about Respect Rx

RESPECT co-author, Courtney Macavinta, blogs for girls and women about how to build your self-respect and spread respect for all! At The Respect Institute she teaches people of all ages how to integrate The Respect Basics into their lives, work and advocacy. More about About Courtney

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Abuse + Harm + Violence, Girls

Chris Brown and Rihanna: It's Not Just Drama

Hot Topic

Chris Brown and Rihanna's case have made dating violence a big story again. It's a good time to make sure every girl, boy, man and women understand the cycle of violence.

Dating violence is not spicy passion or drama. It's violence. Whether it's heated, mean words, threats, intimidation or a punch to the face. It's violence. And violence hurts the victim and abuser. And it creates a long line of hurt in our hearts, families and communities.

I've mentioned this before on Respect Rx: My first memory in life is of my mom getting a severe beating from my dad. Both my parents were victims of child abuse. Both were caught up in the cycle of violence for a very long time. It rocked our family and held everyone back in one way or another. (I talk about it here in this video.)

Domestic violence weakens us all. It's hard to know that it is happening some times and how to stop it. It comes up all the time when we are working with girls and women at Respect Rallies or retreats. 1 in 5 teens who have been in a serious relationship report being hit, slapped or pushed by a partner. That's why I want you all to at least know what the cycle of violence is.

The cycle of violence goes something like this:
Tension builds and the abuser is verbally abusive ->
The abuser explodes and beats you up or commits rape ->
They abuser say he/she feels bad, are sorry or even buys you presents ->
You are afraid to leave or beaten down emotionally and stay ->
It starts all over again…Kids who witness the violence may become abusers or victims too.

If you need help right now:
Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or check out their website.

Love is Not Abuse is another helpful site.

Also, please check out:
Pages 143-151 in RESPECT. We cover the whole range there and offer resources and journal exercises.

More tips and help:
Abuse, Violence, Self-Harm

Whether you are the victim or abuser, you need help. Please reach out. Including to me.

Girls, Social Change + Activism

Girls' Rights Week!

If all girls had their rights, how would the world be different? Girls Inc. is celebrating Girls' Rights Week. Check our the Girls' Bill of Rights, videos and more here!


Family, Girls

My Parents Don't Trust or Respect Me


My parents don't trust or respect me. They seems to think that I must respect them at all times and that respect only goes one way. They yell at me, make consequences more severe than is necessary, and don't let me hang out with my guy friends who have long hair and wear black. How to I get them to respect me and get them to be trustworthy too?

Rx: You're right: Respect should be a two-way street in any relationship. One great way to create more trust with your parents, is to ask them some juicy questions...

Trust and respect are both very important in order to have a healthy relationship with anybody, especially your parents, that is why both you and your parents must work hard to obtain that. If you sit down and talk to your parents (make sure that it is the right time and place to do so) when you are both calm, you can let them know how you feel so they can start to get to you know better. This requires for both you and your parents to keep the communication flowing both directions. So don't let them do all the talking.

For example, ask them:
-What makes you concerned about my guy friends?
-Or what can I do to earn your trust?

Then make some requests about what you want. It never hurts to try! NOT in the heat of the moment, say something like:
-It hurts my feelings when you yell at me. How can we talk this out so we both feel good about it?

Also start to share more with them about your life—let them in. Their tough rules might be coming from a place of love AND fear. If you let them get to know you better, they might trust you more. Like, if you start talking to them about your day and how your friends treat you (with respect, of course!) or what you're passionate about.

Respectful communication takes a lot of time and hard work to establish, but if both your parents and you are willing to build a strong relationship it is definitely worth it!

Also, check out more advice on how to speak up here!
and in the Family chapter of RESPECT.

Advocates, Follow Your Passions, Girls, Journaling, Women

Your Last Lecture (Essay Contest!)

When I was 15 and hating on myself and defiling myself and barfing and blacking out on the weekends—AND also having lots of fun and being free (ah the paradox)—I couldn't picture the future. The good news: I was in the "now." The bad news: My "now" was frequently hanging out in the disrespect zone. I couldn't picture who I'd be in 5 years—let alone in 5 months. I wasn't strongly attached to a vision or dream for myself. So that meant I was lost and losing myself.

And when I did meet and pursue my first big dream (going to college to become a journalist), self-respect started to bloom. And so did I. And now the world is better for it. And I can say that about myself and you should too. I say own your power because there is too much we are powerless over in the meantime.

I think when we can have a little meet and greet with our future self (who we'd like to be and already are deep inside) we can reveal our passions. Which helps us see what's important to us. Which can trigger our goals. Which allows us to move forward to create the life we want and fulfill our many callings. And it's fun.

Here's where I'm going with this (VIDEO follows!)...

Today a very beautiful person died: Randy Pausch. Randy was a Carnegie Mellon professor who I learned about when he was featured on Oprah. Dieing of cancer, with three-to-six months left to live, he delivered what has been coined "The Last Lecture." It was an assignment from Carnegie Mellon. Professors are asked to create and deliver the last lecture of their lives, the question: What would be your message?

Pausch's lecture, which would in his case be his "last", is a funny and inspiring talk about how he followed his dreams (BEFORE his diagnosis) and lessons learned. (It's also now a book.)

Watch his Last Lecture now:

When you're done watching, I want you to write Your Last Lecture. You don't need Powerpoint. You don't need to be a so-called writer (please people, I have misspelled my own name!). Here are some steps to get you started:

#1. Sit down, close your eyes, and picture yourself 5, 10, 20 years from now. What are you doing? How awesome are you? What dreams have you lived out? What's next for you? What have you learned? What's your impact on the people around you and our world?

#2. Write about your future self. How cool is she?

#3. Now that you're a bit more tapped into your greatness and abilities, write Your Last Lecture. Not into writing? Make a video or podcast message instead. What's your message to other girls, women and the world?

WIN IT! If you post Your Last Lecture below as a Comment, we'll send you a cool goody bag. We promise not to fall asleep and drool. These are some lectures we actually want to hear!

Advocates, Girls, Programs, Self-Respect + Self-Esteem

The Bay Area Girls Rock Camp

From Atlanta to Oakland, last week amazing orgs I work with shifted the world by empowering girls who in turn empowered each other. I'm so proud of the founders of the bay area girls rock camp who just completed their first-ever week of camp in Oakland! 60 girls. 13 bands. The world on fire! The showcase on Sat. was amazing. Girls as young as age 8 formed bands. They learned how to play instruments—many for the first time. And they let their voices be heard. Loudly! Along the way, they flexed their power and found the support of an amazing community. The women who volunteered all week told me they were transformed (of course!) and that is was the best week of their lives. Here are the awesome rock-and-roll PHOTOS by Lori Paladino.

Advocates, Girls, Programs, Self-Respect + Self-Esteem

uniquely ME! Leadership Institute

Sorry to be off the grid! I was in Atlanta last week facilitating the uniquely ME! Leadership Institute, which is a Girl Scouts of the USA program. Thirty girls ages 13-18 from more than 15 states came together to discover their inner beauty and who they are as leaders, to connect what they learned back to their communities, and to take action to empower other girls to raise their self-esteem. I learned so much more about what happens when you create an inclusive, safe space for all of us to be ourselves. From there the power and life-changing experiences just flow.

There also was a team of more than 40 adults from the Girl Scouts to amazing people in Atlanta who helped make the institute happen, including the team at Treesounds Studios. The girls got to meet so many amazing role models (so did I!) and even got to write and record a hook for a song for a 19-year-old amazing artist (more about her later!) who is coming on to the scene. They also learned about going green and creating social change. Mostly they learned about themselves and each other.

Here is the hook the girls created and recorded with their partners at Treesounds. It really says it all about who they are and what happened for them during the week:


So many of the girls said it was the first time they'd been with a group of girls where there was total acceptance of one another! The tagline of uME! is "You can change the way you look, or you can change the way the world looks at girls!" Nuff said.

Hi girls! Miss you! Love you! xoxoCourt. This is for you (and our power playlist is below!):

I'll write more about the week and the women behind it tomorrow. But in the meantime, I wanted to send you some shout-outs from the girls who will lead us all to a better day:

I have learned so much this week. Not only about myself, but that I'm not the only person who has gone through the same stuff. I want to say thanks to everyone who helped and participated in the first uMe! Leadership Institute!! I feel as though I have so much to bring back to my community from my experiences. I will never forget these moments.
Elizabeth, 17, Georgia

When I first came to this program, I expected to come home with just the knowledge of how to help others raise their self-esteem, but brought home so much more. From attending this phenomenal program, my self-esteem level rose and I have so much more confidence in myself. I also brought back a bunch of new and close friends. This was a truly unforgettable experience.
Isabelle, 16, California

I have learned so much about myself during this week, it will help me in the long run. Courtney is a really big help for what I was going through. I want to say thanks to all the help that everyone has given to me.
Megan, 17, Arkansas

The uniquely ME institute is the beginning to my path in life. I have learned so much at the uME Institute and have met wonderful lifelong friends. Being a Girl Scout has opened me up to the most amazing opportunities. I am very excited to go back to my community and start empowering young women. I believe that this is a woman's world and people just don't now it yet.
Allie, 16, Colorado

The uME! Institute is a wonderful program and every girl or even woman should participate in this program. It's wonderful and all the leaders have recently been elected to my Wall of Inspiration. The women who I am talking about are Courtney, Leanne, Christina, Lesley, Sharon, and can't forget Sabri-bri. The are wonderful and every one should participate this program changed my life in a week I'm sure it will change yours too. Pleaseeeeeeeeee join this program—it is life changing and you can discover the real person inside of you. The real you. The uniquely u.
DaJana, 13, Kansas City

uniquely ME! is an amazing program for young girls! I love that Courtney has been here with us teaching us to love ourselves and others. She is a stellar person! I think every girl or woman should have something as great as this in their life. I have met so many amazing people and learned things that I will take with me forever. During this institute I have learned to respect my body. I just really admire all the ladies that have been working with us. (The boys too =] ) Everybody has been really cool about everything and not judgmental which is what every young girl needs in her life. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to come down here it's a privilege to do this. I've made new friends that I will keep for a life time. =]
Tabetha 16, Illinois

The Uniquely Me program is an inspiring program for young women/girls. We learned how to love ourselves for who we are. I think that this program should be spread to every young girl so that they may learn to love themselves for who they are and not by what they see on tv. Everybody has been great here, they all have supported everyone. I made friends here that I will be able to keep for a lifetime. They are all great!! I also loved all the leaders that have been here helping us. They were all absolutely awesome! I had a awesome time!
Shannon, 14, Colorado

What I loved about the girls is that they taught me to speak up about my feelings. If i couldn't do it at their age, they have given me the courage to do it at 25. I am ready, to be complete.
Sabrina, 25, uME! leader

Advocates, Girls, Social Change + Activism

Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda

Download this report by the Center for Global Development and read it cover to cover. Excerpts:

• One person in eight—900 million—is a girl or young woman age 10–24.

• In many places girls and young women do not enjoy the basic rights of voting, cannot inherit land, are subject to female genital cutting, and do not have the right to stop unwanted sexual advances or gain justice. As the world seeks to fight poverty and respect fundamental human rights, girls remain nearly invisible to those in positions of power—and yet it is only through major and sustained improvements in the condition of girls that the world will reach its goals.

• Girls undertake much of the domestic labor needed for poor families to survive: carrying water, harvesting crops, tending livestock, caring for younger children, and doing chores.

• A sixth of the world’s young people live on less than $2 a day, including 122 million girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who live on less than $1 a day.

• One-quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18. And 14 million girls ages 15–19 give birth each year. Adolescent girls are up to five times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than women in their 20s, and their babies are also at higher risk of dying.

• Nearly half of sexual assaults worldwide are against girls ages 15 and younger, and girls ages 15–19 in developing countries are at a particularly high risk for physical and sexual violence.

• Around 59 percent of HIV-positive adults in Sub-Saharan Africa—the worst affected region in the world—are women, and 75 percent of infected youth are girls ages 15–24.

• This report takes as a starting point that the wellbeing of girls matters, above all, because they are individuals with inalienable human rights. Nearly all countries are now legally bound to respect, protect, and fulfill women’s and girls’ rights as set out in two treaties: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. But in many countries and communities girls and young women still experience discrimination and abuse, and many of the public policy measures introduced to redress these issues are not enforced.

"Most important, girls matter because they are human beings. Girls have equal rights to human dignity, self-determination, freedom from violence, good health, education, and participation in economic and political life."

This report offers many powerful recommendations. Read them. The broad agenda includes three key actions:
1. Count girls. Disaggregate data of all types—from health and education statistics to the counts of program beneficiaries—by age and sex. Doing so will make girls more visible to policymakers and reveal where girls are excluded.

2. Invest in girls. Make strategic and significant investments in programs focused on adolescent girls, commensurate with their importance as contributors to the achievement of economic and social goals.

3. Give girls a fair share. In employment, social programs, protection of human rights, and all other domains ensure that adolescent girls benefit equitably. In many cases this will take explicit and deliberate efforts to overcome household and social barriers.

Another recommendation that hit home with us:
Creating safe spaces for girls: Recognizing the value of social networks and access to mentors for girls and young women, civil society organizations (including faith-based organizations) can play a critical role in creating and maintaining safe spaces for girls to congregate, share information and ideas, and obtain support and guidance. Safe and supportive spaces are a vital preventive measure for girls at risk of HIV or sexual violence.


Queue the music...

Report by:
CGD vice president for programs and operations Ruth Levine; Cynthia Lloyd, senior associate with the Poverty, Gender, and Youth program and chair of the Bixby Fellowship program at the Population Coun­cil; Margaret Greene, director of the Population and Social Transitions Team at the International Center for Research on Women; and Caren Grown, economist-in-residence in the Department of Economics at American University.

