"Real girls are never perfect and perfect girls are never real."
That was one of the messages Das'Ja Sanford, Tozjae Smith, Camille Stevenson, and Gabby Turner recently shared with 7th and 8th grade female students at Our Lady Rosary School as part of their Senior Capstone Project. Their Capstone focused on the stereotypes social media portrays of women.
"It was important for us to talk to middle school students because it's their growing time," said Turner. "Especially now, they have a lot of social media thrown at them. I think this was the best time to tell them what they should and shouldn't do, and what they can do as a woman."
"I think it was important to show them that it's okay to be themselves," added Stevenson. "You don't have to look or act like the women you see in the media. Middle school is a critical time for change and you start to look and feel different, so I want them to go through that process in a positive way."
The seniors said they began creating their idea for this project last year in their religion classes.
"In Mr. Mominee's class, I was surprised to learn how fake the media can be," shared Sanford. "It is really brain-washing girls to make them think they have to be something that doesn't even exist."
Smith noted, "Last year, a group of us made a song about this topic to show what society thinks women should be like."
During the presentation to the younger girls, the seniors shared real-life experiences they have encountered through social media.
"We wanted them to see that we have gone through the same struggles as them," Stevenson explained. "Hopefully, they took away the idea that they are made in God's image, and this alone makes up their value and worth. No magazine or Instagram post should have a negative influence on how they see themselves."
"Social media has really changed in the last few years," observed the group's mentor, Kary Ellen Berger. "I am sure five years from now there will be another social media platform that hasn't even been created yet. The thing that will not change, though, is social media's negativity and social pressures."
As part of their presentation, the seniors divided the middle school girls into smaller groups for more intimate discussions about false portrayals on social media.
"We wanted to let them know it's OK to be themselves," said Smith. "If they have self-confidence at a young age, they will be able to handle pressure they may face in high school."
Sanford added, "I wanted them to know they can do anything and they don't have to post something online that is fake. I wanted them to walk away feeling comfortable with their morals and their beliefs and being able to post that instead."
At the end of the presentation, each middle school girl was given a post-it note to write an encouraging statement about themselves. The girls were prompted to write statements using #Iam and #weare. Some of the statements the girls wrote were #iambrave, #wearestrong, and #iamgoodenoughfortheworld to name a few. The girls then shared their statements with their classmates and put their statement on a poster board. Later, the girls received a bag filled with treats that had an empowering quote on the front.
"I want the girls to be more confident in who they are and be inspired by us," said Turner. "I would say we're pretty confident with who we are and we want them to be confident with who they are."