For the past year, 18 young women have been on a voyage of self discovery. As part of “The Girl Project,” participants have explored their feelings, their self-image and their attitudes to other people. The exercise is part of an effort to empower teenage girls. The resulting theater production is staged this weekend in Lexington
18 Teenage women have spent the last year producing pieces, inspired in part by the stresses they encounter every day. 15-year-old Catherine Hale is a student at Henry Clay High School in Lexington.
“The way that we have been portrayed is that we all have to be perfect. We all have to have stick straight hair or perfect curls, you can’t get in between with any of the things. You have to be perfect in every way,” said Hale.
‘The Girl Project’ came about through conversation between Vanessa Becker Weig and Ellie Clark. The two women, who have theater backgrounds, wanted an ongoing effort that helps young women build self-awareness and self-esteem. Clark says many have a hard time coping with the popular media’s image of the ideal woman.
“Every image you see of women is highly sexualized, objectified and I think that gives eating disorders, over eating and under eating, it gives the chance for bullying, it gives the chance for self mutilation. Girls punishing themselves for not fitting a mold that is unrealistic,” said Clark.
Clark says 18 girls initially came in for an audition-interview and none could be turned away. Then of the last year, they met with teaching artists. Becker-Weig says the result is a series of poems, delivered as performance art woven together into a 75-minute production.
“Some are strong writers, some are strong dancers, some are strong actors, but what’s really wonderful about this piece is that all of their voices are being heard in one way or the other,” added Becker Weig.
Too often, 15-year-old Madison Nau says young women dodge these issues. Instead of considering them, discussing them and confronting them, Nau says they raise their hand and evoke the common catch- phrase “Don’t judge me.”
“We just kind of shield ourselves by saying that, before hand or after hand, just so we feel like more secure about what we’re saying or how we feel about things,” said Nau.
In talking with these young women, more than one said, the Girl Project began for them with an interest in theater and ended up being something much bigger. 16 year old Dejah Garner attends Lexington’s School for Performing Arts.
“I think now I’ve definitely come to realize that being a part of this is really important because it is like a movement. It’s like we’re activists and that makes me so happy,” explained Garner.
It’s not a new phenomenon, but achieving the so called ‘right’ appearance remains utmost on the minds of many young people. 16 year old Emma Becker also attends the School for Performing Arts…
“Trying to fit in constantly with all the other girls, you know you have to have the right brands. You have to have the ugg boots, the Northface jacket and stuff like that to fit in with the girls and if you don’t have that, then you’re judged and you can’t be in the friend group, but then also of course there’s the issue of the guys, trying to impress the guys you know, being unique trying to show off who you are and what you have to offer,” said Becker.
And 15 year old Alicen Abler says some females feel pressure to impress both guys and girls.
“There’s really like not one or the other. I mean sometimes girls dress a certain way to show up other girls. I mean it’s just catty, it’s really nasty. And then you also like showing off to guys. I mean it’s really an equal thing,” said Abler.
These girls agree teenage boys also face heavy pressure and unrealistic expectations, but 16-year-old Amelia Gjancarlo suspects her male peers may feel it in a different way…
“And we’re all very insecure about how we look and we’re all on diets and all that. But, the men aren’t. They can eat the double cheeseburger and they’re fine. I think that lots of men do suffer from the same self esteem issues that we do, they just perhaps do not express it in the same way,” said Gjancarlo.
The girls saw a lot of what is wrong with popular culture in last week’s explicit performance on M-TV of “Blurred Lines” by entertainers Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke.
“Oh Miley Cyrus, How I used to love thee…If you are a Disney star, then you get painted in this innocent light, it’s hard to break, but I don’t think you need to break it really, being innocent is something that it’s not a bad thing….and I can understand that she’s an adult now, but that is, if anyone told me is the reason she’s acting this way is because she is an adult now, that is complete crap,” said Garner,Hale, and Gjancarlo.
Organizers Ellie Clark and Vanessa Becker Weig hope to carry on ‘The Girl Project in the years ahead. They want to expand it beyond Lexington and further diversify participation.