Advocates, Girls, Sex

Teen Pregnancy Pact?

Hot Topic

The media has been buzzing about a "let's get pregnant!" pact apparently made by at least 8 out of the (she says matter-of-factly) 17 pregnant students at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts, according to Time magazine. Update: A week after the story broke, there is much dispute about whether the pact was real or not. Even so, 17 girls pregnant at one school?! Does it matter if there was a pact?

I'll make a confession that only my inner circle of girlfriends from high school has known until now. Eighteen years ago, I made my own sex "pact" when I was 15-years-old. I made the pact the summer before my junior year of high school. It wasn't a pact to get pregnant. It wasn't a pact to stay a virgin. But it was a pact to lose my virginity alongside my BFF on a camping weekend.

We went camping with two 18-year-old men. We even made them dinner. We wore our cute Contempo Casual ensembles and then we took leave to our separate tents. At least her partner was her long-time BF. Mine was a guy who'd showed me minimal attention (being rude and dismissive), taken me to a dance (a last-minute invite), and chased after my friends in front of me (and everyone else in school). And the "pact" experience sucked so bad for me that I swear I remember thinking—at the moment it was happening—I'll never be the same after this.

And I wasn't. Not because my "precious" virginity was gone. But because I had hit the no-self-respect-aholic's equivalent of ROCK bottom.

I knew at that moment that I was treating myself like trash and I was getting the same in return. This is easy to do when you basically believe you are trash. I spent almost three more years making it worse for myself.

I was caught in a disrespect spiral that hadn't started with that pact. Just like we all know this Gloucester H.S. baby boom process started long before those girls got knocked up or Juno hit the big screen with her quick whit but slow-thinking when it came to birth control. New mom Jamie Lynn Spears is not to blame either (timing wise these girls aren't far behind her on the way to the delivery room).

Like I'm sure is true with the Gloucester 17, a sexual choice triggered by having next to no self-respect took me time to cultivate (even with my environment speeding things along). And even from the thin analysis were getting of their environment, it sounds like I have a lot in common with the girls of Gloucester. As do girls everywhere I go. I hear a story like this a week (or dozens when I'm the road speaking)—of a girl wanting to get pregnant or having unprotected sex or abusing drugs and alcohol or dating guys who could give a rat's ass. Or just hating herself and not really knowing why.

And this all comes from a place in a girl where she hasn't connected to the truth: that she is valuable no matter what kind of feedback the world is giving her. So she (in this case a gaggle of girls) settle for a senseless pact (whether explicit or not) in which the fine print (that life is about to get even harder) is written in invisible ink.

When you don't have great expectations for your 15-year-old self, doesn't a Target registry, baby shower with your BFFs and a little bundle of love start to look good right about now?

My pact didn't lead to me be becoming a young mother but it did lead to a long, drawn out rock bottom that became a cornerstone of my ultimate turn-around. That camping trip is one of the main reasons I co-wrote RESPECT. And it drives my mission to support girls and women in building their own self-respect and creating change so that all people get the goods. (Even if like me you have to build it back all the way from the bottom of a nasty tent in the woods where you just surrendered your last shred of dignity). Or even if you have to build back from a pact that led to 17 babies being born into the class of 2008-2009.

So this is a "hot" story. Everyone will be asking WHY? And a good number will cast these girls like thoughtless, malicious morons (insert newscaster voice: One girl even had sex with a 24-year-old homeless man to conceive.). And update as of 6/26: Now it appears the pact might have not even been real. No matter: Lets look at the impact of the girls' situation on all of us (does it really matter which ones made the pact or if it existed at all?). And let's look harder at ourselves. Recent data shows that the teen birth rate is on the rise for the first time in 15 years. Gloucester H.S. you're not alone. Along with comprehensive sex education, self-respect is a commodity that needs to be nurtured now in every one of our communities, homes and hearts. And in every girl. And in those 17 fathers who will no doubt NOT be the main focus of the national pregnancy pact media frenzy. And in those 17 babies who will be here soon.

Here's what it comes down to as put so well by one girl quoted in the Time article that first reported the pact:

Ireland, 18, gave birth her freshman year and says some of her now pregnant schoolmates regularly approached her in the hall, remarking how lucky she was to have a baby. "They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally."

And Ireland’s observation also reveals the true solution:
What if every girl knew how to make that "someone" herself?

This is why I get out of bed every morning. To make a different kind of pact—a Respect Pact—the new default setting for all girls and women. And for me.

More Info >
The 7 Respect Basics
Sex: The 7 Questions
Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Emerging Answers 2007

Advocates, Courtney's Blog, Girls, Social Change + Activism, Women

Yep, You're a Leader

I've been working on two major leadership thing-ies:

1. The Girl Scouts USA uniquely ME! Leadership Institute (which I'm facilitating July 7-11 in Atlanta). I've been reading through the girls' applications. And, well, if you want to have a good cry while your heart fills with hope and admiration for your fellow girls (and our future leaders), come on over to my house and have a read!

2. Respect Rx. We're taking steps every day, every minute to create powerful event programs and trainings for girls and women and their advocates. We're growing rapidly thanks to the Jens* and other amazing women like our new accounting guru who doubles as a passionate high school music teacher. And thanks to my coach Sharna Fey. And thanks to the supportive coaches I train with at The Coaches Training Institute. This leadership stuff takes a village, people! As it should.

It got me thinking about what kind of leader do I want to be? What kinda leader am I already? I believe we all lead. The question is: What are we leading ourselves and others toward?

When it comes to what kinda leader you want to be, you don't have to copy archetypes you've seen in action: Trump, Bush, Gates, your current boss, your current principal, your mom:). That said, high-profile-role-model pickings can be slim if you want to learn from someone who has walked your walk. Women account for only 2.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs and 16.4% of Congress members. And of those Congresswomen, only 20 women are women of color.

That said, to me, a leader doesn't have a fancy title and the paycheck to go with it or be elected or be able to pass me toilet paper under the bathroom stall because we share the same gender. You don't need someone exactly like you who came before you to pave the way for you to lead (not that it doesn't help!). At the end of the day, we all are already leaders. And if you feel you don't fit the so-called mold or don't know how to break it, then paste this quote Sharna sent me next to your bathroom mirror:

Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

This week's Juicy Question: What kind of a leader are you? And what are you leading yourself and others to**?

*This is not a new rock band:) Jen Jones and Jen Davidson and Jen Uribe are on Team Respect Rx.
**Hey, MLK said it's OK for me to end a sentence with a preposition.

Courtney's Blog, Girls, Media

My Super Sweet Sixteen

Oh, My Sweet Sixteen. It was a botched surprise party with, I think, a greasy box of Fast Pizza Delivery (FPD). I did pass my Driver's Test. I got marked down for driving too slow. And I remember I got a dental-floss thin gold bracelet in a Mervyn's box from my not-really-my-BF-but-I-did-anything-to-get-his-attention "date." He soon dumped me. Oh, how Super.

But really, turning 16 was the best. Driving. You know, driving. But now that's all changed. I've discovered another kinda sweet 16 standard. My *Super* Sweet Sixteen. You know it. I thought MTV's manufacturing-desire-machine could never get to me. But after two years of watching this show, I too have succumbed to the pressure. Now I'm DEMANDING, with tears streaking through my Mystic Tan, that my father—OK, THE Father—throw me a lavish Super Sweet Sixteen do-over to be THE party of all time. Here's the plan:

The Invites: Oprah passes out my invites from her Wildest Dreams Bus. The invites are contained on a Mac Light that plays a rap video message from dad—the big guy—inviting guests to attend my party. Or else. In the video, Kanye spins beats in the background and Beyonce drops it like it's hot. Among the guests: Barack AND Hillary. Joan of Arc. The Buddha and Miley Cyrus. My BFFs Janell and Heather. Not invited: You. I have all the power, b-yatches. Don't hate.

My outfit: I'm fitted with a hologram coating that displays the retro couture masterpieces of all time. My gown "changes" every 5 mins. including the best-of Audrey Hepburn. Grace Kelly. Jackie O. Marilyn. Carrie B.

The locale: The moon. Heaven is played out. Sorry, DAD. No one has EVER had their Super Sweet 16 on the moon. Holla. Our space shuttle is covered in Swarovski crystals. I take pilot lessons from Neil Armstrong (mortality is not an issue when dad is the O.G., people) so I can fly the shuttle myself. If this doesn't impress my friends, nothing will. But wait, there's more. Once we're at zero gravity, we drink Cristal out of tubes also covered with Swarovski crystals. There is no drinking age outside the atmosphere. CNN has a live feed of the party. North Korea lifts their media ban for this special event. Holla. We'll eat sushi made out of organic ice and air. Every nation will launch nuclear bombs into space in unison so that my guests can enjoy some massive fireworks. Oh, from the moon we'll project my custom logo, C-ME, on to planet Earth for all to witness. While we're at it: Swag bags for all of humanity. I'm sure all those "poor" kids will love the Magnolia cupcakes and LV dog collars for their teacup pups. I'm trill like that. At some point the Martians come by and crown me their ruler. Boring. As the finale, dad creates a new planet called, duh, Courtney. MTV pimps my planet. And as the encore: Oprah passes me the reins. (She is bigger than dad and He gets this.)

Our surprise musical guest...
...is Tupac. He doesn't have to supply a lost joint from beyond the grave because Dad has resurrected him just for my party. (No disrespect. R.I.P.). American Idol skips Season 7 and instead Seacrest names me Your Next American Idol (whatever, he's just trying to have a presence). That said, my present from Madonna, aside from crediting me with her entire career, is all proceeds from her future concert and record sales. I give her a sigh for her quaintness. So she offers up her children. They work for me now. So do Brangelina's brood. They are, like, so cute. I make Shiloh my new pet, but then I forget her on Mars. OMG!

For the after-party we travel through the centuries in a time-machine made from a Hummer limo (so we'll blend in when we get back home—that's class).

The gifts? Back on Earth dad texts the sun and freezes time so me and my friends have the chance to raid Rodeo Drive and Barneys and Paris Fashion Week for whatever we want. Boring. But then I get the best gift of all. Presented in a small, blue Tiffany box—you know the one—is a shiny, one-of-a-kind pink and yellow diamond encrusted locket engraved with my logo. Inside: The entire universe.

And my first act as master of the universe?

To stop the madness.

Advocates, Girls, Parents, Sex

Youth Risk Behavior Survey

National, state and local YRBS studies are conducted every two years among high school students throughout the United States. These surveys monitor health risk behaviors that lead to unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco, alcohol and other drug use; and sexual behaviors that can lead to unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. The surveys also monitor high school students’ dietary behaviors, physical inactivity, and the prevalence of obesity and asthma. More than 14,000 U.S. high school students participated in the 2007 National YRBS.

What did the CDC find after looking at the 2007 data? Today's high school students are less likely to engage in many health risk behaviors than high school students in the early 1990s. I'm glad to know that many teens are not taking a page from me and my friends' book (hi, class of 1992—glad we made it out alive!). In all seriousness, though, there are still some real rough spots. Especially when it comes to Latino youth, under-age-13 sex and condom use.

Interesting Finding #1: First-time teen sex is down among white and black teens. HIV/AIDS prevention education is up. But the survey also found an increase from 2005 to 2007 in the percentage of teens having sex before age 13. Among sexually active teens, 61.5% reported using a condom during their most recent intercourse, down from 62.8% in 2005 and 63% in 2003.

Rx: Sex isn't about will you or won't you. Come on! Teens deserve our respect and that means comprehensive sexual education including communication skills and how to use condoms and birth control and how to get tested for and prevent STDs and how to talk to some supportive adults before you jump into the hook-up pool.

GIRLS: A good start is The 7 Questions, then read everything here, then find a trusted adult to go over your options with...Here's a hint: Your mom. Planned Parenthood staff. I know, I know not everyone has a mom like my mom—she was a real straight shooter that one. Probably because she had a kid her junior year in high school. She gave us comprehensive sex ed. at home, in the car, at the dinner table, in front of the TV. I probably told my friends about The Pill and Waiting Til You're Ready and Boys Who Want to Get A Notch on Their Belt when I was 8. So I knew the facts. But with my self-respect on the fritz, I still needed to talk to my mom and reach out for support. I made a lot of mistakes because I didn't reach out. So think about it: Who can you turn to for a honest conversation or two or 500?

Interesting Finding #2:

Hispanic students remain at greater risk for certain health related behaviors and have not matched the progress made over time by black students and white students in reducing some sexual risk behaviors. Hispanic students were more likely than either black students or white students to attempt suicide, use cocaine, heroin or ecstasy, ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, or go 24 hours or more without eating in an effort to lose weight. Hispanic students were also more likely than both black students and white students to say they did not go to school on occasion because of safety concerns, were offered or sold illegal drugs on school property or drank alcohol on school property.

Rx: I'm Latina. Not that I need to say that for permission to speak. But look, I see this going on with the girls I work with and in my community and in my family. Of course, it's not the whole story and I don't have all the answers. But I will say this: We need more self-respect-building investment in our Latino youth. Like all teens I want to see Latinos having real opportunity to thrive (jobs, college, family planning, free speech, equal rights, a vision for their life and the ability to make it happen) vs. being left behind and disregarded (prison, unplanned teen pregnancy, restricted rights, gangs, profiling and families being destroyed by addiction, deportation, and the list goes on and on). This doesn't just happen in the Latino community, but this study does confirm that we are struggling big time.

Some action items for advocates (and girls)...

