Introducing The New About-Face
In the coming months, About-Face will be significantly changing based on a strategic plan we solidified between January and May 2017. Here’s why and how we’ll be changing.
Cultural forces that limit girls: We’re coming for you!
You may know that About-Face began with activism — a poster, actually — and a lot of passion. And you may know that we were out to take on the media for their constant barraging of women with images of unrealistic body ideals before the idea of “body image” or “body positivity” was even much of a thing.
You may also know that we’ve dedicated the past 10-plus years to helping teen girls form a psychological barrier between the images they consume and their own hearts and minds through our media-literacy workshops and our resource-rich web site. In fact, we’ve been very successful in making an impact here in the Bay Area, teaching thousands of young women how to navigate their media environment and preserve their self-esteem.
Unfortunately, the forces that teach girls they aren’t good enough continue to make an impact too. Even more so in our always-on digital world.
A New Era Needs a New About-Face
Teen girls’ lives are very different than they were when About-Face started in the ’90s. Most notably, they now have smartphones in their pockets and constant access to social media. Add to that the shock and misogyny of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, and it’s clear that our culture is as treacherous as ever for girls and women all over the country.It’s time for girls (and those who identify as girls) to fight back, hard! To stand in the face of the powers that help create their frighteningly high rates of depression, eating disorders, and suicide. Not to mention that feeling that there’s nothing they can do about it — a sense of powerlessness that we want no girl to feel.
Luckily, we at About-Face already know we can give teen girls the tools to identify and resist the more harmful messages in their media environment. And we’ve begun to give them the training they need to become activists on issues they care about. Now that they need us more than ever, we’re ready, and ready to do it bigger and better. And that’s why we need your help.
The end of 2016 changed everything. We knew we couldn’t stay small anymore, serving the Bay Area only. So our staff and board stepped back and took January through May to blast About-Face apart, take a good, hard look at all the pieces, and put it all back together again in a better, bigger way. The result is a slate of new programs, a new mission, a new staffing/infrastructure plan, a new fundraising approach, and a new look — all of which will help us meet girls where they are today and exponentially increase the impact we can make.
Our in-person announcement gathering for the new About-Face. (San Francisco, August 2017)
The Impact We’ve Made
The bulk of About-Face’s work to date has been media-literacy education in short workshops and our resource-filled web site. We served about 800 youth locally last year alone through these workshops, and reached 236,000 more via our web site and social media.
The results of these programs have been truly awesome. With the support of our PhD-level evaluator using rigorous statistical methods to analyze the results, we have demonstrated the following impact.
We detected significant changes in pre- and post-workshop surveys of our 2016 participants, after just one of our short workshops.
- Participants felt it was less important to look like famous people from media.
- Participants “called friends out” on negative body talk or negative social media posts more frequently. We like to see this, because girls talking to each other and forming community can make change, too.
- Participants reported a lower frequency of going on diets or changing eating habits. This is great news because we know that dieting is a clear-cut factor for developing an eating disorder.
Our Impact, in Girls’ Own Voices
We also ask girls what they thought of the workshop afterward. Here’s what we hear:
[What About-Face taught me was] very empowering and educated me further about a really important topic. It made me feel very confident and I like how it emphasized “nobody is perfect.” — Female, age 13
[About-Face gave] me more insight into the workings of media, and more awareness of the world around me.
And they often say they want the workshop to be longer.
We surveyed girls who participated in one of our longer Take Action or after-school programs more than one year ago and found the following:
- 92% experienced a long-term improvement in their self-esteem
- 92% engaged in activism to make positive change on issues that are important to them
- 77% took on a leadership role since their experience with About-Face
These results show the impact we can make on mental health, activism, and leadership when we go beyond a one-session engagement. The story of one participant, Haley, illustrates the effects on a girl over time. At age 18, Haley said:
I used to have a very negative body image and self-esteem, and it was through [my program with] About-Face I realized all I could accomplish once I made peace with my body. Who knew I actually had time to read about politics and try out long-distance running when I wasn’t busy tearing myself apart in front of a mirror?
