What are we doing to create positive images for young girls?

Jenny-Byxbee-greenwich-voicesI recently attended the Fund for Women and Girls’ Annual Girls Symposium and I left so inspired (perhaps even as a newly proclaimed feminist) because I learned silence truly is condolence.

As a result, over the past couple of weeks, I have found myself paying much more attention to all the images, language, marketing that is targeted out to young girls. And what I’ve been seeing is extremely disappointing. So much of the messaging out there, even to the youngest of girls, is built around the importance of appearance above all. That leaves me thinking, how do we best help young women build self-worth beyond their appearance?

As the mom of two little girls, I must say they challenge me every day in their own unique ways to be the best mom I can be. My oldest daughter, who chose to play flag football this fall over being on the dance team, confidently says the boys need her on the field. She has to regularly be reminded to brush her hair and that while she doesn’t have to wear a dress, my rule is her clothes must be clean.

Then there is my youngest child, who can’t be too pink or sparkly enough. So in this case, I have to remind her that it’s OK to get dirty once in a while. I want my daughters and all girls to go out into the world to live without preconceived notations of what they can do or what they can be. I want them to be the captains of their own ships and make choices on their own terms.

But any mother can only do so much when there is such a prevalent message out there about how women and girls “should” be. Because of that, we as a community need to find ways to interrupt and even combat messaging that would hinder a girl’s self-worth. In order for young girls to believe they can be anything they want to be, we truly have to help change the lenses we are looking through and try to lead by example.

That is one of the reasons I am very proud to be part of an ongoing collaboration with the Junior League of Greenwich. They are hosting a “Positively More” program designed for 11- or 12-year-old girls that will kick off in November. The project aims to embower girls to have the tools to avoid questionable situations, lessen the consequences of potential conflicts, and identify lessons learned by those challenges.

One my favorite parts of the program is that we will have teen ambassadors on hand to help be role models and mentors to the girls. Now, I don’t need to be told that when it comes to my daughter’s perspective, high school girls are much cooler then me and can have far more influence then anything we say or teach that day. So this kind of mentoring is very important as young girls see a positive example.

Each session at the Positively More program will consist of workshops moderated by top professionals in the fields of teen counseling, youth services, social media, and prevention/education. Space is limited and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For questions, please email [email protected]

But help is not limited to this one event. Another great resource is from Family Centers in Greenwich, which offers “You Go, Girl.” There’s a big need for this, because adolescent girls are faced with a host of challenges during their formative years. On a daily basis, young girls juggle social pressures, academic demands, expectations from their parents, and extracurricular activities.

Led by Family Centers clinical supervisor Erin Tishman LPC, this group gives girls a forum to talk freely about these issues. Girls will also learn how to cope with academic and social pressure and develop supportive relationships with family and friends. It takes place every Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. at Family Centers’ location at 20 Bridge Street, Greenwich. For information, contact Ms. Tishman at 203-629-2822 or [email protected]

The YWCA of Greenwich also has multiple girls groups taking place called Girls Circles that help counter self-doubt, build self-esteem and encourage self-expression. These are for sixth, seventh and eighth graders; to get more information you may contact Meredith Gold at 203-869-6501, ext. 176, or [email protected]

All of these can be great resources and supports for young women to build a stronger sense of self. Let’s “Live United,” give, volunteer and advocate today to help young women to be their best selves and live without barriers.

Jenny Byxbee is the Greenwich youth services bureau coordinator. She may be reached at [email protected]

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