Empowering girls with positive messaging

Empowering girls is a popular topic for many parents who have young daughters. And one group of advocates, the Brave Girls Alliance, decided to take their cause all the way to Times Square in New York City.

"We wanted to find a way to reach as many people as possible while promoting positive messages for girls," said Jodi Norgaard, a mother, entrepreneur and advisory board member of the Brave Girls Alliance (bravegirlswant.com). And with Friday being International Day of the Girl, Norgaard said, the group thought it might be a good day to launch the movement.

The Brave Girls Alliance, which was started in May of 2013 by a group of women tired of gender stereotypes portrayed in the media and in toys, will post positive tweets and messages with the hashtag #BraveGirlsWant for six minutes per hour from Oct. 11 through Oct. 18 on a billboard in Times Square at the corner of 43rd Street and 7th Avenue. The goal, Norgaard said, is to raise enough awareness to make significant change in the way girls are portrayed in the media and in commercial products.

"The sexualization of girls and women has gotten so much more pronounced in the last decade," said Norgaard, who started the Go! Go! Sports Girls doll line in 2008 to promote self-esteem in young girls. "This isn't about saying 'Girls are better than boys,' it's about equality. Why aren't we encouraging women and girls to be strong and use what's on the inside instead of only focusing on what people see on the outside?"

Jennifer Hartstein, a family psychologist based in New York City who is also an advisory board member of the Brave Girls Alliance, said young girls are coming into her office with increased rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

"They are getting this certain message that if they don't look a certain way, they just aren't good enough," said Hartstein, who wrote the book "Princess Recovery: A How-to Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters." "Stop and think how you address a little girl when you first meet her on the street. You say, 'You're so pretty. You're so cute," and to a little boy, we don't do this."

Here are some tips on how to promote awareness and build empowerment for young girls.

Do a personal inventory.

"Notice what you do when you see actors and actresses on television or in magazines," Hartstein said. "How do you talk about those things in front of your child? Are you envious? Judgmental? Work on your own sense of confidence on your own appearance — flaws and all."

Turn it off.

"I know it's a lot easier to let your kids watch TV when they're bored, but when you aren't paying attention, they can be overwhelmed with negative messaging," Norgaard said. "Like Viagra commercials ... . Trying to explain that to your children is very difficult. We say 'I don't believe in this and I'm sorry you are inundated with all these commercials but if you have questions, please ask me.'"

Be responsible consumers.

"The kids will see a product on TV and they are whining and crying for it but don't buy it," Norgaard said. "Why would you bring a product into your household that you do not believe in?"

Take "thin" out of your vocabulary.

"Eating disorders are on the rise and eating disorder behavior is starting in girls as young as three or four, talking about how they feel fat," Hartstein said. "My sister-in-law was tracking calories on her phone and her daughter, my niece, said, 'I need to track my calories too, Mom,' and she is seven. We need to try to talk about being healthy and fit and strong and not about being thin and skinny."

It's never too young to start empowering.

"My daughter is 17 now but we started the dialogue with her about self-esteem and empowerment from when she was very little," Norgaard said. "She is appalled now when kids at school show their butts and dress inappropriately. She knows it's not appropriate. There wasn't even a discussion when she was younger. I think it's important for kids to express themselves but you don't want your kid to be sexy at a young age."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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