… and at age 21, she said,
About-Face gave me tools to analyze media and make peace with my appearance so that I could focus on my other passions, like political engagement and community service… I became editor of my high school paper and created a Political Action Club at my high school. Now in college, I am still involved in social justice concerns around mental health and media literacy… About-Face helped me find my voice.
Haley graduated from Columbia University this year and just started a job as a legal assistant in the U.S. Attorney General’s office in New York. Her story tells us that these early experiences in learning activism skills centered on the issues girls care about make them more ready to engage later on. This sense that “I can do it”, called self-efficacy, and leadership skills they learn are translating into other aspects of their futures.
What We’ve Learned from Girls
All of us at About-Face have learned so much by leading workshops in the classroom, hearing from girls online in their own voices, and in asking at our event tables what they want from our programs. Listening carefully to girls informed a new direction for About-Face driven by these key facts:
- Body image is not the only problem media perpetuates. Our culture has changed since About-Face’s founding in 1996, and we know that girls aren’t only feeling the effects of thin, white supermodels on the runway and in heroin-chic fashion spreads. Body image issues intersect with many other issues of identity and systemic oppression, and girls constantly talk to us about the myriad ways that the culture tries to standardize and diminish them: race and ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender expression, and physical ability, to name a few.
- It’s not just media. The problem is more than the messages girls get from a top-down media or advertising industry. It’s that our culture is awash in a misogyny so ingrained as to be almost invisible. It’s in their schools, their families, their friend groups, and in the statements and behavior of celebrities or public figures.
- Focusing on girls and letting them take the lead drives the best outcomes. When girls take the lead, confidence follows. And confidence is one of the greatest barriers to the damaging effects of our toxic culture.
With these three things in mind, we realized it was time to make the changes necessary to meet girls where they are, now, in 2017.
Girls Need Us More than Ever
Some important facts:
- Girls’ depressive symptoms increased by 50 percent from 2012 to 2015.
- Three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls committed suicide in 2015 as in 2007.
- Girls are more prone to overusing social media (and they use it at higher rates than boys) and are bullied 22 percent more often than boys are — much of which happens via text message and social media.
Is there a tenuous connection between the culture girls are experiencing digitally and these increases in emotional pain? We think not. The evidence gets clearer every day, and it’s not difficult to make the logical jump: The toxic culture girls are immersed in — fueled by the rise of ubiquitous digital messages — is creating truly incapacitating mental health problems in them.
So, many girls feel like they’re not good enough in many ways, and worse, they feel they can’t do anything about it. This is not acceptable to us. We want to teach our girls the exact opposite so they can grow up confident and mentally healthy, able to productively speak up and take action against injustice, in their personal lives or in as part of a system, at any moment.
Here’s what we want for girls. And we want them to win.
Introducing the New About-Face
During our strategic planning process, we re-energized About-Face around our activist roots and underscored the importance of our core media-literacy work. At the same time, we’ve retooled our mission so we can be more effective for girls right now, in the face of the cultural changes that are putting even more pressure on them to squeeze themselves into an ever-shrinking box.
This mission is bigger than just body image, and bigger than physical appearance: We’re tackling the more insidious messages about race and ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender expression, and physical ability (all of which interact with body image) as key elements of a girls’ identity that are affected by media and the overall culture.
And the problem is bigger than top-down, traditional mass media like magazines and TV. It’s that much of the culture itself, perpetuated every day by peers, family, educational institutions, the juvenile justice system, and other institutions disempowers and diminishes girls through objectification, sexualization, and standardization. Worse, this is often implicit, so girls hardly know it’s happening. They may internalize sexism or other oppressions so they believe that they are inferior to others. These implications are partly what create a toxic atmosphere for girls’ mental health, self-efficacy, and leadership potential.
This new mission also promises a more expansive outcome: helping girls achieve their full potential. Not just getting rid of the problem, but teaching girls how to use their full power.
