According to a national survey by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 7 in 10 girls believe that they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way. This includes in their looks, performance in school, and relationships with friends and family. Studies show that in the U.S., middle school is when girls’ self esteem plummets to an all time low. This has both immediate and long term consequences, ranging from lower academic performance to eating disorders and girls who may be less likely to take on leadership positions. The women’s leadership gap is a persistent issue here in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. In order to work to close this gap, it is clear that we will have to address its potential underlying causes.
Although girls’ self esteem is a persistent problem in our nation, nothing was being done to address girls’ self esteem and body image issues in my small rural hometown in Michigan. There were limited opportunities for leadership development for young women given our geographic location. Returning from a summer leadership program at Brown University, I wanted to share a similar opportunity, using what I had learned, with young women in my community.
Last year, during my senior year of highschool, I created an after school program called Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) for girls at my local middle school focused on self esteem, body image, and leadership skills. I collaborated with teachers and administrators to design the curriculum for GLOW, and facilitated bi-weekly meetings with fellow high school students. We split the curriculum into five units: Self Esteem; Body Image & Media; Health, Wellness, & Emotions; Bullying & Friendship; and Confidence & Leadership. At our first meeting, we created “I Am” posters, where girls designed a portrait representing them and chose empowering words describing them to surround it. Other meetings included projects such as designing magazine covers and dolls that work to counter the “image myth” that media perpetuates. We also watched short TedTalks, participated in affirmation and “bucket filling” activities, played games related to the week’s topic, and discussed and reflected on what we had learned.
Although GLOW was a small group, we were able to create a truly special community. The girls and fellow leaders I met and worked with through GLOW never ceased to amaze and inspire me with their intelligence, excitement, and passion. Watching the handful of girls who joined us at the very beginning grow into their confidence and leadership abilities over the course of the year was the most rewarding part of this experience. In my passion and commitment to helping girls reach their full potential, I hope to inspire them to be leaders and changemakers in their own communities.
By Ashley Lane
Development Intern, Spring 2017