On Oct. 8, a news article in The American Prospect discussed the possibility of success for a new public health intervention. Interventions often carry heavy negative connotations, laden with proscriptions of what not to do, what to stop, or highlighting the negative.
With Mayor Bloomberg's new intervention in New York City, we are faced with a different type of intervention, a positive and uplifting intervention. One that gives hope and focuses on removing a burden of disease among youth.
The Girls Project is specifically designed to address and improve young girls' self-esteem and body image in an attempt to reduce the rate of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. You do not need to look far for the rationale behind this project; over 80 percent of girls are afraid of being fat by the time they reach middle school and between 40 and 70 percent of girls experience body dissatisfaction of some kind. Our image-focused culture clearly holds some of the blame, but rather than fighting the culture, Mayor Bloomberg decided to change it.
To do so, this project will target to girls aged 7-12 (a vulnerable age during puberty with so many body changes), reaching them from multiple mediums and helping them see a more accepting society. Primarily the intervention will be visual, by placing posters of young girls on subways, buses, and phone kiosks with inspiring messages such as “I’m a girl. I’m smart, a leader, adventurous, friendly, funny. I’m beautiful the way I am.”
By focusing on non-physical attributes, this poster campaign challenges girls to focus on non-physical attributes and understand that beauty can be a more encompassing term than just referring to superficial characteristics. The posters feature girls of all shapes, races, sizes, and abilities, highlighting the strong and positive qualities that they choose to define themselves.
Additionally, the project will use a new curriculum, “Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health, and Leadership,”piloted in two summer schools this last summer (with a positive response), that has been shown to have a positive impact on girls' self-esteem, body image, and body satisfaction. This year, it will expand to 200 after-school programs in NYC.
The third component of this multi-tiered intervention is a media class offered through The Paley Center for Media's K-12 program. This class is designed specifically to help empower girls through media literacy, by asking the girls to critically analyze media messages and images that are targeted at them.
This intervention is unique in its positivity, its focus, and the message of empowerment that permeates it. Eating disorders are certainly highly complex disorders influenced both by genetics and the environment we live in, so this initiative may not prevent all eating disorders or eliminate body dissatisfaction.
However, to quote Dr. Marney White, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale: “Even though the cost of the NYC campaign pales in comparison to the big-budget ad campaigns presenting the other deleterious, ‘you-are-not-good-enough’ messages, if the NYC campaign can prevent just a few cases of eating disorder, it would be well worth the economic investment.”
I could not agree more and look forward to what comes from this inspiring public health intervention.