Partner with Latino youth to make changes: Organizations like Girls For A Change don't try to "fix" Latina girls, they ask them what needs fixing. The innovative ideas that girls share spark social change projects that the girls themselves lead and complete. So take GFC's lead and find a way to partner with teens to change the status quo! They have the ideas and you can provide the coaching and network to help them see it through. Along the way, their self-respect and vision for themselves grows. You'll grow too. We need to call ALL teens up to leadership. Especially those who are struggling and who fall under this study's concerning findings. They are invaluable assets. Please invite them to the problem-solving table.

Invest: Back organizations like Eastside Heroes. They are sending kids to college, feeding hard-working parents in need and giving hope and role models to lots of kids where I live. Just one man started this organization and is making a powerful impact. Also in California, teens can apply for the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Program. Then there is the CCNMA, which gave me two scholarships that enabled me to transfer to San Francisco State University and ultimately become the first person in my family to graduate from college. I was just reminded of this and just sent them a check myself today (really, I just licked the stamp)! Or donate to another scholarship organization that enables kids who have NO resources to complete their education and become self-aware, visionary leaders in our society. College isn't the only way to break these cycles, but it's a darn good start.

Prevent teen pregnancy and STDs: I just met the National Campaign's Latino Initiative team in D.C. and they are working to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy from a place of respect and care. Read the research, check out the recommendations and get involved. The National Campaign also published a guide, Emerging Answers 2007, that has research and findings about programs that reduce teen pregnancy and STDs. Please check out this guide to bring a program to your area or get linked to an effective one that's already opened shopped. For more on what we need to do about sex ed. see the Rx under Finding 1 above! There are more resources on StayTeen.org.

Listen and learn from gang and drug prevention task forces and organizations in your area: From my life experience, these issues go hand-in-hand with limiting the potential—and lifespan—of Latino youth. Every org is different and has a different tact. So find the one that matches your values. I'm sure we can all connect the dots to how this impacts us all and every family you'll ever meet if you dig deep enough.

Strengthen families: Latina teens are obviously a part of families. I was! We need to be holistic and compassionate with the whole family when we are trying to empower youth. Health care, child care, education, legal assistance, fair wages, drug and alcohol recovery, safety, respect, inclusion in the political system. The list goes and on and on. For starters, look at what is going on in your community to help people living below or barely above the poverty line. Get involved. Get to know your neighbors zip-code wide. My heart always bubbles over when people in my neighborhood get behind a family in need. Our hood is like a United Nations that includes real people too. Yes we have Congresswoman and we also have advocates like me, single moms, day laborers, new immigrants, fifth-generation and beyond, college students, clergy, CEOs—you name it. When s*** hits the fan over here, the neighborhood mobilizes. And along the way another group of neighbors plants flowers and plans BBQs for the whole area. So honor your values. If you're like me, they include viewing all people as equals and as your extended family members. When someone needs extra support, you throw your weight their way.

Latino youth—and all teens—need this now. So let's show them we value them.

Advocates, Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Girls, Parents

Girls and Sexual Harassment

Hot Topic

A new UC Santa Cruz study found that 90% of girls—that's 9 out of 10—report experiencing sexual harassment at least once.

After polling 600 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 from California and Georgia, the study found that sexual harassment was going down in the form of:

**receiving inappropriate and unwanted romantic attention, hearing demeaning gender-related comments
**being teased about appearance
**receiving unwanted physical contact
**being teased, bullied, or threatened with harm by a male

From what I'm told by the teen girls I meet all over the country, this rings all too true. And sadly, the numbers haven't improved from decade-old studies. That said, the total number of instances-per-girl was down according this study. What isn't clear to me is if the researchers looked at girl-on-girl or girl-on-boy harassment—girls, parents and teachers tell me this behavior is on the rise, too. And let's not neglect the fact that the sexualization of girls (and the rest of us) along with girl-bashing is a centerpiece of tons of media and so-called entertainment.

More from the study and tips for girls, parents and girl advocates:

"Sexism remains pervasive in the lives of adolescent girls," said Professor Campbell Leaper, who led the study. "Most girls have experienced all three types of sexism--sexual harassment, sexist comments about their academic abilities, and sexist comments about their athletic abilities."

The study also found that:
• 76 percent of girls said they had received discouraging comments about their abilities in sports.
• 52 percent said they'd received discouraging comments related to their abilities in science, math, or computers--three areas Leaper focused on because of the persistent gender gap in academics.

Leaper's study tries to identify the factors that predict whether girls will recognize their experiences as sexism. Recognizing when sexism occurs is a crucial first step toward overcoming discrimination, she says. “Otherwise, it is more likely that individuals attribute failure to their lack of ability rather than to the obstacles in their environment," adds Leaper.

I agree. Knowing how to call out sexism, objectification and harassment is the first step toward girls breaking through many unhealthy "girl culture" norms that harm girls and hold them back.

Here is a major point from the study:

Girls who had learned about feminism through the media or from people in their lives, including mothers and teachers, were more likely to recognize it than girls who had never heard about feminism. Also, girls who felt pressure from parents to conform to gender stereotypes perceived more sexism than other girls.

We can make an impact. Here are some tips for girls, parents and girl advocates:

Know your rights: We were inspired to write RESPECT in large part because of all the disrespectful stories were were hearing from girls about harassment and bullying. RESPECT Chapters 11 and 12 cover girls' rights, define harassment and inspire girls to create change.

Set boundaries: From gossip to back-stabbing to nasty sexual insults, we all need to work on our boundaries. Here's how to speak up, get help and report harassment. And here are more tips on dealing with "slut" rumors.

Flirting or Hurting? Not sure? Take the quiz to find out.

Spread respect. How does sexism, harassment or girl vs. girl gossip make you feel? Share your experiences with each other. Talk about how these forms of violence—and that's what they are—hurt girls, guys, parents and girl advocates alike. In what ways does this behavior hurt the perpetrators too? How can we make a change in our homes, schools and community? How do our media role models and favorite shows deal with harassment or perpetrate it? And how can we carry ourselves with more respect and respect for others to challenge this unhealthy norm? List 10 things you can do and do them!

Check out some of the amazing projects from Girls For A Change Girl Action Teams for more inspiration:

* The girls of Team 12 are taking a stand against sexual harassment in their community. They have produced a video that depicts several characters experiencing sexual harassment. They believe that by showing what people go through when they are sexually harassed, it will challenge people to rethink how they treat each other. The team also received Yahoo!’s “Purple Act of Kindness” award and were given video and editing equipment to complete their project. The team took a field trip to Yahoo! where a team of professionals taught them video production techniques. The final video will be shown at various schools around EPA and may be featured on Yahoo for Good’s website.

* The girls of Team 29 are also tired of seeing sexual harassment in their communities. They believe that sexual harassment can be reduced by educating people in their community of its detrimental effects. By performing a play and creating a slide show, they illustrated to their peers and community members that the issue affects everyone. They hope that doing this puts them one step closer to eliminating sexual harassment in their community.

* Girl Action Team 5 is fired up about starting a campaign that takes a stand against violence in their community. The team will teach girls about self-awareness and self-esteem--with the desired effect that girls stop being part of creating violence through gossiping and bullying and also stand up against violence in all forms. The team created and presented an original educational campaign that engages 7th and 8th grade girls. The curriculum includes discussions and activities on inner beauty, self-confidence, girl power and supporting beauty in others. They will tie in discussions on beauty and self-esteem and how these relate to violence in the community.

* The girls of Team 24 feel that expressing their personal experiences with sexual harassment will build awareness about the issue. They developed an article to be posted in the opinion section of local Milpitas newspapers describing personal experiences with sexual harassment at school. Their goal is to make people aware that this goes on in a “safe” town like Milpitas and happens to girls as young as 11-13. They are building a community of support which they will use in developing an anti-sexual harassment campaign next year.

Advocates, Body Image + Health, Girls, Parents, Programs, Self-Respect + Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem Week Reaches 1,600 Girls!

In late April, we headed to Connecticut to lead the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and Dove Campaign for Real Beauty Self-Esteem Week! Our mission: To inspire and empower the 1,600 girls who attended our Respect Rx assemblies to GET REAL, respect each other and focus on their passions versus outside packaging. And we were JUST as inspired by the truly phenomenal girls we met at seven schools in seven days! HEY GIRLS!!!xoxox

Our journey took us all over the Hartford area—from Southington to Naugatuck to Berlin to Cheshire. At each middle school and high school, we focused on what keeps us from being real and respecting ourselves? Then we got down to boosting our self-respect and supporting each other in getting more real. Girls got out of their seats, spoke up and showed each other that no one is alone when it comes to universal self-esteem issues. Many of us struggle with body image, not fitting in, perfectionism, drama with friends, tough family issues, negative habits and thoughts, addictions or abuse. So many girls came up to us after to get more support and share their own stories.

One of their fave parts was seeing the Dove film titled "Evolution," which exposes fakery in media by showing a model's transformation from her roll-out-of-bed self to a billboard beauty—all with the help of Photoshop finesse. Even if they'd seen it, the film sparked us all to think about: Then why do we still fall for this stuff?

The video definitely opened up an interesting dialogue with the girls about how media affects us. We also played a game that questions why do we instantly recognize the women from reality TV and celeb magazines versus social change agents like Wangari Maathai or Mayerly Sanchez?

After debunking some beauty myths, we focused on where we want to go. Do we want unrealistic ideals and drama to hold us back? Or do we want to be true to ourselves and follow our passions? Most girls say YES to owning their power! We led the girls through a 15-minute visualization where they got to meet their Future Self. In this activity, girls fast forward five years into the future to see how their Future Self lives. Girls met the woman they'll become. She was most often strong, educated, confident. They envisioned themselves as doctors, record producers, special ed teachers, architects, college students and so much more! It was truly breathtaking to see auditoriums filled with hundreds of girls deeply meditating with eyes closed and mentally designing their futures. (One school principal said in her 25 years of education she'd never heard the overhead lights buzzing in an assembly—thats how engaged the girls were!).

Their Future Self also told them a word to remember and here were some of the words they heard:
It's OK

Many girls even HUGGED themselves when we said to hug their Future Selves:):):) It brings tears our eyes (we know we're cheesy, but seriously it was awesome!).

Even in one hour you (yes, you reader!) can reach a girl and together shift the world a bit. The week was truly one of the most rewarding weeks of our lives. From the girls and educators we met (those who work hard every day to empower teens) to the amazing dream team that made it all possible: Special thanks to Bob Lehr, Steph Ford, Bob Ford, and all the CIAC-CAS school officials who so generously donated their time, space, positive energy and dedication! Also big-time thanks to Ama A. and the Dove team. We can't wait for next year!


P.S. Adults and older teens: You can lead a Dove Real Beauty Workshop for Girls. Check out the free materials!

Girls, Social Change + Activism, Special Events

CosmoGIRL! and NYC Young Women's Volunteer Summit

After making the rounds as an inner beauty expert for CosmoGIRL!, I have to say the most exciting events were April 26 in New York and April 19 in Los Angeles. I met the most amazing young women. Oprah: Call these young women today! For the rest of us, add them to your REAL role model list:

Katy Weidner: She won a nationwide CG! essay contest about what she's doing in her community to make a difference. To keep girls friendships strong in the first year of high school, she organized her friends to come together during the holidays and raise funds ($900!) to buy Toys for Tots (and the shopping part was fun too). Katie is committed to girls staying strong by sticking together and giving back together.

Christina Hu: She's a dedicated volunteer for Children to Children and a leader on its Youth Planning Committee. She helped plan the NYC events for Global Youth Service Day. She encouraged girls at the NYC Young Women's Volunteer Summit to follow their volunteering passions!

Chanel Pranckevicus: In 2008, Chanel founded For Young Individuals (FY10304), a non-profit in her Staten Island Community that promotes positive self-development, activism and social responsibility. She is currently planning a non-violence conference in her community. Did I mention she also commutes by ferry and subway every day to attend Medgar Evers CUNY College in Brooklyn? She wants girls to know that: "Change starts with you. And a better you, makes a better community!"

Tara Suri: When she was just 13, Tara founded Helping Orphans Pursue Education (H.O.P.E.) Tara traveled to India to spend one summer at an orphanage and helped raise funds to build a new, safe and warm dormitory there (vs. the thatched-roof they used to sleep under). She's also supported orphanages in Sudan and Ghana. Now she is launching Aandolan.org as a resource for other youth that want to start their own service projects.



courtneymacavinta's NYC Young Women's Volunteer Summit  photoset courtneymacavinta's NYC Young Women's Volunteer Summit photoset

Girls, Quiz, Sex

Sex Quiz: What Would You Do?

Hot Topic

In the wake of Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy and movies like "Juno," teen pregnancy almost seems trendy. Well it should at least be a hot topic: More than 750,000 teen girls are getting pregnant each year. And the Latino community—my community—currently has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. More than half of all Latina girls get pregnant at least once by age 20.

Many teens say they are concerned about pregnancy, but still think "it can't happen to me." Well before you roll the dice (and no judgment: we've been there fellow risk-takers) remember, sex without respect is always risky. That's why we've partnered with the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to promote May 7 as the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Like Respect Rx, the project is centered around making informed choices, knowing your boundaries and respecting yourself.

For those who aren't ready to get a STD (not fun) or not ready to be moms or deal with the responsibility that comes with it, you deserve to be empowered to make choices that are right for you. Or if you've been taking risks out in the sexual scene and don't feel great about the outcomes, then do check out the quiz below to find out how you make choices about S-E-X. You'll also find TV ads made for teens, by teens to raise awareness on the issue (you can enter—the best ad wins $500!) It's all at StayTeen.org. Girl advocates: There are lots of tools on the site for you too.

And for the teen moms out there, we want you to know that you're not alone. You deserve support, resources and the chance to continue your own healthy development. My mom was a teen mom and she didn't really get that chance until way later in life. Fyi, teen mothers are less likely to complete school and more likely to be single parents. Just another reason to take care of you—before, during and after sex (and all the stuff that goes with it).

