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Female Empowerment
This week's update by: doc
Last week's feature Worst Movies of 2003
In recognition of Women’s History Month, here are some tips and story ideas from the University of Missouri-Columbia that focus on issues pertaining to women.
‘Girl Power’ empowers young women with self-esteem Program addresses body image concerns

By Jessica Eastwood (Jessiekitty) Staff Reporter

College girls are being empowered with knowledge, acceptance and freedom of individual body types with the help of 33 female NIU students. The group of students are working together through “Girl Power,” a volunteer program that aims to address eating habits and body image concerns. Ricki Giersch heads the program, which recently put on a 45-minute multimedia presentation for girls.

Each of the NIU students will mentor one of the girls. Starting in February, they will travel to Clinton-Rosette to spend an hour a week with their mentees, helping them through a workbook titled “Working as a Team to Enhance Eating Habits and Self-Esteem.” The mentoring will continue for three months, with meetings with girls chosen randomly from a pool of about 200 voluntary applicants.

A research team, supervised by Holly Orcutt, an assistant professor in the psychology department, evaluates the program at its completion. Giersch, a health education instructor at NIU, proposed the pilot “Girl Power” program six months ago and brought the idea to Clinton-Rosette.

“Whether girls see movies, TV shows or magazine pictures, they definitely recognize an emphasis on a certain body type. But the reality is that less than 5 percent will attain that idealized image,” Giersch said. “Not everyone is over 5’7” and under 120 pounds with perfect proportions. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.”

The cost of the program so far is about $1,700, Giersch said. Counseling and Adult Health Education and other sources have contributed money. The mentors are not compensated financially, but many receive internships or academic credit for their work.

“It’s good for the college girls, as well as the younger ones,” said Kathryn Zook, a mentor and sophomore elementary education major. “There’s a lot of focus in the media on being thin and perfect, but I know guys myself that would rather not date a girl who’s rail-thin.”

Melissa Kent, a mentor and a junior health education major, said young girls may develop eating disorders and other problems that she wants to help prevent.

“I hope I can have a positive influence,” Kent said. “We want the girls to feel better about themselves and not to be so concerned about what others think.” Girls try to look and act older than they really are, said Denise McLindon, a sixth grade counselor at Clinton-Rosette.

“Clothes have definitely gotten more revealing over the years,” McLindon said. “You can’t find clothes that aren’t trashy. All these young girls feel so much pressure to fit a certain model of looks.” Boys who are curious about what the girls are doing are asking to participate in a similar group, McLindon said. Giersch eventually wants to implement a program that would involve boys.

“I think boys do face body image concerns, but we have to start somewhere,” Giersch said. “Right now, we chose to work with girls because they’re targeted by the media.”

From Marilyn to Twiggy: The History of Squeezing, Tucking and Padding

Women pore over the pages of fashion magazines in an attempt to learn how to mimic the look of their favorite actress or teen pop star. However, Laurie Mintz, associate professor of educational and counseling psychology, warns that society’s ideal female body type can change as quickly as the hemline.

“In the 1890s, women wore false thighs and hips to create the curvy, voluptuous look, but by the 1920s, they were opting for clothes that would create a boyish figure,” Mintz said. “In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe’s 5-foot-6, 140-pound body was ideal, while in 1967, women longed for Twiggy’s 5-foot-7, 91-pound frame.”

Mintz says that a variety of factors, including politics, can influence what our society perceives to be the ideal body type.

“As feminism was coming to the forefront of American politics in the 1960s, Twiggy’s tiny, fragile figure was at the height of its popularity,” Mintz said. “This frame may have been popular because it made women appear very non-threatening, even weak.”

Mintz encourages women to avoid spending long periods of time looking at their reflections, which makes them more likely to find flaws. She also recommends that women avoid comparing their bodies to other women’s, and accept that everyone has a unique body type. Mintz currently is involved in research on interventions aimed at preventing eating disorders among college women.

Girls Gain Science Savvy Through MU Workshops

National studies have shown that girls begin to lose interest in the areas of science, math, engineering and technology around the fifth grade. Professors at the University of Missouri-Columbia are taking extra steps to help change those statistics for the better.

Meera Chandrasekhar, professor of physics, has developed a program for girls in fifth through seventh grades who are interested in learning about physics. “Exploring Physics” is a series of eight 90-minute learning sessions that takes place for four weeks. During the program, girls conduct hands-on activities that introduce them to the basic concepts of matter, sound, energy, optics or electricity.

“We want to show girls that physics can be fun and it can be used in a variety of ways,” Chandrasekhar said. “We help build their mechanical and building skills, familiarize them with laboratory equipment and show them how science is used in everyday life.”

In addition, Sheryl Tucker, assistant professor of chemistry, has created a “Magic of Chemistry” program to introduce mid-Missouri junior Girl Scouts to the world of chemistry. During the workshop, about 200 Girl Scouts perform science experiments, which include learning how to tie-dye, the chemistry behind the tie-dyeing process, and making silly putty and slime. More than 1,100 girls have participated in the workshop since its inception in 1998.

“The workshop is designed to ignite the girls’ interest in the field of science and chemistry in particular,” Tucker said. “We hope that performing hands-on experiments and seeing women scientists in action will inspire the girls to explore science as a possible career choice.”

Opening Doors to Female Engineers

Rose Marra, MU assistant professor of information science and learning technologies, and Barbara Bogue, director of the Women in Engineering Program at Penn State University, are working to strengthen a group of programs across the country that are aimed at encouraging women to pursue engineering careers.

About 50 Women in Engineering programs around the United States support women studying to become engineers. In addition to working with both female undergraduate and graduate engineering students, these programs also have assisted engineering faculty by providing information and techniques to foster inclusive classrooms. Women in Engineering programs also work with K-12 female students to educate them about the opportunities available in engineering and encourage them to study math and science.

With the help of a grant provided by the National Science Foundation’s Program For Gender Equity, Marra and Bogue are studying five Women in Engineering programs and will use this sample to create standardized assessment tools and measurements. These tools and measurements can then be used by organizers of Women in Engineering programs across the country to determine what methods are most effective in encouraging women to pursue careers in engineering.

“Women in Engineering programs constitute a key link in our nations’ efforts to increase the number of practicing engineers,” Marra said. “The purpose of this grant is to provide these programs with much-needed tools to improve their activities as well as attract funds that can help to maintain and increase program offerings.”


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