Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? When I asked this question of 25 teen girls in Norcross, Georgia ten years ago, I had no idea of the many ways in which their collective response would change my life and the lives of other girls and women forever. Although I expected each girl to raise her hand proudly to indicate self-approval when I asked this question, to my dismay, not one of the 25 girls raised her hand. Not only did those girls dislike their reflections in the mirror, but they also provided a litany of changes they would make to their physical appearance if they had an opportunity to do so. I found this experience personally disheartening and subsequently discussed the experience with my sister Zenobia, a high school principal in South Carolina. She and I concurred that low self-esteem the culprit and a universal challenge many females face that may ultimately contribute to high risk behaviors such as teen pregnancy, drug abuse, gang involvement, and more. Studies confirm that sexually active youth in metro Atlanta report that they engaged in their first sexual activities between the ages of 12-14. Current national research on adolescents confirms that adolescent females who have higher self-esteem may be less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. So, we set out to enhance the self-esteem of girls and women focusing initially in Georgia and South Carolina. I Am BEAUTIFUL was born in 2005 when we hosted our first conference in Georgia at the Centerville Community Center for nearly 100 girls.

We believe girls are more likely to develop low self-esteem during their vulnerable years of transition from adolescence to young adulthood and from young adulthood into adult womanhood. However, we also believe girls and women can overcome low self-esteem by focusing on attributes such as those identified in the BEAUTIFUL acrostic: Brave, Energetic, Assertive, Unique, Tenacious, Important, Fabulous, Unequaled, and Loved. IAB offers a safe, nurturing and caring environment for girls and women to learn, grow, and develop a healthy perspective and lifestyle.

Today our services have expanded to include the Gaining Insight & Real Life Skills (GIRLS) Leadership Development Program, an eight-month leadership development program offering girls ages 6 -18 a holistic learning experience which includes the following topics: self-esteem; leadership; managing money; exercise and nutrition; goal-setting; getting into college; etiquette; choosing a career; resume writing; public speaking; computer technology; healthy relationships; dating violence; fitness workouts; self-defense; drug free living; and media awareness. The program also includes enrichment activities and community service. We facilitate our programs in summer camps, conferences, and after-school programs.

It all began with the question, “Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?” Now, I Am BEAUTIFUL has been serving girls and women in the metro Atlanta and throughout the nation for over nine years. One question remains, “What will you do to help girls and women live BEAUTIFUL lives?” Visit www.iambeautiful.org to donate or to volunteer.

-Tina Woodard, Ed.D., PHR