Body Image + Health, Girls

Boost Your Body Image

Why do so many of us hate on our bodies? Is it all the toxic media we digest or a mean comment someone made to us in 3rd grade (or just last week)? So many girls are at odds with their bodies and want to change something—or everything—about the way they look.

Still, your body is where you live—your home sweet home. Your body is here to support you being the real you and fulfilling your dreams. That's why respecting yourself means respecting your body. Try these body image boosters to help you appreciate your body and encourage healthy choices that work for you. Tips featured on uniquely ME!

Girls, Social Change + Activism

5 Ways Girls Can Be Leaders

Guest post by Vanessa Van Petten, author of You're Grounded!

"You can't write a book, you are just 17, and you are a girl!"

No. Way. I believe that you can do anything you put your mind to, and girls, especially have the power to change the world. When I was 17, I realized the gap between parents and teens was growing even deeper, and parents needed to hear from real teens about what their own kids were doing.

It took many months of late nights, spending all of my allowance and babysitting money and working really hard, but I finally self-published a parenting guide from a teen's perspective—called "You're Grounded!" That is when I realized that we can do anything we work hard at! Here are few ways girls, and parents of girls, can be encouraged to take leadership positions early in life—because you can make a difference:

1. To learn how to plan: Start small
Organize a family dinner or house project. This works especially well for younger girls. Parents: encourage your daughters to take the reigns for a family day and plan the activities, or make one meal per week. An important leadership principle is learning to plan and organize people. So girls, start in your own family and see if you can take an art project and plan the details of buying supplies, getting everyone together and sticking to a time schedule.

2. To learn patience: Think long-term
Do a three-month project. Leaders and entrepreneurs often must work on something diligently for a few months or even years before seeing results. Try to think of a project that you can work on a little bit each day or week, like growing a garden or building a blog with friends. This will teach you patience, persistence and flexibility to stay with a project—all important aspects of leaders.

3. To learn how to work with people: Plan events
Time to throw a party! Event planning, working with people and making something appealing is really important especially if you want to be a leader with something to sell or promote such as a cause or message. Plan a fundraiser at your school, organize a surprise party or family reunion…anything where you can exercise your planning skills and working with other people!

4. To learn motivation: Think passion
Do some soul-searching. Leaders love their cause, love what they do and are very passionate about something. Sit down and really think about what makes you tick. Find a cause, a person or idea that you want to work towards and make your goal sheet with specific goals and put them on colorful pages in your room to see them everyday!

5) To learn scale: Think who
Always think outside the box. True leaders never let anyone tell them "no," they just find another way. When people told me no one would publish my book, I took my allowance and self-published. When I couldn't figure out how to build a Web site, I found a friend who was a computer programmer and traded Spanish lessons for him to build my site. Never give up! Never take "no" for an answer! And never stop looking for ways to achieve your dreams!

Dream big, work hard and you will get there,

Abuse + Harm + Violence, Family, Girls

My Dad Is In Jail


My dad is in jail for drugs. So much has happened to my family because of him. I want to forgive him but it's hard to go see him. I can't even think about him without crying. I still love him. What should I do?

Rx: First things first [LONG HUG]. One thing I haven't written about too much here, but that I talk to girls a lot about in person, is that I've been exactly where you are right now. My dad was in and out of jail a lot when I was growing up. Before I was born he also did a long stretch in federal prison. All of his arrests were connected to suffering from the disease of alcohol/drug addiction. My dad went through hell in his life—and my mom, me and my sibs got our share too because of it.

My first memory is of my mom holding me up as a human shield to try get my dad to stop beating her—possibly to stop from killing her. I remember that she was covered in blood and cowering on the bed into a corner. I remember the wild look in my father’s eyes as our eyes met. I think he was definately high. I was somewhere around 2-years-old. And my dad did stop. That time.

At the same time, my dad was a beautiful person. He was artistic and giving. He died when I was 25 and he was clean and sober by then. He loved me like nobody's business. If only he'd been loved the same way when he was kid, I'm not sure his life would have been so hard. It's a complicated cycle.

You love your dad. Yet, he's not there for you right now. So I know it hurts. I know you probably have waves of major anger. You can't control what your dad did or where he is now. You'll hopefully find your own path to forgiveness—I can offer that forgiving my dad helped me a lot. But for now: I encourage you to get help for yourself. Because you deserve it. Please take the steps to find a counselor in your area. And check out Alateen, a free, anonymous support group for kids and teens who are dealing with the family disease of addiction. If you're in California, check out Friends Outside for more support and resources. Or ask them for a referral to a similar org in your state. I also found this org: The Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, which offers therapy and other resources. I like the rights listed here: read them.

Remember: Getting help is a Respect Basic. Have no shame about it. Just reach out. Mostly, don't give up on yourself. You don't have to be "locked up" too. You can express your feelings. You are your own person. You have a mission in life. You have passions. And you can heal. When you get help for yourself, what to do about your dad, whether to see him, etc. will reveal itself to you. You will know. For now, know you are not alone. And know that I am here for you. If you email me directly, we can talk more (courtney[at]respectrx[dot]com).

Advocates, Girls, Programs

Girls Rock! The Movie

I just met the awesome people behind the new documentary Girls Rock!, which tells the inspiring story of girls who attended the The Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls in Portland. At the camp, girls ages 8-18 come from all over the country to learn to rock. The girls form bands, write songs and build community. They bang their heads! Listen to our conversation on KALW's Your Call radio about girl culture and Girls Rock! here.

Please go see the movie (clip below) which opens this weekend! And check out the web site for more screening dates through May. To get inspired, watch the trailer, which, well, rocks! The movie is about the universal struggles girls go through and how the camp is life-changing for this group. (It would be for anyone!) They discover a support network and their strengths. And the girls' creativity and vulnerability just blows me away (as usual!).

What one of the young women, Laura (15), says that just killed me (in a good way). I WANT every girl to make this discovery:

"I've been waiting for so long to finally admit to myself that I'm amazing, and I really am. Everyone is beautiful in their own way and they get even better when they decide to be powerful and they decide to rock."

Girls and girl supporters: check out the rock camps. For example, the Girls Rock! Bay Area is launching this summer and accepting applications through April. The cost is $400 per girl. Financial aid is available to qualifying participants.

Abuse + Harm + Violence, Family, Girls

My Dad Calls Me Names


My dad always yells at me and calls me names. It really hurts my feelings but if I yell back I get in even more trouble. My mom doesn't do anything. What should I do?

Rx: First, [hug]. Second, I totally feel for you—I know that it really does hurt so much. What you're dad is doing is called "verbal abuse" and for most if us it leaves deep scars just like physical abuse. You just can't see the wounds as easily, right?

When our family put us down it seems to hurt more than anything in the world because we love them so much (and want them to love us). But the yelling and name-calling can make us feel just the opposite: Like no one loves us. And when this happens, a disrespect spiral starts that can pull you off course from reaching your potential in life. It's hard to make your dreams come true and to be the best you if you don't think you're worthy of love and respect.

So how do you deal when someone who is bigger than you, and has power over you, verbally abuses you? Try these steps to protect you and your self-respect:

Know you don't deserve it. You have a right to feel and be safe. No matter what goes down before your dad tears into you, it's not your fault. He's choosing to deal with his feelings, and probably abuse he suffered, by abusing you. You're not "making" him do it. From your family to loves/crushes to friends to your boss or teacher, **no one** has the right to abuse you. What they're saying isn't the truth about you. You don't (and never) deserve it.

Get help. When you feel ready (and I hope it's soon), tell someone in your life what's going on and how it's making you feel. Is there someone else in your family you can turn to? Can you tell your mom how it's hurting you? If so, ask her to step in and put a stop to what's happening or to sign your whole family up for counseling. Getting help by speaking up is brave. And it's better than what some girls end up doing when they feel like they have no options, like running away or turning to substances to numb the pain or abusing themselves in other ways.

If you can't talk to a friend, family member or trusted adult, please call a helpline. They will help you!

I know you're probably afraid that your dad will get in trouble. Still, you *are* loving your dad by taking care of you. If you get the help you need, lucky for him, there is a chance that he will get help too and you'll be able to forgive him down the line. But if he won't get it or won't stop, you still need to help yourself. A helpline can help you find out how to:
• deal with how the abuse is affecting you.
• take care of yourself.
• find safety (fyi, verbal abuse can escalate to physical abuse).
• take steps so you don't fall into abusive relationships in the future (like many victims of childhood abuse do).
• not become an abuser, too.
• heal and get ongoing support.

Girls being put down and hurt is not the norm any of us should settle for. Please ask for help. You are not alone and you deserve better!

Believe in you. It's true that when someone hurts you, you are weakened by the abuse, and so a lot of times it's harder to take care of and respect yourself. Sometimes you can't see any way out. In these moments, close your eyes and say to yourself: I don't deserve this. I deserve respect. I deserve love. Whatever you say, don't repeat the abuser's venom (NO saying: I'm stupid. I hate myself. I'm nothing. etc.).

And if you have that feeling inside like you want to fight back—do it.

I don't mean acting out violently or returning the insults. I mean, fight for your rights. To fight for your rights means to: get help and seek safety. To invest in your self-respect (like still going after your dreams and passions). To set boundaries (like not letting anyone else in your life—like a boyfriend—hurt your feelings, too). To know that you are *here* and you were meant to be: The world needs you to do your thing! To know that you deserve better. (And you do.)

So don't give up and don't stop seeking help.

Real Girl Monica went through something similar. She says if you feel comfortable, and your dad has heard you out in the past, also try talking to your dad. Remember, speaking up (when your gut says it's safe!) is a Respect Basic. Here's her advice:

I know it's very difficult to stay quiet when your dad is yelling at you. There are so many things you want to say yet if you say them you might get in trouble (believe me I know a thing or two about this). What is happening to you and your dad is exactly what I went through with my dad. What I learned about my dad is he is more understanding when he is in a good mood or calm. So my suggestion is that when you see him in a good mood, just sit down and talk to him. Tell him everything you feel when he yells at you. Tell him his words hurt you. Believe me he'll have second thoughts about hurting your feelings next time. It worked for me and my dad. I hope it works for you too.

RESPECT Chapter 9: Dealing with Abuse

Advocates, Body Image + Health, Girls, Women

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

My friend and body image expert Jess Weiner reminded me that Feb. 24 starts National Eating Disorders Awareness Week so I'm *finally* posting about one of my favorite books of 2007. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body by Courtney E. Martin. This book is required reading for girls and those who care about girls and all the women who were girls once:). Here Courtney and I talk about the book and the "new normal" that we can work to change for girls and for ourselves:

Respect Rx: What can girl advocate or parents do—small or big things—to counteract the "new normal" of girls hating their bodies?
Courtney E. Martin: The most important thing that a girl advocate or parent can do is heal their relationships with their own bodies. So many adults, mothers in particular, become paralyzed trying to figure out the perfect thing to say to their daughters. In truth, the most powerful thing they can communicate is through their own modeling.

What can a girl do to change the tide when body hatred/diets/exercise/fat talk is ALL her friends talk about?
One of the most important lessons I learned in college was that I had to choose my friends just like I chose my classes. This means sometimes taking the embarrassing step of approaching a "friend crush" and telling her how amazing you think she is. Some of my closest friends were women that I did this with and I have never regretted it, no matter how dorky it seemed at the time. You don't have to hang out with toxic people, and most of the time, it is treacherously difficult to change them.

I loved your discussion of "spiritual hunger" and have seen this firsthand. In what ways can girls and women start to truly "fill up" to reach our potential?
I think women need to be still, give themselves time to reflect, read philosophy and spiritual texts, really take the space necessary to contemplate on the idea of "the good life." It is an age-old quest, but one that we have gotten further and further away from the more appearance and consumer focused we become and the faster we move.

In your mind, what could girls and women being doing instead with all the power and time we spend thinking about our bodies? In other words, what kind of impact could we have if this weren't often our main focus?
There's no doubt in my mind that if women harnessed all the energy they now put into their body projects and used it for good, the whole damn world would be changed forever. And perhaps even more important, women's quality of life would simply skyrocket. We deserve to live our best lives, and as long as we are body-focused, we will never be able to do that.

What is the one thing you do every day that supports you in NOT hating your body but appreciating yourself and fulfilling your mission?
I check in with my body and respect its wisdom. If I'm sitting at the computer too long and my back starts stiffening, I remember to honor that, get up, take a walk around the block or get a snack. Simply valuing my body's wisdom in a million little ways is the biggest revolution for me.

Buy the book here. And check out more resources and reads here. Break the perfect mold here. Get REAL here.

Girls, Social Change + Activism

My First Time: Voting!

YO! Youth Outlook and Wiretap have kicked off a Youth Media Blog-A-Thon about the election. As part of the event, Respect Rx's superstar intern, 18-year-old Jennifer, is speaking out. Here is her post about why she registered to vote in very her first election:

staff-jenn.jpgI have never been one to care about politics because from an early age it seemed I learned to tune the whole subject out. This year, however, I have registered to vote in my first election. I feel it would be ridiculous not to vote. I have to admit, I'm not well educated when it comes to all the issues. Still, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to educate myself and make my voice be heard through my vote. Being part of this disintegrated youth—and a generation in which adolescents seem like they only care about getting “hyphy” or nothing at all when it comes to their community—makes me want to make a difference even more.

I registered to vote because I want everybody who is eligible to vote, especially the youth, to go out there and make their voices heard. We all want change. We hear it every day in our music, television, radio broadcasts and in our classrooms. That is why we all need to take time to make informed choices. If we all vote, it will make a big difference as to the way this country is run and who governs.

