“Why can’t I look like that?” I heard the teen girl in the coffee shop say to her friend while pointing to a picture in a magazine of a model so thin she looked distorted. “I know,” her friend replied with a sigh, “I mean, I know the model was probably Photoshopped but… she is perfect. I hate my thighs.”
This exchange took place in winter of 2014. A week prior to that, my own daughter, age nine, did not want to come out of the locker room for swim class because her thighs were “so big that they touched.” I was incensed. How many girls were obsessing all over the world about their thighs?!
It’s hardly news that girls pine over their appearance and make endless comparisons. What is new is how impossible it has become to protect girls from the onslaught of emaciated models, half-clad women grinding in music videos, girls and women “cat fighting” on TV, and celebrities Photoshopped to freakish perfection on Instagram.
Even if we could get girls to “unplug” from technology, they’d still be bombarded with media telling them to be thinner and “hotter” on highway billboards, building exteriors, sides of buses, and gas stations. The harm being done to girls is undeniable, and most of us feel powerless to stop it.
I felt compelled to do something, to at least try something.
So I used the media skills I’d gained from 25 years of making books, magazines, documentaries, and blogs to create a 10-week curriculum called MEDIAGIRLS, to be taught for 90 minutes once a week. The plan was to teach middle-school girls to challenge undermining and sexist media images, know their true self-worth, and create content that would make girls feel strong and good.
I piloted the program in summer 2014 in my town of Brookline, MA for eight girls, taking note of what they most enjoyed and revising along the way. They had much to say, and I learned even more after teaching the program at several Boston public schools. It was clear to me that there was a hunger, even desperation, for this information.
In 2015, I started teaching the curriculum to female college volunteers in Boston, starting with six young women. They brought their own passion for this cause to the classroom, and a fired-up determination to make things better for the next generation of girls. The middle-school girls loved having these “big sisters” looking out for them, and we continued to grow. We now have almost 40 young women teaching in fall 2018.
Game on. This is nothing short of a girl-fueled revolution to transform the culture of media. We want to see media that shines the spotlight on girls and women who contribute to the world through their decency, bravery, smarts, and other humor. If traditional media won’t do it, we’ll help girls and young women ban together to shine that media spotlight using their social media.
We hope you’ll join us!
Michelle, Founder and Executive Director MEDIAGIRLS