VERSAILLES — Speak truth to yourself and others.
If there is a mantra to the Girl Project, that might be its distilled essence. In a series of exercises involving yoga, writing and drumming, a group of 16 girls Saturday learned how to express themselves and to challenge the misrepresentation of women and girls in contemporary media culture.
"We are expected to have perfect bodies, to be smart but not too smart," said Vanessa Becker Weig, co-founder and co-director of the Girl Project. "With Facebook and Twitter and constant images, you become so desensitized to it. This is the norm. Every woman is expected to look 25 with a perfect body and perfect hair."
Girls from Fayette, Jessamine, Woodford and Scott counties participated in the workshop at Woodford Theatre. Teaching girls how to share their stories and to talk about difficult subjects is healing, said Ellie Clark, the other co-founder and co-director of the Girl Project.
"And when you find that for yourself, you realize people begin to identify with you, and then you take on more responsibility, more like a mentor," Clark said. "'I look up to that person because they were willing to speak, and that gives me the heart to speak out, too.' So then they get to feel empowered by telling their story rather than feel whiny or 'feel sorry for me.'"
This is the second year for the Girl Project in Central Kentucky. Girls are introduced to female artists who lead bi-monthly workshops on dance, music and the visual arts. The workshops are designed to help girls create their own theatrical performance in late summer.
If people are willing to listen, teenage girls have a lot to say, said Christy Burch, arts and advocacy director for the Girl Project.
"And they have so much value to put into the world, and they are profound," Burch said.
During one exercise in collage storytelling, instructor Sully White asked the girls to weave together passages from literature, songs and other pieces that resonate into a single piece. Girls willing to share were asked to read these pieces.
Alexis McCourt, 15, of Lexington, weaved together lyrics from Gold Guns Girls by the Canadian band Metric with the poem Body Love by Mary Lambert. One couplet went like this:
You're more than a waistline
But it's never easy to accept that our bodies are fallible and flawed
Alexis said she looks forward to working with the other girls.
"When I come here, it's like a huge support system for me, so I love it here," she said.
Laiken Ross, 15, of Versailles, said the writing exercises were helpful because "they make me think more about how all girls have different perspectives on things, so if we can write down how we see things, then we can get eye-to-eye and figure out how we can help each other be strong rather than tear each other down."
In another exercise, the girls were asked to sit in a circle and pass a ball of yarn from one girl to the next. Each girl wrapped some of the yarn around her wrist and told of her personal connections: "I am the daughter of ... I am a sister to ... I am an aunt to ..." Then they tossed the yarn to the next girl.
When they were done, they had created a tight web — a powerful visual of the ties that bind despite individual differences.
"We all have connections," said Ana Isabel Castellanos Balderas, 17, of Lexington. "We're all aiming for the same thing, which is change: a change in the treatment of women."
Megin Harvey, 17, of Nicholasville, said she saw the workshop as a way to "inspire other people to not stick to the status quo and to break through to who they want to be."
"Today is learning about how to express ourselves," Megin added. "This is valuable to teenage girls because we face so much from the media. We're told we need to look like something or to act like something, and I think today is really about how to break through those barriers. As we build relationships with each other, we'll learn how to express those ideas and get other people to understand they are who they are, and that's okay."
For more information about the Girl Project, go to thegirlprojectusa.org.