I registered to vote because for the first time ever, the elections are not focused necessarily on whether people are voting Democratic or Republican. This is the year history is changing, new faces are rising and are trying to bring out the much needed representation of minority groups. The Democratic campaign has received much press and news coverage for the simple matter of the two candidates who are running for the nomination. Who is running is allowing for more people to be engaged and aware of what is going on in the political scene. I think it is great to be living in a place where now it is becoming more apparent that people can really be represented and there is true freedom as to who can run for president. Whatever happens in the elections, I am proud to say that I have made history with my first vote this time around.

I registered to vote because the next president needs to address what youth and young adults are struggling with every day. For example, with the average college graduate student coming out into the “real world” already in debt and the current economy not allowing for just anybody to jump right into a job, education and the economy are at the top of the list for as far as youth voters are concerned. Statistics from two years ago, estimated that the average college graduate was coming out of school with about $20,000 in debt! That figure is outrageous and without a doubt intimidating. How is anybody supposed to be motivated to go to school when fees only seem to keep increasing every semester? And when everything else you need to buy to survive college keeps burning a deep hole in your pocket? To make matters worse, studies show more and more students are forced to work part-time, sometimes even full-time jobs to try and keep up with the cost of college. Although it is not impossible to balance work, school and any type of social life, nobody can argue with the fact that it is strenuous and really hard on our youth. The education systems all throughout this nation, especially in California, are discriminating against students instead of facilitating the process of getting a higher level of education. Personally, it is extremely frustrating knowing that I will have to find a job as soon as possible because the second I graduate, the pressure is on and the bills will start flowing in.

I registered to vote because this country is begging for a new leader. People are more than ready for change. But this change will only come if each of us does our part and votes so the big picture can truly change into a positive one.

Girls, Social Change + Activism

Students Fight For Immigrant Rights

Tens of thousands of students from California to Texas to Washington D.C. have been walking out of class this week. And it's not because they are tired of taking those pesky exit exams.

According to newspaper accounts, the mostly Latino students are taking a stand against U.S. House Bill 4437, which would make it a *felony* to be in the United States illegally and calls for 700 miles of fences along the Southwest U.S. border. The Senate version of the bill, which will be voted on soon, is quite different: it would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to pursue permanent legal status.

No matter how you feel about the legislation, you've got to respect these students for fighting for respect. They feel immigrants' rights are on the line and instead of sitting back, they are standing up to make their voices heard. They risked getting in trouble at school to exercise their rights to free speech and to protest. And people are listening. The Senate bill is more popular now than the House bill.

Fighting for equality and speaking up are Respect Basics. So when you see something going down that violates your—or anyone else's—rights, you can (and should) take action. Not sure where to start? Read on for tips and to find out how students organized the walkouts.

1. Know what you want
To stage a protest or campaign against disrespect, you've got to get clear on a few things:
* What's going down that you don't like?
* Why is it wrong?
* Why should people care?
* What needs to change?
* What's your solution to the problem?

2. Get organized
When you want to start a campaign for social change, you have to find like-minded people to join your fight. So you have to get the word out. For instance, according to the San Jose Mercury News, the student protesters said they learned of the walkouts through posters, word of mouth, text messages and MySpace.com.

Here are some campaign ideas you can try. Or see RESPECT Chapter 12 to learn more about how to organize others, hold meetings and come up with an action plan to spread respect.

3. Use the media
The more people behind your campaign, the better your chances of being heard. That's why the student walkouts are getting so much attention. They drummed up thousands of people to walk out *and* they got the media to cover their protests. In this case, organizers (who include tons of adults), reached out to students for weeks through Spanish-language radio and TV shows. They used the media to help spread the word to students across the country about when and how to walk out.

To contact the media, for starters write a press release. Once you get reporters to cover your campaign, keep them posted on new developments and pick a spokesperson who is passionate but who can also get your point across quickly (i.e. what's wrong, what needs to change and why it matters).

Remember, respect is your birthright but you have to claim it. Speak up and stand out just like thousands of students are doing right now!

More Info >
Help! Social Change + Activism resources

Advocates, Body Image + Health, Girls

How Girls Define Healthy

Hot Topic

The Girl Scouts of the USA asked 2,060 girls (along with 461 boys and 599 mothers) what they think it means to be "healthy." The New Normal? What Girls Say about Healthy Living, starts with the statement that "child and adolescent obesity and weight control are among today’s top public health concerns." The study aims to find out girls' attitudes about health and body image to gain some insight into obesity statistics and assumptions.

For most of us, the study's findings are not exactly shocking. Still, it's yet more confirmation that as girls and woman we are still measuring ourselves based on (surprise!) our appearance. So we have a choice to make: Are we willing to do what it takes to start weighing ourselves (and others) based on our *real* substance—as in our minds, hearts, souls—instead?

Here's a recap of some of the study's findings, along with a little body Rx we can all swallow:

• For most girls, being healthy has more to do with appearing "normal" and feeling accepted than maintaining good diet and exercise habits.

• On one hand girls are told to be happy the way they are, and on the other hand, they are given the message that being "overweight" is unhealthy and unattractive.

• The more physically active girls are, the greater their self-esteem and the more satisfied they are with their weight, regardless of how much they weigh. Yet 40% of girls ages 11-17 say they do not play sports because they do not feel skilled or competent and 23% do not think their bodies look good.

• Girls’ view physical and emotional health as closely connected. For example, more than a third of girls ages 11–17 reported eating more when they are “stressed out” and overweight girls are more than twice as likely as girls who are not overweight to report eating more in times of stress. Because girls also tend to be more prone to stress and worry than boys, they are more susceptible to overeating.

• Meal skipping, particularly breakfast and lunch, is not uncommon among girls and occurs more frequently as they grow older. More than 60% of teenage girls skip breakfast at least once a week and nearly 20% skip it every day.

• A mother’s weight, body image, attitude, and health habits are strong indicators of whether her daughter is overweight, satisfied with her body, and physically active. Girls look to their mothers for advice on healthy living. A daughter’s dissatisfaction with her weight is greater if her mother is also dissatisfied with her own weight, in spite of how much a daughter actually weighs.

Rx: No matter where you are on the body image or weight scale, being the true you comes down to seeing your body as more than a billboard to get attention, acceptance, or love from other people. Let's all start here: Look at your body in terms of how it will help you serve your purpose in life and meet your goals. You only have one body to cart around that great brain and wise soul of yours, and that’s why treating your body with respect is a must:

1. Take care of you. It took me awhile to really believe this one: Your mind and body are one in the same. You can't love you and then hate your bod.

To really take care of you, you gotta take ownership of your body. It's your home. And this means you gotta listen to your body. This is something we've been so programmed *not* to do even though it's totally natural, smart and respectful! So when you're tired: rest. When you're in pain: listen and investigate. When you're stressed: seek real calm (vs. numbing yourself). When you're restless: move. When you're at risk: protect yourself. When you're hungry: eat food that sustains and nurtures you. When you're thirsty: drink stuff that actually quenches your thirst. When you or someone else is hurting your body: get help. In other words, take care of your body out of love and respect (not to win any contests).

2. Be a body role model. When we're advocates for other girls and women, it rubs off on us in a really permanent way (the kinda tattoo you never want to get rid of). So to start loving your body, show other girls the love. Around younger girls, don't say you're fat, ugly or anything else downright mean about yourself. Change the world for the better by *not* talking the Language of Fat. Don't size each other up based on your size. Compliment a girl's character, choices, accomplishments and ideas (not just how cute she looks in pair of jeans). Make body choices that show your sisters that you *truly* love yourself (like not depriving yourself of what you need and making your health a priority). Don't be afraid to try new sports or activities, which also shows other girls that it's OK not to be perfect all the time (remember, being active boosts your self-respect either way).

Moms, if you want to transform your daughters' lives in a really amazing way: stop hating, abusing or putting down your body. They're watching and learning (just like we did!).

3. Go on a fast. As in a media fast. If there is one thing that can persuade the most self-respecting girl to slide into disrespecting her body, it's twisted advice and body ideals. And yes, sorry, we are influenced by what we watch and read (and hear from friends who are watching, reading, and listening to unhealthy media). So as much as I love celebrity gossip mags and MTV like the rest of you, ditch 'em for awhile. When you're no longer marinating your brain in a sea of size 0s, diet tips, or body-obsessed "role" models, you'll get some much-needed clarity. And this goes back to what the Girl Scouts study is all about: What does being healthy mean to girls? You need the space to be the real you—without interruption or outside pressure—to truly fund out.

More info >
RESPECT Chapter 2, Your Body: Find out how to make respectful body choices and 13 more ways to boost your body respect.
Help! Body image and health resources.
101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body

Girls, Relationships

I Want a Boyfriend


I have not had a long-term boyfriend. All of my friends have. I just want someone to hold me and be with me. I love that feeling that you get from a boy who cares about and wants to be with you (I have never really gotten that but I want it). I have a friend who always has boys around her and it hurts me because I'm with her all the time. No one pays attention to me. It makes me feel like crying.

Rx: I've so been there! You want to be noticed and loved and you don't want to be left out. There's nothing wrong with that. The question is, how can you get what you really need?

There is this thing called "validation" and we all need it. When you're validated, it's like 100% confirmation that you matter and mean something to the world. Hey, I'm the first to admit that I used to look to guys (or how they looked at me) to get validated. But to be honest, getting attention from boys—or being hooked up with one—never filled that empty space in my heart.

Even though many of us LOVE, LOVE boys, to feel really special as a girl, it has nothing to do with guys (though we're often sold that in love stories, right?). Feeling like the queens we are has nothing to do with boys' reactions to us or being "chosen" or being in a relationship. Feeling loveable has *everything* to do with you. (This is really good news!!!)

The secret to always feeling loveable is to love the one you're with (you!). This will get you through those dark moments when you feel like crying (oh, sweetie!), or when you feel like your friend is the flava of the year.

The real secret to self-respect and feeling cared about is giving yourself what you need.

When no one is paying attention to you, know that you deserve some extra TLC. Can your mom or dad take you to lunch? Can your big sis or aunt go to the beach with you so you can catch up? Can your girls cheer you on as you do something you love or try something new? Can your BFF listen whole-heartedly as you tell her what you just told me? This is the kind of yummy attention you can eat up and that fills you up for life (vs. a guy's fleeting attention when you're feeling lonely).

I know you're an amazing girl because you're here on planet Earth! So for right now, spend some time discovering all your hidden talents, passions, opinions and what you have to offer the world. This will boost your confidence and make you stronger. And interestingly enough, passionate self-respecting people are really attractive. All kinds of people will be drawn to you and want to know you better. They will know there "is just something about that girl!" And it will be your radiant-self-respecting-girl-on-a-mission vibe.

Now, don't get me wrong. I know you're at a natural point in life when we girls start to like/love/crush on people (sometimes around the clock). Our brain can feel like it's drenched in Love Potion No. 9. It seems like nothing matters but finding a BF/GF or talking about finding a BF/GF or crying over breaking up with a BF/GF.

Still, if you go looking for attention when your self-respect is low, you often get the opposite: sucky attention. You're more easily hurt. People might use you. You're more likely to go against your boundaries to please someone. You might get physical before you're ready because you're desperate for someone to care about you.

But when your self-respect is booming, and you meet a really cool self-respecting guy (they're out there!), it won't be like that. You'll get to know each other super well. You'll care about each other. You'll honor each other's boundaries. You won't stomp on each other's feelings. You'll admire, trust and respect each other. You won't turn to each other for attention that's missing in your life, but to have FUN and FRIENDSHIP.

I want your life to be rich, totally blinged out from top to bottom. So when you're feeling down, don't settle for cheap attention. Invest in your self-respect and give yourself the real thing: True l-o-v-e for y-o-u.

Real Girl Serar can totally relate and has this to add: I was the same way once. I was craving a boyfriend. Then I realized that I'm going to have the rest of my life to find that someone.

When were 15 (like you), we you should be working on who we want to be, what we want to do, and just focusing on ourselves as a whole. It might seem hard, especially with your friend getting attention. But remember one thing: If you are your own person, and don't care what anyone thinks of you, people will respect you for it. And people will also start to notice you.

Boys are something definitely not worth crying over. Trust me, I’ve had my share. I just had to break up with this guy who I really, really liked because it was getting too serious. The whole time I was thinking, I’m too young for this kind of commitment. And I still believe that I did the right thing. Girls at our age are more mature than boys, and want different things from a relationship. You can’t always trust that just because a guy wants to be with you that he loves you and that you'll feel better about yourself. It doesn't usually work that way.

For right now, don’t worry about finding a guy that will like you. Once you like yourself for who you really are, everyone else—including boys—will do the same.

More Info >
RESPECT Chapter 7: Relationships

Family, Friends + Sisterhood, Girls

My Parents Don't Like My Guy Friend


I have this good guy friend who my parents don't like. They have requested that I don't talk to or see this guy. I don't want to forget about him, but I don't want my parents mad at me either. So what should I do?

Rx: When I was a young*er* woman, sadly I was often the friend who parents wanted to background check (I swear, that's changed!). So I know that sometimes, people get a bad rap. Still, I can tell you respect your parents because you actually care what they think. And that's going to carry you far when negotiating about your friendship with The Guy.

For starters do some more digging around and find out why your parents aren't into The Guy. Are they judging him unfairly based on where he comes from or how he looks? Or did you break a rule *together* and now they're blaming him? Get to the truth. Ask your parents what's up when you're not upset. (Use these tips to get the conversation going.)

Here's a secret: Listen more than you talk. Act like Oprah and ask your parents probing questions like: I understand you don’t want me hanging around The Guy, can you tell me more about your concerns? What about him makes you worry? Did he disrespect you in some way? Are there any reasons you don't trust me right now?

