to, but time and again some did.

When I recently told a friend of this, she was certain she had heard of this tribe before.

As it happens I made it all up by myself.

How do young girls become strong women?

Adolescence is the theme of my new book. At the beginning I tell a story about a fictional Indian tribe that separates its pubescent girls and dresses them in bearskins. In this way they are protected from premature sexualisation. The result is a shelter that gives the girls the opportunity to develop freely and self-determinedly in this important phase of their lives. I call these girls "bear girls" and draw parallels in our society, where free spaces for adolescent girls become less and less. Many young women try to evade the stereotypes of sexualised identification that are shaped by society and the media. This is often evident in similar behaviour patterns, e.g. wearing very large sweaters that girls like to "borrow" from their father's wardrobe.
In "Smart Girls, Gifted Women", Barbara Kerr examined the similarities that later became strong women. She found that all girls had time for themselves, the ability to fall in love with an idea, and a "protective cover". None was particularly popular and most remained relatively isolated in their age group. Interestingly, this rejection gave them a free space in which to develop their uniqueness.
Parallel to the portraits of the girls I take photographs with a focus on nature, wild animals and the concept of distance and closeness.
I then work on combining these single images to final pairs.
The references between the pictures inspire the viewer to link the content of what he has seen.

Ute Behrend