As a women’s studies major, the work of Alternatives for Girls first caught my attention because of its focus on the empowerment of young women. This organization is all about giving girls and women the tools, resources, and skills to make positive choices about their own lives. Throughout this past week. I spent a great deal of time thinking about how that mission can be realized even just within my one-on-one reactions with girls attending the non-profit’s six-week prevention program.
One activity from this past week that I helped facilitate was an art project that aimed to promote positive self-image in participants. They each received a coloring page with the word, “GIRL” written on it in big bubble letters. They were to theme each letter around a quality in themselves that they liked, writing that word within the letter and otherwise decorating it around that word’s theme. I went from work station to work station assisting girls to brainstorm words they could use. Almost every time, the first word to come to a girl’s mind was a variation on the word “pretty.” This in some sense is an achievement – these girls were able to feel confident in their appearances! – but my larger focus was to then guide these girls to reflect upon the more substantive aspects of their personhood. I asked them questions like, “What do you think you are good at?” and ” What’s your favorite thing about yourself?” to help these girls think about the fact that they are so much more than pretty. They determined that they were funny, smart, creative, brave, good daughters or sisters, kind, and so much more.
The fact that the girls’ go-to answer was “pretty” reflects the fact that from an early age, girls are socialized to believe that a main part of their value lies in their appearance. As a intern that is trying to build a relationship with these children, it’s really easy to fall into that trap, because the most easy way to strike up a conversation with a young girl is by complimenting her on her shirt or her hairstyle. Thus, I’ve been trying to change up how I talk to participants. I ask them about their favoirte subjects in school, what they did on the weekend, and their families; if I’m talking to them about clothing or appearance, I’m asking them to point out their favorite color to me and explain why it’s their favorite, or about who taught them that awesome hairstyle they know. this changes the focus from what they look like to what their preferences, choices, and capabilities are.
Through these endeavours, my overall goal is for my interest to make these girl have a sense of their value beyond their looks. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s appearance, but I want these girls to come away from knowing me remembering that there is so much more for them to pride themselves in, too.