Nothing is more inspiring to me than a young girl who has found her strength and confidence, and has a healthy self-image. Which is why I'm so proud of New York City for launching its new NYC Girls Project, a public awareness campaign designed to remind girls, ages 7 to 12, that self-esteem isn't built by slipping into a pair of designer jeans or cool shoes, but by celebrating who they are inside.
Not since we at the Ms Foundation launched Take Our Daughters to Work in 1993 has there been such an exuberant celebration of what it is to be a girl.
"I'm a girl. I'm adventurous, friendly, healthy, curious, creative and brave!" cheers one poster featuring a young girl with sparkling eyes and a radiant smile. Never mind that she's seated in a wheelchair; and never mind that the other girls in the campaign posters -- which will appear on busses, subways and phone kiosks throughout the city -- wear eyeglasses, or carry a little extra weight, or sport hairdos and outfits that are less than "stylish." These girls look confident and happy because, as all of the posters announce, "I'm beautiful the way I am."
The $330,000 campaign is not just a feel-good exercise -- it's a way to fight back at a culture that's becoming increasingly perilous for young girls. According to the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, more than 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are worried that they're fat; and by the age of 12, their self-esteem begins a downhill slide that does not reverse itself until they're about 20...if ever. This kind of negative body-image can lead to host of dangerous behaviors -- from tobacco and alcohol use, to eating disorders, to bullying, to sexual promiscuity.
The bombardment of high-gloss fashion ads and TV programming that feature young girls who are over-glammed, underdressed and impossibly "perfect" feeds this unhealthy cycle. But the campaign beautifully answers the negative effects of the media by featuring real girls in the posters who are the daughters of city workers or friends of friends. And none are professional models.
The brains behind the campaign -- 38-year-old Samantha Levine, the deputy press secretary to Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- is as upbeat and positive as the young dynamos who appear in her posters. She is also very hopeful about what her campaign can achieve.
"We want girls to take away the message that their value comes from their skills, their character and their attributes and not their appearance," Ms. Levine told Allyson Byers of LeanIn.org. "We want to reflect back to girls everywhere the images of themselves, with the message that they're beautiful the way they are."
So three cheers Ms. Levine, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and especially to all the young girls who appear in this remarkable campaign. You are all beautiful, indeed!
Click on the slide show below to see some of the girls who appear in the posters. We've also included some facts provided by the NYC Girls Project that reveal why the campaign was launched. [All posters courtesy of New York City Office of the Mayor.]
81 percent of girls would rather see ‘real’ or ‘natural’ photos of models than touched-up, airbrushed versions, yet 47 percent say fashion magazines give them a body image to strive for. -- Girl Scouts of the USA and The Dove Self-Esteem Fund
By middle school, 40-70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body, and body satisfaction hits rock bottom between the ages of 12 and 15. -- “Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice,” Thomas F. Cash and Thomas Pruzinsk
People who feel discriminated or stigmatized against because of their weight were two-and-a-half times more likely to become obese, regardless of their actual weight. -- “Perceived Weight Discrimination and Obesity,” Angelina R. Sutin and Antonio Terracciano
48 percent of girls wish they were as skinny as the models in fashion magazines, and 31 percent of girls admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight. -- Girl Scouts of the USA and The Dove Self-Esteem Fund
35 percent of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20-25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. Eating disorders typically begin in adolescence or early adulthood. -- “The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances”, International Journal of Eating Disorders, C.M. Shisslak, M. Crago and L.S. Estes
Obese children were 63 percent more likely to be bullied regardless of gender, race, family income, social skills, academic achievement, or school composition. -- “Weight-Based Victimization: Bullying Experiences of Weight Loss Treatment–Seeking Youth," Pediatrics, Rebecca M. Puhl, Jamie Lee Petersen and Joerg Luedicke
Teenage girls often start to smoke to avoid weight gain. -- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; “Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General”
Young girls who dieted had three times the odds of being overweight five years later compared with girls not using weight-control behaviors. -- “Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later?" D. Neumarksztainer, M. Wall, J. Guo, M. Story, J. Haines, and M. Eisenberg., Journal of the American Dietetic Association
The risk of teenage motherhood is raised – by up to 50 percent – among teenage girls with lower self-esteem. -- "Teenage Pregnancy: An Overview of the Research Evidence," Nice.org, Catherine Dennison
Teenage girls with low self-esteem are twice as likely to report alcohol use. -- “Fact Sheet: Girls and Alcohol,” CasaColumbia.org, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
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