Then think about your friendship. Is The Guy is good for you? Do you have mutual respect for one another? Is he the kinda of friend who makes you want to be a better person? Does he accept you? If not, do your parents have a point? On the other hand, if you said "yes" to every question, go back to your parents and explain what he means to you. Ask for their trust in *you* (because you only plan on surrounding yourself with self-respecting people, right?). Set some new boundaries together. Like can he come over and hang out while your parents are home so they can get to know him better?

And keep your promises: Like if you two crossed some line that is not cool with your parents, make sure they know that you won't do it again. Keep negotiating until your parents feel comfortable and the trust and respect is booming again.

More Rx from Real Girl Serar: The same thing happened to me once. Two years ago I was very close with this guy from school. He was a really good friend of mine and we would spend hours talking on the phone each day. I think it was because my parents were afraid that I’d start liking him and my crush would take over that they didn’t really want me to be around him much. They had never met him, but already were quick to pass judgment. I basically never got to see him and would stop talking about him completely so I wouldn’t have to hear about it each time. It was painful, but our friendship never faded. That summer he moved to California and we’ve been close ever since.

I think that when you reach a certain age, you are old enough to decide who you want to/will be friends with. So your parents can’t always tell you who you’re going to like or not, or what you’re going to do with your life. If your friend means a lot to you, stick to your heart but also listen to what you’re gut tells you. Sometimes we can act blindly when we’re too caught up with someone.

When it comes to respecting your parents' wishes, think about the fact that they always have your best interest in mind. When you’re ready to talk to your parents about your friend, remember that for them to trust your judgment they need to see the most important thing ever: maturity. Talking about how mature you are is one thing, but what really matters is when you practice what you preach. Show them you can balance your social life with your other priorities, show them you’re ready to be an adult, and they’ll show you the respect you deserve.

Abuse + Harm + Violence, Advocates, Body Image + Health, Girls, Relationships

Depressed Teens and Dating Violence

Hot Topic

Girls who have significant symptoms of depression as teens are 86% more likely than their peers to become victims of abuse from a boyfriend or husband as young women, according to a UC San Francisco study published in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Rx: There are so many tough things we go through as teen girls that can lead to disrespect and abuse later in life. Now (no surprise) we can add teen depression to the list.

This is why Getting Help is a Respect Basic. Every girl needs to know how to ask for help whenever she needs it. And you need to know that when you get help you're respecting and standing for yourself (that there's nothing wrong with you). And when our friends, sisters and daughters don't ask for help, we need to trust our guts and reach out with open arms and open ears when they might need us most (like if they are sinking into deep depression).

The thing is, dating violence is already out of control in teen relationships: 57% of U.S. teens know friends who have experienced physical, sexual or verbal abuse in their BF/GF relationships. Abuse is the darkest form of disrespect and it derails young women's lives and potential. It's a world crisis that we can't ignore: 1 in 3 females worldwide have been abused in some way.

So when we add the risk factor that girls who are significantly depressed as teens are more vulnerable to abuse later on, it's time to step in and take action:

Dealing with depression. There are so many respect connections here. For example, girls who experiment with drugs, alcohol and sex are two to three times more likely to become depressed than those who don't (was totally true for me when I was teen). So first, let's focus on helping girls learn how to make choices that pass their gut checks and honor their boundaries (see RESPECT Chapters 1 & 2).

But not all depression is brought on by past choices or abuse—many teens are hit with clinical depression. So know the signs of depression. Also get help. Call you doctor or get help here, here or here if you or someone you know is depressed.

Know the cycle of abuse. Even if a girl isn't depressed, she could still be abused at some point (and if she wasn't depressed before, well now she will be). She might be berated and called names by her BF/GF. She might be slapped, hit, kicked or bitten by her BF/GF. She might be threatened with a knife or gun. She might be raped by someone she is dating or married to.

So one way to help any girl (including yourself) break the cycle is to know what to look for. Check out Love is Not Abuse or Break the Cycle to learn about the cycle of abuse, which goes something like this:
Tension builds and the abuser is verbally abusive ->
He explodes and beats up or rapes his girlfriend ->
He says he feels bad, is sorry or even buys his GF presents ->
She's afraid to leave or beaten down emotionally and stays ->
It starts all over again…

Spread respect. Let other girls or your daughters or other women know about the depression-abuse connection. Tell them about the cycle of abuse. Support them by letting them know their choices if they need help in any way. Listen real hard. (If you are forceful and bossy, they often feel attacked again—by you).

Mentor for or sign up for powerful after-school programs that boost girls self-respect (like these). Also, stay on top of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It was just re-authorized by Congress is supposed to fund more dating violence prevention programs for teens as well as anti-stalking measures. But overall funding was slashed. So we need to keep asking for what we need, and we need laws like VAWA on our side. (That is, until person is safe from abuse.)

You can do it!
Here's a project you can take on today to create social change. You can order—for FREE—these helpline cards and hand them out to anyone and everyone. They're cute, small and can fit in your wallet (and they come in English and Spanish). Teens I mentor through Girls For A Change handed out more than 1,000 of these cards to guys and girls at in just a few weeks!

Body Image + Health, Girls, Women

Jessica Weiner

Hey everyone it's Fat-Free Friday! As we cap off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, take action by trying to stop speaking in the Language of Fat. Jessica Weiner, a NEDA ambassador and the author of Do I Look Fat in This?, says this means saying NO to:

• calling yourself or others fat.
• thinking in terms of weight, diet, food and fat.
• idealizing unrealistic imagery in the media.
• saying "Do I look fat In this?"

Read my interview with Jess and find how to WIN a free copy of her book here:

Q. What are girls and women really saying when we say "I feel fat!"?
Jessica: As girls in our culture we're often taught to be in competition and look at ourselves as enemies vs. friends. And we're taught to be in competition with our bodies and to try and look better than each other. At the same time, it's easy for us to bond over the size of our butt, thighs or bellies. Why? Because it's easier to try and control those things vs. why someone doesn't like us, or why our relationship isn't working our, or why we're frustrated with our family.

Q. If our friends or family are always talking about their weight and "being fat," how can we take action?
If you stop speaking the Language of Fat, it plants a seed that tells the girls in your life that it's not OK to talk like this. It's rewarding when you create a fat-free talk zone. You can love each other and not bond over your dislike of your bodies.

If you're hanging out with friends, mom or grandma and they're talking the Language of Fat, speak up. Try saying, "Fat is not really a feeling. What's really going on?" You don't have to try to change them, but speak up for you—silence equals consent.

Also, watch your own body talk, and watch the media you absorb. Monitor your thoughts so you're not buying into the hype. It sends a strong message when someone likes the skin they're in and cares about themselves. To be a role model, start with yourself.

Q. If girls and women stop talking the Language of Fat then what can we talk about instead?
Talk about your feelings before you talk about fat. Did you see a great movie lately? Don't just talk about how pretty the actress was, but what the movie had to say or how it made you feel. Talk about what makes you you. Do you love soccer? How do you feel about how girls are being treated around the world?

It's easier to go into a bathroom at school and talk about how ugly you feel vs. how poorly you did on a test. It can be more vulnerable to put yourself out there and talk about your real feelings or problems. But friendships are about being real and honest. We crave that and sometimes settle for the fat talk because it's the easy way out.

It wouldn't be real or fair to say I don’t have these thoughts sometimes, too. I'm still a girl in the world. What we can all do is try make sure our friendships are of substance and that we treat ourselves with loving words and action.

More Info>
• Read the Your Body and Your Media IQ chapters in RESPECT
Try this!
• Get Help!
• RESPECT is a part of Dove's Real Beauty Book Club. Submit your review here!

Want to WIN a copy of Jessica's book? SUBMIT a comment below and tell me how you respect your body here or your fat-free talk story! Five readers will get a copy of the book and winning entries will be posted on Respect Rx.

Girls, Relationships, Sex

Am I Ready for Sex?


My boyfriend and I have been going out for six months and he says he loves me and wants to have sex. How do I know if I'm really ready?

Rx: The answer is different for everyone. But I do know that deciding whether or not to be sexually active is not just a question of will you or won't you? Actually, I think there are at least 7 Questions you should ask yourself (for starters!). And not just the first time, but every time you consider getting intimate, physical or letting someone near your most sacred space (body and mind and heart—a.k.a. You!).

Chapter 9 in RESPECT is really juicy and covers everything about the sex-respect connection. It's 20 pages because this is a HUGE topic. I hope you'll read it from cover-to-cover because anything in the sex-o-sphere (from intercourse to oral sex to touching to making out to major snuggling) *without* respect is always risky.

The thing is, being "ready" for sex is really not about sex at all. Making sexual choices—like all choices—comes down to having The 7 Respect Basics down. It's about:
…knowing yourself (super well) inside and out.
…loving yourself.
…trusting your gut.
…being comfortable with yourself and in your skin.
…knowing and sticking to your boundaries and values.
…feeling confident to speak up about what you need and want.
…being truthful about your feelings.
…knowing how create mutually respectful relationships.
…getting support and good info to help you make smart decisions.

Sounds like a lot more than jumping under the covers or diving into the hook-up pool, doesn't it? If you can remember two things before you run out and read the RESPECT Sex chapter:), remember this:
• Whether you're going to have sex or kiss or anything in between is always a choice—your choice.
• Sex is always connected to respect.

Even still, a lot of us girls and women have sex for reasons or due to circumstances that just don't add up to respect. So before you even think about going there (again, not just the first time but every time), start by asking yourself The 7 Questions:

1. What are your beliefs and values?
Your values are your code in life. Every person's code is different. Your code relates to your goals, upbringing, standards for you how you want to be treated, and what kind of person you want to be. So thinking about what sex means to you and how you want it to be a part of your life—or not—will help you decide your boundaries.

Like, what kind of relationship do you want to be in before you get intimate? Do you want to be at a certain point in your life before you have sex? What are your familial, cultural or spiritual values about sex and relationships? See pages 123 and 131 in RESPECT for more questions you can explore to get in touch with your beliefs and values about sex.

"Too many sexual things happen in spur of the moment. I want to be really good friends with the person, to be committed and I would want my parents to know that I was in a relationship with him/her. Overall trust is important," Phoebe, 15.

2. What are your boundaries?
You need to know your boundaries before you hook up with anyone in any way. Why? Because boundaries are not just about keeping people out, they're about letting people in. In relationships we use boundaries to let people know how we feel and how we want to be treated and what's OK with us (and what's so not OK!).

The other thing is: You need a foundation before you can safely test the limits of any activity. Like you wouldn’t be able to climb Mount Everest just because you went on your first hike last week, right? So before you get casual about sex—like many girls tell me they're doing these days and so did I before I made the respect connection—take it seriously first. You’re too valuable to treat yourself casually. You also need to know how you feel about the other forms of physical intimacy, such as kissing and touching. Even with more experience, you still might decide that casual sex (not being in a relationship with partners or one-night stands or group sex) is not right for you because it doesn’t build your self-respect but tears it down.

In the heat of the moment it can be hard to decide your boundaries or you can be swayed by pressure to do stuff you hadn't planned on doing. So think about what is appropriate for you when it comes to getting intimate *before* that day ever comes. What is safe, comfortable and doesn't go against your values?

Letting your boundaries be known can also help you avoid being pressured. If you let your BF/GF/crushes know your beliefs and values about sex, they'll know your boundaries from the get-go (and if they pressure you to do otherwise that's totally disrespectful). When you don't know your boundaries, you also might make choices that don't pass your gut checks, and that leave you feeling regretful or hurt. Knowing your boundaries also helps keep you safe. You'll always know where your line is and go at a pace that's right for you.

"More and more girls are thinking of sex casually—the downside is that aren’t always respecting their bodies or acknowledging that sex is a bond or a connection that’s intimate. So they feel like something is missing and it is," Jasmine, 16.

3. What do you know about your body?
Your body is where you live. Before you let someone into your space, get to know it yourself. Sex Ed. comes in all shapes and sizes. But having self-respect is all about educating yourself so you can make good choices. So get information from multiple, reliable sources about how your body works and what can happen if you become sexually active and what's the deal with all those feelings you might be having for the first time.

Here are some hints: Get involved with your health care. Read books and ask your parents (they do know this stuff!), big sister or doctor about your reproductive system (the stuff on the inside), genitalia (the stuff on the outside) and the sexual response cycle (those feelings and tingles all over). Check out Help! for more resources.

4. Do you know the risks?
Being sexually active comes with physical risks (e.g. you can get sexually transmitted diseases or you can get pregnant) and emotional ones (e.g. your self-worth or feelings can get hurt, you can feel vulnerable, you can have questions about your sexual identity and so on...). When it comes to the nuts-and-bolts, you need to know the facts, like:

• What are STDS and how can you prevent them? For instance, teens represent more than half of new HIV cases worldwide. And kids getting ghonorrea—in their throats—is on the rise due to unprotected oral sex (yikes!).

• What's your partner's status? Have you both been tested for all STDs? Have you both been treated if you were infected in the past? And do you know what to do to prevent contracting or spreading STDs that stay with you like HIV, HPV and herpes? (Don't know what those terms mean? Look 'em up...)

• How can you get pregnant and what's the deal with contraception? Did you know you can get pregnant on your period or if a guy pulls out or even if you use a condom or if you skip a birth control pill? You can also get free contraceptive advice and birth control from many clinics nationwide. Before you get physical, you need to know your options. And you need to have a talk with any partner about your mutual responsibilities and what you'll do if you get pregnant (this is a good time to check back in with your values and beliefs). Check out Help! to find more info about the risks.

"When I had unprotected sex I feel like I disrespected myself because I wasn’t taking care of myself," Katy, 14.

5. Can you speak up and be honest?
Kissing can feel so nice. Being touched by a BF/GF can feel exciting. But intimacy and sex aren’t just about chemistry and turn-ons—they are forms of communication. That said, you also need to use words, too!

