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on October 22, 2013 at 10:20 AM, updated October 22, 2013 at 11:59 AM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- From Barbie’s unrealistic body proportions to magazine covers with flawlessly Photoshopped images showcasing the super-skinny, young females have been pushed to conform to a narrow standard of beauty for generations.
Today’s crop of girls seems to have even more pressure to be all pretty-n-perfect, constantly bombarded by all the images of scantily clad women that dominate the Web, and “thinspiration” blogs featuring anorexic-looking models as motivation for young dieters not to stray.
Recognizing the harmful effects such messages can have on girls’ self-esteem, two local initiatives are trying to show young females that their self-worth is not tied up in their physical appearance.
NYC GIRLS’ PROJECT
The first comes from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office. Called the New York City Girls’ Project, the recently launched public health campaign is designed to help young females “recognize that their value comes from their character, skills and attributes — not appearance.”
You may have spotted the bus and subway ads starring amateur models of different races and sizes with messages like “I’m a girl. I’m funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, healthy, friendly and caring,” along with the tagline: “I’m beautiful the way I am.”
An eight-week self-esteem curriculum also is being rolled out at after-school programs across the five boroughs for girls ages 10 to 15.
In workshops led by trained professionals, girls will be discussing topics like healthy body image, the media’s portrayal of women and the attributes of positive role models.
Seeing how many girls struggle with self-esteem, Ingrid Ebanks says she “jumped on the opportunity” to bring the Girls’ Project to the Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) Beacon Center at Dreyfus Intermediate School, Stapleton.
The director of the Beacon program observes that it’s not just physical appearance they grapple with, but also getting out of their comfort zone. She notes they seem afraid of failing, and also concerned about getting their peers’ approval before attempting anything new.
STAND UP & LEAD!
That’s exactly the kind of insecurity that Lindy Crescitelli and George Anthony address in their Stand Up and Lead! program, an initiative that helps young people develop leadership, communication and conflict resolution skills, which they have presented at schools throughout the five boroughs and beyond.
Sponsored by the United Federation of Teachers ‘Brave’ campaign and organized by the Sisterhood, a women’s coalition, the free conference will “address issues that impact their self-esteem, leadership development and communication skills.” Rosanna Scotto, co-host of “Good Day New York,” and Kaitlin Monte, Miss New York State 2011, will be featured speakers.
Crescitelli says it promises to be a spirited day where girls of all ages and backgrounds will share their experiences in a safe, nurturing environment.
“It’s very interactive,” Crescitelli says, noting attendees will collaborate in smaller groups to discuss the issues plaguing girls.
THE ROLE OF BULLYING
From what Crescitelli and Anthony have heard from students who’ve participated in previous events, cyberbullying can have a devastating effect on their psyches — which is why they believe self-esteem issues go hand in hand with anti-bullying efforts.
“They are constantly being critiqued about their body, their hair, the way they talk, the way they dress and on and on,” Crescitelli says.
Noting the verbal abuse starts as early as kindergarten, he adds, “It’s very painful to see the self-doubt already forming [at that age].”
And if that self-doubt continues to build, he warns, it can lead to more serious problems, such as eating disorders, self-mutilation (cutting), depression, sexual promiscuity and a shyness to express one’s self.
Crescitelli concludes that igniting a fire in girls can benefit us all.
“When they feel great about themselves and we empower young ladies in the community to be all they can be,” he says, it strengthens our community as a whole