Hadassah's GirlForce Program builds self-esteem.
Jewish News Intern
n today's culture of designer clothing
and toothpick-sized models, young
girls are becoming more and more
susceptible to developing a negative self-
image. Add to this the bullying and name
calling that runs rampant at school and
you have the recipe for disaster.
At a time like this, Hadassah's GirlForce
program comes as the perfect remedy to
help young girls make the transition to
middle school with good self-esteem and
the skills to stay fit and healthy.
Hadassah's GirlForce-Beyond the Mirror
program is designed for girls aged 10-14
to promote high self-esteem and a posi-
tive body image for a healthy generation
of young women. Through knowledge and
experiential learning in physical fitness,
nutrition, body and media image, bullying
and labeling, GirlForce works to empower
young girls to be proud of themselves.
On Aug. 9, volunteers from Hadassah
led the 21/2-hour interactive GirlForce
program for 63 campers, ages 10-12, and
12 counselors at Tamarack Camps. While
the Hadassah volunteers, including educa-
tors, dieticians, a rabbi, dance instructors
and psychologists, ran the program, the
counselors served as cheerleaders and role
models for the girls.
"We learned that Jewish kids, when they
went to summer camp, felt so good about
themselves — they were natural, unique,
had no self-consciousness and felt good;'
said Sue Luria, past president of Hadassah
of Greater Detroit. She was the impetus for
bringing the program to Detroit.
"While at camp, they made fun of the
girls at home that were conforming, were
all wearing the same clothes, who were
materialistic. They called these kids JAPs.
They were associating negative values
with Judaism, and it was important to
separate the negativity about these values
from Jewish values and Jewish identity."
The program began with Amy
Friedman, owner of Studio A Center for
Performing Arts in Commerce Township,
who asked campers in small groups to
share their favorite thing about them-
selves. Friedman told the girls it isn't just
your pant size or your looks that make you
beautiful, but it is your personality as well.
Next, everyone was given a piece of
paper to write down something they
weren't so proud of. They were told to rip
up the papers and throw them out, that
those things shouldn't hold them back and
don't define who they are.
September 22 a 2011
Abby Maroko, 20, West Bloomfield, leads a small group in a yoga session.
"GirlForce speaks to issues important to
women of all ages:' said Shirley Robbins,
chair of the GirlForce program. "This
program is just as relevant for me and
my peers as it is for my daughter. A lot of
us have daughters who have body image
issues, and some of us do, and I think it's a
relevant and powerful message."
As the girls went through the discussion
sessions, they were all interested and eager
to participate. In a discussion about body
image and self-esteem, the girls looked
at an image of a woman's silhouette. The
girls responded with how it made them
feel. Responses included "grossed out:'
"naked" and "embarrassed."
Next, the girls looked at images of
celebrities, including Serena Williams,
Ashley Tisdale and Mary-Kate Olsen. They
defined Williams as beautiful because
she is strong and powerful. Tisdale, who
is thin, blonde and wears all designer
clothes, was criticized for trying to fit a
label. The girls realized after looking at
Olsen that some people grow up too fast
and that you shouldn't value how you look
as much as who you are as a person.
"It's crucial to get to them young
because the media sends such a power-
ful message," Robbins said. "They have
no idea how the pictures and things they
see are so manipulated, and they have to
be aware of it. There is so much negative
media that we have to provide something
that counteracts it."
Before moving on to the next discus-
sion, campers took some time to get mov-
ing with yoga, party dancing, hip-hop,
aerobics, poms and team games with help
from Hadassah volunteers and assistants
at Studio A. With music blasting, everyone
had their heart rates up as they learned
different ways to stay fit and have fun.
Discussing labels and individuality
came next. Each person had a sticker
placed on their back with words like
"dork,""four eyes" and "drama queen."
They were told to treat each other like they
would treat someone with that label.
"They automatically go to mean places
because they assume that's what the
instructions are, but I never say that to
them:' Friedman explained. "Just because
someone is labeled some way, it doesn't
mean anything about who they are or how
"We try to get them as young as possible
so they make the conscious choice not to
put labels on each other. It's OK to have
identifiers, like 'dancer' or 'likes science;
but they don't have to define you. They are
Counselor Rachel Pleasant, 18, said she
believes it's important for girls to experi-
ence the program.
"At first, they're a little nervous but they
quickly get used to the positiveness of this
program, and they enjoy every minute
of it:' she said. "They'll be talking about
it for another week and then tell their
parents. I have kids from last session who
are still talking about this program. I keep
in touch with them and they tell me how
they apply it to their life back home, and
that's really special."
Cara Lash and Shayna Brown, both 11
and from Huntington Woods, felt good
about themselves at the end of the program.
"It was really fun because I learned
about my health and what I should eat:'
Lash said. "I learned that I should eat
healthier and be active, and that it's good
to show your body image, but not to
Brown added, "We did a lot of fun activ-
ities, and this will really help with life."
The program, which first ran in late 2005,
now runs throughout Metropolitan Detroit
at Temple Israel and Temple Beth El, Hillel
Day School and at Adat Shalom Synagogue
(also for congregations Beth Ahm and B'nai
Moshe). Program organizers would like to
expand their reach to Congregation Shaarey
Zedek, the Jewish Parenting Institute and
the Birmingham Temple.
Adat Shalom's Rabbi Rachel Shere sees
the importance of these lessons through
the Jewish lens. She spoke with campers
about ahavat chinam, love without reason,
and about strengthening oneself through
the love of others.
"The Torah's wise words, 'Love your
neighbor like yourself' teach that when we
feel a sense of peace with who we are, we
are more compassionate and accepting of
others',' she said. "When we are not happy
with ourselves, we often become critical
and judgmental of others." f l
Campers with labels still on their backs discuss "Defeat the Label," an activity they