OWN IT’s Impact on Tomorrow’s Women

By Caitlin Panarella

Though the 2017 OWN IT Summit came to fruition on March 18, the OWN IT team had been spreading the mission for several months prior.  The philanthropy sector of OWN IT created a workshop for high school girls entitled “Body Image and Identity” in partnership with Community Bridges, a nonprofit organization that “provides multicultural empowerment and leadership programs for diverse girls in Montgomery County, Maryland.”

Community Bridges and OWN IT share many similar ideals.  The OWN IT mission has four pillars: leadership, accessibility, inclusivity and feminism.  It seeks to connect the female leaders and trailblazers of the twenty-first century with the young women that admire and are inspired by them.  Integral to this mission are community outreach and philanthropy.

The OWN IT workshop was headed by Deputy of Philanthropy Sarina Jain and comprised of several volunteer captains, myself included.  It aimed to teach high school girls about what it meant to have a positive body image and how to identify dishonest media portrayals of girls and women.  This workshop targets and fosters a critical aspect of leadership: confidence.  Many girls and women experience imposter syndrome or feelings of inadequacy, inhibiting them from reaching their full potential.  While no one can be confident all of the time, we can all learn to know our worth.

“My hope is that the workshop was a way to start a more honest conversation about body image - one that acknowledges the unattainable beauty standards put forth by the mainstream media and one that allows for a more diverse conception of what a beautiful body looks like,” Sarina said.

Two of the goals of the workshop were to learn how the media shapes individual beliefs and cultural norms about beauty, and to become more mindful and critical of media messages about the ideal body image in order to challenge stereotypes and misrepresentations.  To accomplish these aims, we played several videos that revealed changing beauty ideals over time and the prevalence of Photoshop in magazines and advertisements.

Another goal of the workshop was to become more comfortable thinking and talking about our bodies.  To this end, we came up with two activities bookending the workshop.  In the first one, each girl (including the workshop team) wrote down an insecurity on an index card.  We then collected the cards and put them in a jar.  The second activity, done at the end of the workshop, consisted of creating “compliment cards,” where each girl wrote something they loved about themselves- whether it be about their body or another attribute. 

Needless to say, the second activity was more fun, hence the blank cards for the first and colorful decorations for the second.  We agreed, however, that both were important to show the girls that a) everyone has insecurities, b) there is nothing wrong with having insecurities, and c) that the key is to identify them and then to remember all of the wonderful things you love about yourself.  We told the girls to stick the compliment card somewhere they would see it every day, and just “own it.”

As I looked forward excitedly to the 2017 OWN IT Summit, I often thought about what the conference means to me and the impact it has had on my life.  I feel very fortunate, as I was able to attend OWN IT as a junior and senior in high school.  Helen Brosnan, one of the co-founders, attended my high school and invited a group of students to the summit.  For me personally, the impact of the conference was enormous; it changed my understanding of feminism and what it meant to lift up other women.

This year’s group of attendees from my and Helen’s high school made an appearance on the Georgetown University Snapchat, proudly shouting, “We’re owning it!”  The girls were able to participate in all of OWN IT’s conversations and become exposed to its mission firsthand. 

Though not every high school girl can attend OWN IT, outreach and workshops like Body Image and Identity enhance one of the summit’s key pillars, “accessibility.”  There is, clearly, a great deal of benefits to be had by teaching girls their value in the world, rather than waiting to deconstruct ingrained media stereotypes in college or even later. 

Sarina Jain expressed her hopes for OWN IT to maintain a partnership with Community Bridges and foster the Body Image and Identity workshop, such as through expanding to different schools or tailoring the workshop for different age groups.  Remarking on the OWN IT mission’s impact on girls, she said, “I think community engagement is hugely important to the mission of OWN IT, because what better way is there to embody the aim of women supporting and encouraging one another in order to develop the confidence necessary for leadership?”

Teaching is far easier than re-teaching.  Both inviting high schools to attend OWN IT and performing outreach through the philanthropy sector have proven to be efficacious in creating spaces for girls to learn valuable skills, as well as their own value.  OWN IT’s mission is universal, and hopefully more and more young women are exposed to it in the years to come.