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Making Space for Girls, Part 2

A common question that people often ask me is why I started Dandelion specifically for girls. So, this Fall I have been taking the time to write a series of blogs outlining why I founded Dandelion specifically for girls, and how Dandelion’s programs support girls to unleash their full potential.

In the first post, I wrote about the need for girls to have space to identify and exercise their boundaries (If you didn’t catch it, you might what to check it out) ​

Another equally important reason why I decided to focus Dandelion’s programs on girls is because girls need a place to celebrate their bodies not for what they look like, but for what they can do.

Bodies hold a lot of shame in our culture – especially for girls

I think that in our culture, the body is a vessel which often holds a lot of shame; and research shows over and over again that girls are profoundly impacted by our culture’s treatment of their bodies, even at a very young age. We have known for decades that the majority of girls experience a significant decline in their confidence around the age of 9, largely because of the pressures over what they look like. This impacts girls in so many ways. For example:

  • Studies have found that 50% of girls in grade six are dieting – and almost 60% of girls in grade 10.
  • Over 70% of girls between the ages of 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities when they feel badly about their looks.
  • And there are even more terrible statistics like these:​ ​One study recently found that ​6 out of 10 girls stop doing something they love during adolescence because of anxiety over their appearance – and over 80% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat!
  • I could go on with even more statistics and research, but what it comes down to is this: girls are bombarded with images, even at a very young age, of how they should be cute, thin, sexy and pretty. Body image is a big problem in our society, and these messages contribute to problems like depression, social anxiety and eating disorders in girls and young women.

    Dandelion girls dancing in the snow

    A space for girls to see their bodies differently

    When I decided to found Dandelion as a non-profit and charity, I already knew from firsthand experience the impact our culture has on how girls perceive their bodies. Girls I had known since they were young children would often share with me that they felt too fat, too tall, too something​, and that they were embarrassed by the way their bodies looked and moved.

    Some girls shared that they experienced these negative feelings about their bodies daily. In fact, almost all the girls I worked with had told me by the time they reached adolescence that there were times when they felt their body was “wrong” and that their body was not beautiful. It seemed to be almost a fact of life that feeling poorly about their bodies is the mode in which far too many girls live.

    Dancers reaching up To me, this just wasn’t acceptable. With so many pressures facing girls, I decided to set up Dandelion Dance. ​I imagined a space where girls could use their bodies – the very thing that so many girls feel negatively about – as the tool that would empower them. ​​The process of using the body to explore and inspire others is a deeply powerful, life-shifting experience.

    At Dandelion, not only does each girl begin to see her body differently and celebrate it as gift, but she also conveys to others how she sees herself as well. In this way, not only does Dandelion support that individual girl to see herself differently, but the wider culture also shifts as a result of the fact that our audiences get to see girls of all shapes and sizes feeling good about themselves and owning their unique beauty.

    How do we get there?

    Well, it’s not just about telling girls they are beautiful. It takes more than that. It’s something that has to grow from inside. A positive body-image needs the time and space to develop, in a haven away from social media and popular culture. Girls need a space that is emotionally safe, where they come to know that they won’t be teased, left out, or seen as “less than” because of their looks.

    At Dandelion we provide that space. Our teachers are trained to set up environments that create the emotional safety needed for girls to feel welcome and comfortable in who they are. In our classes, we have no mirrors. Girls can come to class in whatever dance clothes make them feel good. Our classes are full of many types of bodies, and girls learn to celebrate all the ways we are beautiful. As a result, when girls come to dance with us, they get to simply experience movement from the inside out. The focus is not on what they look like, but on who they are and what they have to share.

    We also take the ideas of the girls and young women in our programs very seriously, especially when it comes to how they see themselves. By now, you have probably heard about our Unapologetic Beauty ​project, and the ​awesome tour and workshops ​our Performance Company is running in schools across Ottawa ​(you can also learn more by checking out our Performance Company Director’s blog post, here!.

    You might also want to ​watch and share the documentary yourself.​ It’s only 17 minutes – but what a powerful 17 minutes it is. It is honest. Real. Challenging. Hopeful. And beautiful. Every time I watch it, I am reminded of why I opened Dandelion, and the need for this space for girls.

    A haven for every girl

    Girls hugging It’s incredibly moving for me to see that my hopes for carving out a space for girls to feel good about their bodies – to CELEBRATE their bodies – has come true. Dandelion is that space.

    Girls come to Dandelion and find a haven away from a world that often makes them feel like they are only here to be looked at. We provide them a special place to just be themselves.

    And this is important: once a week, with the mentoring of supportive teachers and a great community, girls get to dance their hearts out together, discovering from the inside out what beauty really means – and then, they get to carry that knowledge and confidence with them as they go back into the world.

    Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, Making Space for Girls, Part 3. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section BELOW!

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