You have to be honest with yourself about what you expect. And you have to be honest with your partner. If you can't be honest about your boundaries, what you want, and what you need, then hold off. And if your relationship isn't loaded with trust, respect and admiration, put on the brakes. Because you and your partner need to be able to talk about EVERYTHING, like: your feelings, beliefs, values, boundaries, needs, health, STD status, and how you will share responsibility when it comes to risk factors (for starters!). Like you need to be able to:
• say "no" and be heard.
• say "stop" and be heard.
• be honest about your feelings (and what you're feeling on the physical front).
• set boundaries without feeling like you need to apologize for what you want or make it seem like it’s only a suggestion.
• communicate your feelings or ask for what you need without having to giggle, smile or avoid eye contact when you're talking.

(Hmmm…these basics apply to any relationship, actually!)

So you can see, when it comes to sex, you just can't let your body do all the talking. And if you have to lie—to yourself, people you really care about (like your parents) or to your partner—about your sexual activity or what feels right (or wrong) then it's time for a gut check about your choices. Remember, it's never to late to slow down until you think about it more.

"You should be able to not have sex but still be able to care about each other strongly and talk about everything!" Sarah, 15.

6. Are you being pressured?
I mean is everybody really doing it? And if they are, what's that got to do with Ms. You and your fabulously self-respecting boundaries? Nothing. If you are pressured to do anything you don't want to do—and you've made that clear—the people who are pushing are not being good friends to you. Period. Same goes for sex.

When you have doubts, listen to gut and speak up. Because healthy relationships are based on mutual admiration, trust, honest communication and respect. If you’ve been honest about your feelings, then no one should hound you for sex or set deadlines for you.

Don’t feel like you have to promise to be ready by some date on a calendar, like the prom or a school holiday. You don't have to follow the examples you see in the media either (like people cementing their relationships by doing it). And when you say no to sexual intercourse, don't feel like you have to give a "consolation prize" by getting physical in some other way. (See RESPECT for tons of sample boundaries you can use!).

Someone who deserves your trust, respect, and love won't want to have sex with you if it's not what you want. Always put your self-respect first: you are your partner for life.

"In many groups at school, it’s the norm to have sex and if you don't it’s considered a 'bad' relationship. People treat it like it’s nothing special or amazing," Brooke, 15.

7. Are you emotionally ready?
Just because your body feels ready to go, are your heart and head ready too? Many girls and young women say that their first sexual experiences sucked real bad and led to a lot of heartache later on. (And I can second that emotion.) If you’re not ready—or have sex for the wrong reasons such as being pressured—you can get caught in disrespect loop that leads to repeat unsatisfying hook-ups and low self-respect.

To know if you're emotionally ready, check back in with those Respect Basics. How much do you respect yourself? Are your relationships—with friends, family, BF/GFs—booming with respect? Do you totally value and trust yourself? Where are you getting your ideas about sex? Hopefully not from movies or TV in which life on the screen is not like the real thing.

Being emotionally ready for something as big as sex, will take some time. Everyone learns and matures and different rates, and sex definately doesn't speed up the process.

And what if it doesn't feel right? The basics come in here too. Sometimes girls have sex and afterwards feel a mix of negative emotions. Like let's say you had am empty-feeling sexual experience and now you label yourself something mean, like "I'm a slut." This is a sign you need some support, to set new boundaries, and to invest in your self-respect before you get back out there.

Think about questions like: Are you getting physical to find love? Do you want to be accepted? Are you starving for attention? Has something happened in the past that is leading to this disrespectful behavior now? How did you feel before you had sex? Or what feeling were you maybe trying to cover up/relieve?

Even if your self-respect and relationship are going strong, some girls want to wait to venture into sexual territory because they have amazing goals they don't want sidetracked by getting pregnant, for example. Others just want to have fun with their friends and build their self-respect without dealing with answering *all* these questions right now.

You might be inexperienced but you're smart beyond imagination. So when in doubt, always do what you know is right for you (when it comes to everything!).

The final word? If you're not ready and willing to explore The 7 Questions, or to make The 7 Respect Basics a part of your life and choices, then I guess I do have a simple answer for you after all. Are you ready to have sex? Not yet…

More Info >

Adapted from Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym © 2005. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.

Body Image + Health, Girls, Women

Do I Look Fat in This?

Back in the day, I frantically cut off the bottoms of my knee socks to fashion myself some homemade leg warmers so that I could try to lose weight doing one of those morning workout shows. I "felt" fat and like I needed to get rid of my affliction. My poor mom, she was afflicted too. Like other women, she was on the cabbage soup diet or NutriSystem or these B-12 shots her doctor used to give her to go with her boiled chicken breasts. And like many young women marinating in this don't-eat-or-be-eaten culture, I started using the number on the scale as the main yardstick to measure whether I was worth a damn. The thing is, when I say young woman, I mean I was pretty young—a third-grade student to be exact.

This is the kind of story National Eating Disorders Awareness Week aims to help girls and women rewrite. And my friend Jessica Weiner, an ambassador for NEDA, offers a place for us to start in her new book, Do I Look Fat in This?

Jess' book is an action-oriented guide to deciphering the second language that most women on the planet speak: The Language of Fat. She points out (accurately) that fat is not a feeling (though we often seem to chalk it up that way). For the sake of our self-respect—and to meet our true potential in life—she wants us to not only name our real feelings but to stop spending all our mobile minutes fat-talking.

You know what I mean. Do you and your girlfriends always seem to circle back to talking about your behinds, points, or South Beach (and I'm *not* talking about Miami). I've heard women who can't stop talking with alarm about how large their tummies are getting. And these precious, amazing beauties are pregnant! Jess' book made me *feel* how much it actually hurts when *myself* and other women still use those dusty old yardsticks (scale, inches, dress size) to measure our worth. Talk about fuzzy math.

I've been weaning off fat-talk for some time now (starting when we wrote RESPECT). I mean when I saw the legacy being passed on to bright young girls (like studies in which they say they'd rather lose their arms than be fat!), I became determined that we could all talk about more impassioned topics. The economy, disaster relief, war, employment law, after-school programs, world peace, or the horror of Super Sweet 16, anyone?

However, in honor of NEDA Week, I'm committed to cleaning up my language—for good. In addition to actually treating my body (my home) with extra loving respect this week, I'm going to acknowledge my sisters (and self) based on more solid metrics: Like what a great mom you are. Your hard-working drive. Your big brain. Your big heart. Your big ears (because you're such a good listener). Your crazy-life juggling skills. Your problem-solving chops. Your genius insights. Your pure existence.

If you can't go on a total fat-talk fast this week, try this: When you have the urge to use the word "fat" or "pounds" or "weight," instead replace it with the word "smart." Like:
I feel SO smart.
How many smart grams does that have?
Do I look smart in this?
Mmmm, that dessert looks so smartening.
I can't believe how smart I am getting!
I can't eat another bite or I'll get smart. (Oh, in that case you should have seconds!).
No one loves me because I'm too smart. (Not likely)
I'll do that when I lose some smarts. (Unless you mean playing on the freeway, just go for it!)
I lost five smarts. (Hurry, get them back.)
You look great, have you lost some smarts? (GAWD, you'd never actually say that to a friend, right?)
I'm so over-smart. (That can't possibly be a bad thing).

All right women of the world, when it comes to our bodies (our selves), let's try harder to love the one we're with. And if you need more support in building your body respect (or know someone who does), check out the Help! section for more resources.

Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Girls, School

Slut Rumors


A girl at school is telling everyone that I'm a slut because I'm going out with her ex-boyfriend. It feels like everyone is turning against me.

Rx: First, let's break down the anatomy of a "slut" rumor, which we all know is one of the top weapons girls (and guys) use to take someone down. Usually when a girl is called a slut or "ho," it’s, uh, not meant as a compliment. And the rumors (like that a girl has given the whole football sexual favors, has diseases or does threesomes) can be damaging beyond the classroom.

So is spreading slut rumors just girls being girls? No way. It's disrespect taking over when our self-respect has gone into hiding (we've all been there!). When a girl calls another girl a slut, numerous fear factors could be at work, like:

Taboo sexuality. A girl’s sexuality has long been a hush-hush topic. Some have been brought up to think that a girl should stay pure or hold out until marriage, and they label girls sluts as punishment for not being virgins or for simply being viewed as desirable. Society also seems to get uncomfortable with the fact that females do have desire. And that’s why attacking a girl by calling her a slut can be considered such a slam. Whether girls are sexually active or not, if someone thinks sexuality/sexual thoughts are bad then calling someone a slut is the same as saying you're WAY bad, wrong, dirty or worthless. See how that works?

Insecurity and competition. Some girls are afraid that sexy or pretty girls will take all the guys and so they make the first defensive move by tarnishing the girls' reputations. Some are afraid their boyfriends will dump them for a so-called slut because it's a common belief that all that boys want is sex and more sex. It's not always true. But that's what movies, videos and TV shows (and the actions of some of the boys we know) tend to make us believe. If a girl doesn't want to "give it up" but another girl does so freely, then sometimes the logic follows that the boyfriend will dump the virgin for the sexually experienced girl. Then jealousy takes over and rumors fly.

There are also the girls who call girls sluts for revenge for one thing or another, throwing the name around for reasons that have nothing to do with sex at all. A girl might be different from the in-crowd or dress in a revealing fashion or in a way that calls attention to her. Or maybe a girl’s body filled in when all of her female classmates were still shopping in the little girl’s section. She might be confident in herself and her talents, which girls with low self-respect find intimidating and so they label her a slut. Girls admit that they spread nasty rumors when they are feeling insecure and competitive.

Judgment. So you know for a fact—you have witnesses and sworn testimony—that a girl in your history class has slept with five guys in five days. That makes her a card-carrying slut in your book. Before you start gossiping or hurling insults, stop and ask yourself: If it were true, why would she do that anyway?

Although a girl's sexuality is her business, numerous studies show that teen girls who have frequent sexual encounters that lack trust and real intimacy are more likely to have been sexually abused as children, have low self-worth and are in more danger of getting STDs or becoming pregnant. So before you get all superior, remember that a girl could be labeled a slut because she’s misunderstood or being unfairly judged. Or she could be hurting or confused so don't kick her when she's down. (Remember, she's your sistah by another motha!)

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, here's what you can do to burn down the rumor mill:

Build your self-respect. When you care about yourself, have goals, do stuff you love, don't talk down to yourself, have supportive friends, and know you're super special *just* because you are here on planet Earth—you are stronger in the face of bad situations. You are less likely to live up to a nasty rumor, take it to heart, or to take bad treatment without fighting for your rights. And you're really less likely to need to hurt other girls to make yourself feel better.

Is your self-respect running low? Make a list of all the amazing things you want to do with your life and time. Now get started! Or answer this question: I respect myself because: (list 10 reasons). RESPECT also offers tons of ways you can invest in you. Keep thinking of your self-respect like a bank account. If you don't make deposits then you'll be too broke to pay your respects to yourself and others.

Set those boundaries. If you're sick of being the star of the "rumor of the week," go to the source if you feel comfortable. Tell the person how the rumor is hurting you, like: "We used to be friends, and it hurts my feelings that you're saying stuff behind my back. I want you to stop, and for us to work things out." And keep believing in yourself and hanging out with people who know the real you and who will set the record straight when the rumor comes their way.

Get help. If the rumors don't stop and you're afraid to go to school, talk to your parents or another trusted adult (like a school or helpline counselor at 1-800-839-4ERA) about your options. If the situation is totally out of hand, do you want to report it? (Trust your gut, but please do report it!) Do you need support in making new friends? Are you being physically threatened and need protection right away? Do you want to switch schools? If you're in danger or are shutting down, again, trust your gut and reach out for help.

Report it. If your school receives federal funds it has to have an anti-harassment policy (and sexual rumors are a form of harassment). If the person doesn't stop or is still harassing others, get ready to report it. Sexual harassment won't stop unless we all take a stand against it. Take these steps to report it.

Spread respect. Have you ever spread a rumor or watched girls fight at school? How about spreading some respect instead. Whenever you don't like what's going down in your world—change it and change yourself for the better!
• When you gotta problem with someone, be real and tell her how you feel. Give your friends a chance to improve before you cut them off and out of your group.
• Don't call others names like "slut," "ho," "bitch" or anything degrading—it sends the message to the world that it's OK to disrespect girls and it's not.
• Get together with other kids and make your school's anti-harassment policy known. Set the tone for how you want your school (world) to be by holding a Respect Day. This might sound cheesy, but you can fight for equal rights by raising awareness. Read more about the civil rights movement if you're not yet convinced:).
• If your school doesn't have a harassment policy, lead the charge to create one just like these teens.
• Start, join or promote after-school programs that give you and your friends skills and boost your self-respect. Ask for more mentoring programs. Invite cool speakers to your school. In other words, help build everyone's self-respect (especially the "mean" girls!).

And the last step to help end the rumor mill (and all the drama that comes with it) practice using the F-word…(it's not what you think!).

More Info >
RESPECT Chapters 11 and 12

RESPECT co-author Andrea Vander Pluym contributed to this post.

Girls, School

Boys Are Ruling Gym Class


I really like gym class but the boys are too competitive and nasty that I get nervous when we play games. How can I tell them to stop acting like that?

Rx: I just had a flashback to the fat lip I got in Little League, when one of my teammates (all guys) was so amped up he threw a ball right at my face to try and get me out at first base. We were in T-ball, people! It was an accident. Still, I admit I didn't sign up for baseball again. But I don't want you to settle for sitting on the bench.

Sure, the guys might be pushing you too hard, or leaving you out, because they're *into* it a bit too much. Or it could be something deeper. Did they learn that guys are athletes and girls should limit their involvement to cheering from the stands? Well we all watch the Olympics, so we know that's just an old-school (and sexist) way of thinking. Girls got game. And studies show that girls who play sports—even just for fun—have more self-respect and confidence.

