Books: Nourishing Words

Young Women Writing for (a) Change offers a supportive environment for its participants

Jul 26, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Tony Amato

(L-R) Emily Rock, Mary Margaret Fletcher and Sami Schalk discuss Activist Barbie.

We've all heard of the ubiquitous Barbie and her kindred spirits: Princess Barbie, Holiday Barbie, Olympic Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie, Flight Attendant Barbie ... the list goes on. But what about Activist Barbie? Or Fair Trade Barbie? Or Breast Cancer Survivor Barbie?

These dolls won't be on store shelves anytime soon, but they have one major thing in common: They were all designed and created by members of Young Women Writing for (a) Change (YWWfaC), a program for girls and young women entering fourth grade through the second year of college.

According to Jenn Reid, who directs the program, YWWfaC is about "giving girls the opportunity to develop and express themselves through writing."

The re-imagining of Barbie came about as a result of an art project during a weeklong summer camp program.

"We decided to redefine Barbie," Reid says. "We covered the boxes (the dolls) came in with words from women's magazines that were degrading. Then we took Barbie out of the box.

And instead of perfect, partly-clothed Barbie, the girls created Activist Barbie, Breast Cancer Survivor Barbie, Fair Trade Barbie and others."

The art project inspired writing, just as it was intended to do. The themes — body image and the media and the challenges of being a strong female in today's world — are heady and, according to Reid, the writing shows wisdom and strength beyond the physical ages of the writers. (Fifteen participants from the YWWfaC summer programs will be sharing their work at a public read-around from 6-7 p.m. Sunday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.)

Mary Margaret Fletcher has been a member of YWWfaC since the summer before her eighth-grade year. Now 17, she says that she has learned "myriad" things from her four years with the organization.

"I've learned that the most important thing a young woman can do is love herself by practicing internal and external self-care," Fletcher says. "There's a lot of stuff that we young women can get mired down in, and my relationship with this organization and these amazing women has helped me rise above that and stay true to myself."

Fletcher also believes that the themes she has explored in the program's writing exercises have helped her come to understand the importance of staying "healthy."

"The value of female relationships is something that YWWf(a)C really solidified my faith in," she says. "The importance of the mother line (and) of passing on the stories and experiences that are universal to all women, young and old. These things can bring such inner strength."

Besides learning how to become better writers and communicators, YWWfaC's programs assist girls in "developing safe and authentic girl friendships," Reid says. "We're trying to counteract the 'Mean Girl,' subversive and competitive friendship."

One way participants achieve that goal is through the use of Dream boxes and Dream envelopes. Each young woman decorates her own container and the girls write notes giving each other positive reinforcement.

"It's a way of forming a community," Reid says. "And it's safe for the introvert. Plus, (the young women) are learning to tell others what they value about them. They learn how important support is and how necessary it is to help a community grow."

It's a community from which Fletcher has benefited.

"I've learned the value of art, of creativity, as therapy," she says. "Whether or not your writing is 'good' is irrelevant here — it's about the process, it's about the energy, it's about telling your story and truly feeling safe and listened to. That's an amazing feeling."

Amazing for the participants and, Reid says, amazing for observers. Five women from each age group will be reading pieces on Sunday.

"Some people can get overwhelmed," she says, "by seeing young women with such confidence and pride writing pieces that are so authentic. Be ready to be amazed."

For more information about Sunday's public read-around or YWWfaC's writing programs, contact Jenn Reid at 513-272-1171.