New About-Face Programs
After getting clear on this new mission, we needed to take a good look at our programs and exactly how we are going to express and achieve that bold mission. To create longer-lasting engagement of girls to give them bigger, long-term benefits, our programs will work in a unified progression of curricula and experiences that build on one another — a path for girls — all with a singular aim:
We arm girls with the knowledge and tools they need to fight back against a culture that diminishes and disempowers them.
We will do this with a number of new programs aimed at both the girls we serve and the adults in their lives. Here’s a deeper look at those programs.
Program Path for Girls
Some highlights of our Program Path for Girls:
- Education Into Action Workshops: Retooling of our media-literacy workshops to emphasize the importance of activism and the questioning of cultural messages about race and ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender expression, body image, and physical ability. (1-2 program hours)
- Education Into Action Curriculum: Expands on the Workshops with education about culture and media and how activism works. Girls make a commitment to personal, community, or systemic action-taking at the end of the sessions. (8 program hours)
- Education Into Action Boot Camp: Expands on the Education Into Action Curriculum to include goal-setting and activism skills through the creation and execution of an action event. (After school or two weekend days, 12-15 program hours)
- The About-Face Action Squad, a nationally dispersed group of teen leaders to be launched in 2018. Bay Area girls who want to continue with our programs will be invited to join the Action Squad, which builds on our activist training to create a national group of leaders and incubate new leaders.
- Girls who have continued through the progression will be invited to be trained to teach our curriculum or start an About-Face branch in their community.
- Undergirding all of these programs is our teen web site and social media channels, which girls can reconnect with for encouragement.
This program path will bolster girls’ knowledge, activism, and involvement around transforming toxic cultural messages and to continuing their activism into the future, on their own. The result will be an improvement in mental health and leadership skills, including self-efficacy and belief that girls can affect change in their own lives and others’.
We will be assessing and measuring additional outcomes for the girls in our programs, with the hypothesis that girls in our programs will improve on each measure with each About-Face program they complete.
- Mental health: Levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation; behaviors such as self-harming, disordered eating or exercising, and social media use.
- Leadership skills: Ability to plan and complete a project, motivate others to contribute, speak up, and take productive action when something needs to be done.
- Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy is defined as “an individual’s belief (or confidence) about his or her abilities to mobilize motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to successfully execute a specific task within a given context” (Bandura 1997; Stajkovic & Luthans 1998a, 1998b). It’s that inner feeling of “I can do it!”
Program Path for Adult Advocates
For many years now, parents, teachers, and other adults who advocate for girls have asked About-Face, which is based in San Francisco, to distribute their curriculum or to start About-Face branches in their areas. They had a point — our programs are so critically needed, and easy to replicate. But we just didn’t have the resources to make them more widely available.
As we move forward, parents, teachers, and other adult supporters will have the tools they need to support what the girls are learning in becoming educated activists, while also helping to expand our reach by implementing programs in their own geographical areas.
Some highlights in the Program Path for Adult Advocates:
- Parent/teacher talks: Giving parents and teachers similar tools to those we give girls, and filling them in on their children’s online lives so adults can support teens’ learning at home and at school.
- A new web site just for adult advocates that provides support and resources.
- Selling our workshop curriculum for teachers, parents and other adult advocates to teach (slated for January 2018).
- Online or in-person training to teach the curriculum in the San Francisco Bay Area or beyond.
- Ability for adult advocates to start a branch, as in our Program Path for girls. This will help us reach more girls who need us and expand the program nationally.
- Adult advocates can become Action Squad Mentors, and support the teenagers in our Action Squad, near or far.
These are things adults have been contacting us about for years! Our goal is to finally be able to do it.
A New About-Face Look
Looks surely aren’t everything, but after changing our work from the inside, we realized we needed a new outside, too. Check out our new logo and tagline!
Through this logo, we wanted to broadcast our new focuses:
- Being unflinching and unapologetic
- Having fun as we do this important work
- Emphasis on action and girls’ leadership, agency, and the amplification of their own voices
And we wanted the girl in our logo to feel relatable to a wide variety of girls.
