Look in the mirror. Take your time. What is the first thing you hear from your inner voice?
One study reports that at 13 years old, 53% of American girls hear a negative voice, the National Organization for Women Foundation notes. That number jumps to 78% who are unhappy with their bodies by the time they turn 17.
Karen Palka, founder and executive director of Port Huron-based program A Beautiful Me, is trying to change those statistics one girl at a time.
“We want to reach as many girls as we can,” Palka says of her mobile program that first started in 2008.
Palka collaborated with a retired fifth grade school teacher to create the curriculum. As of early 2020, the program’s workshop and events have reached over 9,000 girls in south Michigan.
A Beautiful Me workshops and programs include interactive activities to develop self-esteem, its website notes. Each outcome-based workshop is facilitated through an upbeat environment of music and inclusivity – brought right to the schools.
A Beautiful Me’s signature offering, the “be-YOU-tiful” Workshop Series to Build Self-Esteem, is held after school for four weeks. It features weekly two-hour topics covering friendships and more.
This particular series teaches third-12th grade girls (a minimum of 20 girls must attend) for $100 per individual. The program is held at various venues.
Creating a supportive community
The program has over 150 volunteers and about six facilitators – and it’s always seeking more. The key prerequisites, the program notes, are a flexible schedule and a “heart for youth.”
“We will go into any county that we are called into,” Palka says, “but we have to work out how we will build facilitators in that community.”
Program facilitators meet primarily in schools in St. Clair, Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Genesee counties.
A personal mission
Palka started the program because she was one of those girls in the mirror – and didn’t like her reflection.
“I didn’t realize until I was 40 that I had value, and it had nothing to do with my work,” she says.
With two daughters, now ages 22 and 25, and son, 28, she aims to instill positive self-esteem at home, too.
Palka says A Beautiful Me is focused on fifth grade because of the fact that girls’ self-esteem peaks at age 9 and “goes downhill from there.”
“If our communities are to have good decision makers,” she adds, “we have to start when they are young – and not adult women.”
Palka says that she has taught girls all over the world. Looking ahead, she sees the program expanding into other states.
“I’m hoping we’ll be in Chicago or New York or Ohio, wherever we’re called to.”
It all hits home, adds Palka, who says she uses the program’s affirmations and tools herself, “all the time.”
“If I ever say anything negative to myself, my daughters remind me of what I do for a living,” she says. “We shouldn’t look in the mirror and find our flaws; we should find our attributes. Another key piece is to love yourself before we love others.”
A Beautiful Me is currently held in schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. The program offers self-esteem toolkits and is overseen by facilitators. Options are available for grades 3-12; the rate runs $20-$100/girl and the program requires at least 20 participants.