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Girl Rising course empowers students

By Jennifer Valencia

Staff Writer

Since I was a little girl, I have always seen how women have this particular “image” to uphold. Be kind, quiet, put together and prepared to be a good wife. This standard was obviously different from what my male family members were learning.

I was always one to ask questions: Why was it OK for a man to do something, but, if a woman did the same thing, it would be unacceptable? Why do women have to act in a particular manner, but men can act however they please?

I was always one to be independent and not rely on people, especially men. It baffled me – just the thought of women being picture perfect or our worth being only based upon our sex appeal. Seeing those picture perfect or sexualized images everywhere in the media did not help me create a healthy image of myself.

At any point in the day, I can pull out my phone and be able to see what is going on in the world. I know how on Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan and other Snapchat subscriptions, celebrities are harshly judged for their appearance. It feels as if I am too when I see these articles about how “bad” their skin is or how their muffin top was showing.

The central female figures in pop culture are being attacked for aspects of their looks, such as their complexion and their weight, which are being held to an unattainable standard of “perfection.” When my peers see this, we in turn criticize these natural parts of our appearance.

I see how women are being portrayed, and I think to myself: “Is this really what I want a little girl to see and to believe she has to be that image or strive to be that way?” I want the younger generation not to feel pressured to change themselves or be something they aren’t. They should be given a chance to be able to decide how they want to appear to the world, instead of believing there are only certain ways one should look.

At my school, we are lucky enough to have an Expeditions course called Girl Rising. It’s an elective course where only girls are allowed to join, and we talk about problems women have historically faced and still face today. I was lucky enough to have joined this course last year, the first year it was offered.

The woman behind this course is Lia Pinelli, who has held various roles for Summit Public Schools. She is a former assistant director at Tahoma and Rainier and also was a Spanish teacher at Summit Prep.

Lia Pinelli Headshot
This is the instructor of Girl Rising, Lia Pinelli. 

When I interviewed Ms. Pinelli, I asked her if she considered herself a role model to the girls. Her response was, “I would be honored to be one, sure, but I don’t know if I think of myself that way.” I thought her response was very selfless and well put. As someone who has already taken her course, I completely believe that she is an outstanding role model to the girls.

Even though participating in Girl Rising was very emotionally draining, it was one of the most supportive and happiest courses ever. I learned so much about myself and my peers. It ended up being more like a family with a lot of sisters than classmates.

One of my favorite things about Girl Rising was the altar (shown in the featured image above). The altar was a place in the middle of where everyone was sitting on which students were able to put a picture of an item that’s dear to them; for example, a picture of their best friend. Putting personal items on the altar is a way for the girls to get to know each other and find things in common.

Girl Rising isn’t just focused on allowing girls to connect with each other, it also helps students learn how go beyond focusing on their appearance and social status to recognize other important things in life.

“The majority of the images that we see are the same prototype: we see the same bodies, the same faces, and, sure, there are some variations with these models; but, there is very little to no body diversity in the media,” Ms. Pinelli, emphasizing that our society does not celebrate body diversity.

That topic brings me back to the thought of how similar all the celebrities look in the media. When everyone looks the same, it’s a lot easier to feel like an outsider when you look different. So, if you see that you’re different from others, you’re going to change to fit into that similar status quo.

It shocked me to see how women are portrayed in the media. I realized that I’d been oblivious to how much women are sexualized in the media and how much hate is directed toward those who try to achieve a positive body image and practice female empowerment.

After doing the interview with Ms. Pinelli, I felt relief. I was relieved that courses like Girl Rising exist in order to teach young girls positivity in a world where everyone is being judged. I felt proud to have been part of the first group of girls to have done this course, because I see that Girl Rising has continued to be successful in creating powerful women who will change the world.


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