Remember, you're entitled to a fair and equal education and you have a right to get yours in gym class and in school sports programs. Try these tactics to talk it out:

Tactic No. 1: Try speaking up so gym class will be fair game for all. If you feel comfortable, ask the guys directly to tone it down and tell them what you want without yelling, like "Hey, can you guys pass the ball. We want to play too." Or GBF suggests approaching the least aggressive guy who will hear you out (when you want to make changes, it's important to gather allies). Be calm and assertive and tell him what you see going on, how's it making you and the others feel, and ask him if he will back you up in getting the guys to give you and your friends equal time on the clock.

Tactic No. 2: Sometimes athletes only like to play with people who are at their level—or better—so they can improve. At the same time, people love teaching other people how to do stuff because it makes them feel smart and appreciated. Is it possible, to ask the guys to help you build your skills and confidence on the court? Like if you're intimidated because they've all played sport X since kindergarten and you're just starting out, maybe you can ask them show you some moves so you feel more comfortable getting in the mix. If they mentor you, they'll be more likely to include you and less likely to give you hard time at game time. (I'm not suggesting you bat your eyes and act helpless to get their attention, or that if you already know your stuff to pretend you don't.) Getting help is a Respect Basic. Ask for what you need.

Tactic No. 3: If you tried to ask the guys to take it down a notch and they laughed it off, talk to your gym teacher about what's going on. Along with other girls, set up a meeting with the teacher. Let him/her know that you want to improve your skills and have fun but the guys are intimidating you. Your gym teacher should help you level the playing field and set some new ground rules so everyone can participate without getting steam-rolled. If the gym teacher doesn't back you up, go to the next level: talk to your principal or Title IX coordinator (get the scoop on Title IX here).

I can't tell by your question, but if the guys are calling you names that could be sexual harassment. Or if your school isn't supporting girls' sports at the same level as guys' sports that could be a Title IX violation. When SH is going down, I don't want any girl to ignore (then it just spreads like wild fire burning down girls' self-respect and potential). Report the SH by taking these steps.

Friends + Sisterhood, Girls

My Friend Is Mean


My bestfriend sometimes acts all weird and mean to me and I don't know why. Should I say something to her?

Rx: Definitely. True friends don’t change how they feel about you depending on a situation, mood they’re in, or who’s around. Sure everyone has a bad day sometimes. But respecting yourself means speaking up about your feelings and not letting it slide when a friend hurts you. Take these steps:

1. Gut check. Sisterhood is all about standing by each other. In respectful friendships, friends let you be yourself and are on your side, honest and invested in your friendship (meaning, she’ll really care if she's been hurting you and will want to work things out). And being a good friend on your part means giving your friend the chance to improve—not just cutting her off or turning other girls against her. Think about: How do you want your friends to treat you and vice versa? Is this girl sliding past your boundaries? What about her treatment feels wrong to you?

2. Speak up. When you know how you feel, do tell your friend what's up. It doesn't have to be a dramatic showdown, though. Focus on how you feel (if you want her to listen, don't go off on her about her "crimes" against you). Try something like, "We need to talk. It makes me feel bad that sometimes we have so much fun and you’re nice to me, and then other times you ignore me or hurt my feelings. If we’re going to stay friends, we need to treat each other with respect, always."

3. Stay true to you. When you set boundaries along these lines, you actually become closer to your friends because you're being honest about your feelings and what's right for you. If they care about you they'll totally listen and your friendship will get even stronger. And if your friend blows you off, think about if she's the kind of *friend* you really want. Don't you deserve better? If you need to break up with her, check out Chapter 6 of RESPECT for more tips. If you want to make new friends who appreciate you more, consider joining an after-school org that is all about building sisterhood.

Bullying + Sexual Harassment, Girls, Quiz, School

Quiz: Flirting or Hurting?

Take a look at the following scenarios. Do they sound like unwanted sexual harassment or harmless flirting? Keep score in your journal and then click the the next page for the answers.

1. During lunch, your crush tells you he likes your outfit.
Harassment or Flirting?

2. A guy tells his friends he’s "gotten some" from you and now they ask for "some of that" when you walk by them, which totally embarrasses you.
Harassment or Flirting?

3. You wear your favorite shirt, which happens to be low-cut, to turn heads at school.
Harassment or Flirting?

4. A teacher who you really admire—and who you might even have a crush on—tells you that he "likes" you too.
Harassment or Flirting?

5. You always try to hug a boy you like at school or send him sexually suggestive notes even though he’s told you he’s not interested.
Harassment or Flirting?

Nos. 1 and 3: Flirting. When you want sexual or romantic attention from peers, it’s not harassment. Still, if you’re trying to get too much sexual attention at school, think about whether school is the time and the place—and if you're interrupting others' learning experiences. To build your self-respect, always check yourself when it comes to needing a lot of outside attention to feel validated. You want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of the educational opportunities at school to make yourself a strong, smart girl who's a leader. You’re not there just to study up on dating and mating, right?

Nos. 2, 4 and 5: Harassment. If sexual attention, such as comments from other students, makes you uncomfortable or violates school policiy, it’s harassment. If a teacher makes a pass at you or flirts with you—even if you like how it feels—it’s harassment. Sometimes girls admit that when they’re at school, overt sexual attention or even rude comments from other students or adults feels good. Girls say it makes them feel pretty, desirable or noticed. That might be true, but this is the unhealthy way to get validation (a.k.a. confirmation that you're a valuable person). You should be acknowledged in a courteous and respectful way—not through degrading harassment, inappropriate suggestions, cat calls or "hoochie hollas."

If you're being harassed at school, take action.

Girls, Social Change + Activism

Online Activism Tools

Part of spreading respect is being a girl on a mission. You find your mission by keeping your eyes wide open. And when you see a problem, you take notice. You imagine what you can do about it. Then you take a stand by speaking your mind.

Using the Internet is a savvy way to recruit volunteers for your cause, to plan your campaign, and to brainstorm. And if you’re on a one-girl mission, it’s a great way to get the word out! Here are a few ways to get started online:

Web site or blog
You can create a site that documents the problem, what you want to do about it, and how people can help you. To create a blog and organize your supports, try: MySpace

Email or newsletter
Want to be heard? You can start an email campaign to speak out against the disrespectful actions of a company, politician, or organization. Your take-action group can also use email to share information and organize. To promote your campaign or keep people up to date, try: Bravenet mailing lists.

email list (and the people you invite can invite new people). This is a great way to build support for your cause, brainstorm, and keep everyone connected through email or your network’s homepage. To start an online network, try: Yahoo Groups.

More Info > Help! Social Change + Activism | Girl On a Mission
RESPECT "Chapter 12: Spreading Respect"

Boundaries, Girls

Bound-a-ries, Please

A boundary is a line—usually an invisible line you set that you don’t want others to cross. Your boundaries are defined by your personal limits, values, and life experiences.

If you’re in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or if someone does something to you that you don’t like, your line has been crossed. The boundaries you set can affect how a person talks to you, how someone treats you, how someone might touch you, and so much more. Here are some examples of situations and boundaries you might try:

Feelings. If you feel like someone’s trying to censor your emotions, try saying, “I’m really upset and need a few minutes to myself. I hope you understand,” or “Can you hang out with me and not say anything for a few minutes? I don’t really want advice right now. Just having you here is helping.”

Criticisms. Many people don’t hold back—they just let their words fly, especially when it comes to criticism. When people who are supposed to love you (like family and friends) are harsh, their words tend to hurt (and stick). The same goes for you if you’re dishing out criticism. If someone harshly criticizes you, filter it. Here’s how: First, try not to take immediate offense. Stop and ask yourself, “Is there some truth to that?” Feedback from other people helps you grow. So, in your mind, take the good (“Do I need to work on ______?”) but leave the bad (“The way she said that was rude. She didn’t need to say ______”). Next, tell the person how you feel. Try, “I appreciate your concern, but the way you said it hurt my feelings. Next time, could you try to tell me what I need to work on without saying ______?”

Teasing. Even when friends are "just teasing," it can really hurt. Set a boundary by sharing how you feel (not on everything your friend has done wrong), so she’s more likely to hear you out. Try, “I feel really hurt when you tease me in front of other people, even if you think you’re just joking around.

Pressures. Life is full of people pressures, especially those that come from friends and family. If a friend pressures you to do things you don’t want to do and then lays a guilt trip on you if you refuse, your friend isn’t listening to your boundaries, and she’s stepping on your rights.Set your boundary again in a firm voice, saying, “I told you that I don’t want to do _____. Please respect my reasons, even if you don’t agree with them.” You could add, “You’re not going to change my mind by making me feel guilty. Please don’t pressure me this way.”

Adapted from Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym © 2005. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved. llustration by Catherine LePage © Free Spirit Publishing Inc. 2005

Girls, Self-Respect + Self-Esteem

The 7 Respect Basics

Respect is connected to everything. Your feelings. Your choices. Your body image. Your relationships. Your safety. Your rights. And your future. Sure, getting respect isn't always easy. Sometimes you have to fight for what you want. But that's the secret we all need to learn: Respect is always within reach because true respect starts on the inside. Even in the face of disrespect, you can always take action by learning and living these basics:

1. Having Self-Respect
Knowing you’re more valuable than all the money in the world. Knowing you have a mission in life. Knowing you deserve love—especially from Ms. You. Accepting yourself and seeing your amazing-ness. Finding and following your passions. Taking the time to get to know the real you (now and forever).

2. Listening to Your Gut
Tuning into that voice inside that tells you what you want, and what feels right or wrong. Making choices that pass your gut checks first. Protecting yourself when you feel unsafe. Trusting yourself—even when it means standing apart from the crowd.

3. Setting Boundaries
Exploring your personal beliefs and values. Deciding what’s OK with you, and what’s so not OK with you when it come to how you’re treated or what’s happening around you. Sticking to your boundaries when you need to protect yourself or stand up for what’s right for you. Respecting your needs and saying no when you want to. Making self-respecting choices. Communicating your boundaries to make your relationships stronger—and honoring others’ boundaries too.

4. Speaking Up
Using your voice because your opinions, ideas, needs and feelings matter. Letting your boundaries be known when it makes sense, like speaking up when something doesn’t pass a gut check. Improving your relationships (or protecting yourself when needed) by learning to be assertive versus passive or aggressive. Speaking up in the face of disrespect of yourself or others. Telling your truth.

5. Building Strong Relationships (and Sisterhood)
Investing in creating respectful relationships because it makes you stronger and helps you reach your potential. Learning how to communicate respectfully. Understanding that you are not alone. Treating others how you want to be treated. Creating sisterhood in your life—accepting other girls and women for who they are, valuing them, supporting them and leaning on them. Believing that if other women are successful, you are successful (and if they are disrespected, you are disrespected).

6. Fighting for Equality
Understanding that you have certain fundamental rights. Respecting others’ rights. Believing that all human beings are created equal. Never believing that you are less than others or above them. Fighting for your rights and against injustice. Leading social change to spread respect for all.

7. Getting Help
Taking care of yourself by getting help when you need it. Asking for support when you are hurting, disrespected, afraid or just don’t know how to do something yet. Seeking help when you need to make changes in your life or to build up your self-respect. Finding supportive resources and environments when you need to heal or want to grow. Knowing that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness but proof of your strength.

To learn all about the The 7 Respect Basics, check out RESPECT, "Chapter 1: What Respect Means to You." In the book, you'll find tons of tips for how to speak up, stay in touch with your gut, and spread respect!

Adapted from Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym © 2005. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved. Illustration by Catherine LePage © Free Spirit Publishing Inc. 2005

Advocates, Girls, Self-Respect + Self-Esteem, Women

Your Rights

Here's something I learned and live to tell you: Respect is your birthright! It's connected to everything from how you treat yourself, to the choices you make, to who you are and will become. And no matter what you're going through—like dealing with your feelings and body image, family, friends, BFs/GFs, and disrespect dilemmas like sexual harassment or abuse—respect is always the remedy. So how do you get the respect you deserve? It starts by knowing your rights.

You have a RIGHT to:

• Feel like you belong and are an equal

• Figure out what you need and take care of yourself

• Listen to your true feelings

• Speak your mind, change your mind, and question the world around you

• Be different from your family, your friends, and media ideals and images

• Feel and be safe

• Become independent

• Follow your passions and be the real you

Ready to claim your rights? Check out RESPECT to learn all about how getting respect—and fighting disrespect—can change your life forever (in a really good way).

Adapted from Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym © 2005. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.Illustration by Catherine LePage © Free Spirit Publishing Inc. 2005

Girls, Social Change + Activism

How To Write a Press Release

Making a change might involve getting attention from the media, decision-makers, the community, and girls who are affected by a particular issue. To promote your campaign by getting exposure in print media, you gotta know how to construct a powerful press release that will get the attention of the editor or writer. Here’s what your press release should have:

HEADLINE: Write an eye-catching headline just like the ones you read in newspapers and magazines.

DATE (month, day, and year)

DATELINE (city and state)

LEAD: You can start your release several ways:
+ A news hook. What is the event/campaign about, when will it take place, and who’s involved?
+ The issue. Focus on the problem: Media outlets love problems! Describe what’s negatively impacting girls, and what your group aims to change.
+ Your successes. If your campaign is already going strong and you want to get coverage to drum up more support, start with a paragraph describing your own success story.

QUOTE: Include a quote from a well-spoken person (how about you?) about the problem, and what needs to change (or what you have changed). Or list some strong facts or statistics about the problem.

WHAT: Give more details and background about your group, event, campaign, or call to action.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: List who the media can contact for interviews, more details and, if you have one, your Web site address.