City Unveils Campaign to Improve Girls’ Self-Esteem

City Unveils Campaign to Improve Girls’ Self-Esteem
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times DeVoray Wigfall, 12, right, with her mother, Twanna Cameron, 36, at City Hall.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
DeVoray Wigfall, 12, right, with her mother, Twanna Cameron, 36, at City Hall.

By Anemona Hartocollis,  New York Times
The fashion industry and Madison Avenue are not anathema to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the same way that soda companies and big tobacco are. But they are, in a sense, the impetus for City Hall’s latest public health campaign.

Mr. Bloomberg is taking on the popular, unattainable notions of beauty promoted by professional image-makers with a campaign that tells girls that they are beautiful the way they are.

Mainly through bus and subway ads, the campaign aims to reach girls from about 7 to 12 years old, who are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying. But unlike Mr. Bloomberg’s ads to combat teenage pregnancy, smoking and soda-drinking, which are often ugly, revolting or sad, these ads are uniformly upbeat and positive.

“I’m a girl. I’m funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, healthy, friendly and caring,” one ad, featuring DeVoray Wigfall, a robust, laughing 12-year-old from University Heights in the Bronx, says. The ads show girls of different races and sizes, some playing sports and one in a wheelchair. Each one ends with the campaign’s overall slogan: “I’m beautiful the way I am.”

City officials and experts in adolescent health said it was the first campaign aimed at female body image that they knew of to be carried out by a major city. Ads began going up on buses and in subways on Monday.

The $330,000 campaign, called NYC Girls Project, will also offer physical fitness classes for girls through the parks department, a pilot program addressing self-esteem issues for girls at 75 after-school programs, and a Twitter campaign, #ImAGirl.

A 30-second video will be shown in taxis, on YouTube and on the campaign’s Web site, which will offer resources for parents and girls.

The Paley Center for Media, in partnership with the city and Spark Movement, which works against the sexualization of women in media, has developed related programs that look at the representation of girls on television.

Christopher Ochner, a researcher of obesity, eating disorders and nutrition at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in Manhattan, said the ads could be effective because they offered a more realistic picture than “the media’s portrayal of ideal beauty, which is still this stick-thin, crazy-thin” standard. Average girls, he added, look at fashion models and say, “ ‘If I’m not like that, then nobody’s going to need me or love me.’ ”

City officials cited evidence in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing and elsewhere that more than 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, that girls’ self-esteem drops at age 12 and does not improve until 20, and that that is tied to negative body image.

The campaign was conceived by an aide to Mr. Bloomberg, Samantha Levine, 38, the mayor’s deputy press secretary, who is serving as project director. Ms. Levine said she had been moved by stories of little girls wearing body-shaping undergarments and getting plastic surgery to improve their appearance. She said she had also been galvanized by reading the advice columnist Cheryl Strayed, who said a failure of feminism was that women still worried about what their buttocks looked like in jeans.

“I think being a woman in this society, it’s sort of impossible to not be aware of the pressures there are around appearance, around weight, around trying to always look a certain way,” Ms. Levine said.

The idea so resonated among her colleagues that all 21 girls pictured in the campaign are the daughters of city workers, friends and friends of friends, who believed it was important to participate. None are professional models. All but one, who lives on Long Island, live in New York City, she said.

DeVoray, the girl in one of the ads, who aspires to be either police commissioner or the first black female president, said in an interview on Monday that some of her friends asked her if they were pretty. “I say you’re beautiful even if somebody tells you you’re not,” she said. “You have to keep your head up, don’t let anybody bring you down.”

Her mother, Twanna Cameron, a project coordinator for NYC Service, the agency that promotes volunteering, said she had eagerly stepped forward for the campaign. “I think every mom has those worries,” she said. “We can’t all be models, we can’t all be superthin.”

Categories: Headlines, U.S.
Tags: New York

About Author

Write a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*