Who is the girl in the logo?
We asked one of our Take Action participants from 2009, Haley (who you may have read about earlier) to come in for a photo shoot. We gave her a megaphone and asked her to yell about some issues she’s standing up about.
Haley was on the team that created the “Born this Great” action in Union Square 8 years ago. She later became an About-Face Workshop Leader and was a leader on our founding Associate Board. Now she is a graduate of Columbia University and is starting a job at the U.S. Attorney General’s office in New York.
So this logo has extra meaning for us. Haley represents the kind of change we want About-Face’s work to facilitate.
We’ll be launching a new web site that incorporates these visual changes in late 2017. You will also see some other changes, such as fonts and the attitude in our design or writing. We think it will help express the new About-Face fully.
New Infrastructure and Staffing
We have a lot to do, as you can see! We expect that with these new changes and program expansion, About-Face will grow fivefold, so we need to get the scaffolding in place.
Currently, we have two paid staff: A full-time Executive Director and a part-time Operations Assistant. We’re going to need more people working with us to make this go!
This is one way we envision the future unfolding as we continue to build our staffing structure.
Who’s at the helm?
About-Face is lead by Executive Director Jennifer Berger, who has been dedicated to teen girls’ activism and media literacy for nearly 20 years with About-Face and other organizations. Having been “that leader girl” for as long as anyone who knows her can remember, she transformed About-Face from an all-volunteer activist group into an official nonprofit organization in 2009. Before committing full-time to these issues, she was an editor at International Data Group (publishers of Macworld), where she received intensive management and leadership training and honed those skills. Jennifer graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1998 with honors in Communication Studies.
Sustaining Our Work
This is a big project, and we’re going to need a bigger budget to accomplish the work we’ve taken on. But we almost feel like we don’t have a choice: Given the political and social climate, it’s absolutely critical for teen girls to know that they matter and that they’re powerful. We’re raising funds for this phase of our work via a crowdfunding campaign on Generosity.com (by Indiegogo) through December 31.
Our strategic plan lays out three other ways to bring in income: 1) We’ll be changing the way we bring more friends and supporters to join our circle for longer-term organizational support, 2) we’ll also be relying further on implementing fees for our programs for sources that can afford a stipend (as well as sales of our curriculum), 3) and foundation grants will bring up the rear.
The New Plan
Thanks for letting us share our plan with you! Let’s review.
- New About-Face Programs: New paths and expanded programs for both girls and adult advocates
- New About-Face Look: Inspiring new logo, web site, and other design elements
- New Infrastructure and Staffing: Building intentionally for greatest impact
- Sustaining Our Work: This campaign, long-term support, fees for programs, and foundation grants
We’re already getting started, with our new web site and curriculum sales launching in January, and our new look already in effect in multiple places online and offline. The Education Into Action Boot Camp (weekend/after school) program will be our next big project, with appropriate funding.
Let’s make this world better for girls! Let’s launch the New About-Face.
Notes and References
[Note 1] A note on the word “girls”: When we use this term, we mean “girls and those who identify as girls or gender non-binary”. We fully recognize and welcome trans* girls and teenagers who identify as “girls” or “young women”, or who are gender non-binary, gender fluid, or agender. Our program is designed for teenagers who can identify with the confines of our mainstream culture’s treatment of girls and women, regardless of their sex assigned at birth. Until a word other than “girls” is widely used to describe this wide variety of people who feel they lean toward the “woman” or “girl” end of the gender spectrum, we will continue to use “girls” as a shorthand.
[Source 2] iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us, by Jean M. Twenge, Simon & Schuster, 2017
[Source 3] Stajkovic, A. and Luthans, F. Social cognitive theory and self-efficacy: Implications for motivation theory and practice. In R.M. Steers, L.W. Porter, & G.A., Bigley (Eds.), Motivation and Work Behavior (7th ed.) p. 126, 2002. Retrieved here on 8/30/2017.