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Lauren Berninger Headshot

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

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In the same day I asked two young girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. The one girl grew shy, looking at her feet and shrugging. "I don't know how to do anything," she said. The other girl, without a moment of hesitation, said a single word: famous. Famous for what? That seemed to be a non-issue. These moments confirmed my suspicion, that this next generation of girls has no concept of how they should affect their future world or why they should want to.

When I was 18 I founded Finding the Fabulous, a non-profit that connects 8-12 year old girls with high school and college role models, who are actively engaging in their lives to break down stereotypes and build up confidence. Motivated by statistics that say that 70 percent of girls will avoid normal daily activities like going to school or giving their opinion if they don't feel good about the way they look, our annual summer camp and monthly outreach programs target the core causes of diminished self-esteem, inner beauty, body image and ambition.

Rather than your standard, over-the-counter confidence, we build a dynamic sense of confidence on three levels: Individually, girls learn how to cultivate their strengths, explore their weaknesses and confront their insecurities. Collaboratively, girls learn to appreciate the diversity among them and how important it is to glean from each other's perspectives. And communally, girls participate in projects and discuss ideas on how they can help bring the confidence they have developed to other people in their communities.

The vision of Finding the Fabulous is that a supportive community constructs the space for what educator Maxine Green calls "creating significant encounters." Too many girls feel defined by what they lack, rather than who they are purposed to become. Why? It's not rocket science. We forge personal relationships between our girls and our counselors... we know who was up late watching the Kardashians, we know who has a secret boyfriend, we know who's feeling pressured to text embarrassing pictures, we know whose mom was crying that morning.

This feeling of lack is what leads to the teen suicides, eating disorders and pregnancies prevalent in our culture. But what if the 1 in every 5 girls who has no one to talk to found someone? What if every girl knew that someone expected great things of her? What they say is true: it doesn't matter what you know, it's who you know. And when we can connect young girls to future mentors and employers before they become another statistic, that is truly a significant encounter.

From creating your own brand name by "accessorizing" with the right qualities to meeting the founders of The Smart Girls Group, who advocate that everyone is smart in their own way, our art, media, acting, career and vision workshops are designed to inspire the confidence and perseverance for girls to write their own stories. I believe that your ambition is in direct correlation with your ability to express and represent your life narrative. Our fabulous philosophy -- that uniqueness should be inspiring, not inhibiting -- perpetuates that the self, rather than a definitive set of declarations, is an evolving amalgamation of influences and experiences, whose life narrative should reflect such multiplicity.

What does that mean to an 8-year-old? Mirror, mirror on the wall... to become 'the fairest of them all' is a challenge that every girl must accept or reject. We want our girls to understand the power of choice. Every day when they wake up, they must choose to be fabulous in spite of their doubts and fears. Rather than being told who to be or what to look like, we ask, "What do you wish people would see when they look at you?" We give each girl the opportunity to exercise her multiplicity by playing several roles in her life narrative:

1. As a THINKER, a girl has the capacity and owns the right to recreate herself, regardless of her past.

2. As a READER, a girl doesn't just read words, she reads the world. In reading the world, she understands how to affect the interdependent relationship between experience and environment.

3. As a WRITER, a girl transcribes several transparent layers of readings: deconstruction, reconstruction and meditation, that complicate her own perspective.

4. As a CONTRIBUTOR, a girl participates in collateral learning, which fosters social change.

Positioning themselves as thinkers, readers, writers and contributors, our girls begin to shift their focus from me to we. Our Finding the Fabulous motto, B.L.O.O.M. (Be yourself. Love who you are. Open up. Overcome. Make it happen.) is a daily reminder that when we channel our energy into encouraging ourselves and others rather than focusing on our flaws, a positive voice becomes a vision; that vision becomes a mission, that mission becomes a purpose. And a purpose is what makes focused students, productive careers and fulfilled people.