Niva Piran, PhD, Michael P. Levine, PhD, and Lori M. Irving, PhD
GO GIRLS! (Giving Our Girls Inspiration and Resources for Lasting Self-Esteem) is a program developed by Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, Inc. (EDAP; http://www.edap.org). Its goal is to prevent the development of eating disorders among high school students through media literacy education, media activism, and media advocacy (1). Media literacy education involves enhancing participants’ ability to analyze critically messages in various media forms and to create media messages that reflect an alternative viewpoint (2). The media activism component relates to changing the media through protesting or praising particular media products. Media advocacy involves using the media to communicate messages in the participants’ own words with the goal of changing important aspects of their environment.
Program Goals and Rationale
The media constitute an important source of information, pleasure, and pressure within the social environment of adolescents. Media images are often unrealistic, creating pressures to transform one’s body into a unified, idealized—and ostensibly attainable—image of beauty: a Caucasian, ethereally slim, blond, blue-eyed woman. These messages, which are internalized by many girls and women, result in experiences of self-deprecation, shame, and competition. They also contribute to potentially adverse efforts at altering bodies. A program addressing these media messages and giving participant groups tools to protest, alter, and communicate their own alternative messages empowers participants to (a) resist adverse social messages, both overt and suggested; (b) use their voice to communicate to media and other community groups their reactions to adverse and constructive messages; (c) effectively use activism to transform their social environment, especially regarding a significant and sensitive area such as their bodies; and (d) convert individual shame regarding one’s body into a shared group voice against adverse external pressures.
GO GIRLS! involves 12 group meetings (as an existing curriculum or as an extracurricular activity), usually once a week, each meeting lasting 1 hour. The program has four main components: (1) an introduction to the challenges girls, and some boys, experience in the area of body shape; this discussion inevitably leads to an examination of the impact of media images on the spectrum of body image difficulties; (2) critical analysis of media messages and understanding media advertising tactics; (3) planning and carrying out activism and media advocacy projects; and (4) debriefing following the implementation of the activism and advocacy projects, program evaluation, a group discussion of the impact of participation on participants, and termination.
Outcome Evaluation: A Pilot Project
A pilot outcome evaluation project of the GO GIRLS! program was carried out through the collaboration of Michael Levine, Lori Irving, and Niva Piran with EDAP, Inc., a community-based organization (1). The pilot evaluation project involved 162 middle and high school girls in five different states.
Most (62 percent) of the girls were between the ages of 16 and 18 and Caucasian (81 percent). The project employed a quasiexperimental design. Seventy- two girls who participated in the GO GIRLS! program completed an evaluation package prior to and following the completion of the program. Another 90 girls, serving as a control group, completed a similar evaluation package at a parallel 3-month time interval without participating in the program. The quantitative evaluations included self-report instruments related to media literacy, internalization of media images, self- image, empowerment, and weight concerns. In addition, girls who participated in the GO GIRLS! program completed a series of mainly open-ended questions about the impact the program had on them. A review of activism and advocacy projects was conducted as well.
Compared with control group members, participants in the GO GIRLS! program were found to have a reduced internalization of the slender ideal conveyed in media messages, a reduced desire for thinness, an increased sense of self-acceptance, and a greater sense of empowerment. Both groups scored very high on the measure of media knowledge that, in retrospect, was too basic and simple to detect differences between GO GIRLS! participants and control group members. The weight concerns measure also showed no difference between the two groups. The measure was developed to help predict the development of eating difficulties among middle school girls, and its adequacy to a high school population has to be assessed.
The qualitative evaluation revealed a multiplicity of themes in participants—experiences of the impact of the program. Regarding the experience of the media, participants reported (a) a more critical approach to the media (“It made people aware of how advertising and the media influence us, and we have got to make a difference”); (b) realization that models are fake (“After learning of the pinned clothes, computer animations, etc., I realized how unrealistic it was to want to look like something that has been made to look perfect”); (c) experiencing greater resistance to media images and messages (“After being in GO GIRLS! it cut back personally a lot of the power that [the media] had over the way I see things”); (d) acquisition of new skills regarding media activism (“I know how to reach the media through phone calls, letters, and in person. I know the manner and style in which to address the media and tactics to follow”); (e) changing disruptive social influences (“I think one of the most important experiences for me is the fact that I have done my part to try to convince the [company] to portray women in a more realistic way. Also, because of this I know I have affected other peoples’ lives”). Similarly, participants described changed experiences of themselves: (a) greater self- and body shape acceptance, increased self-confidence; (b) confidence in expressing views (“I don’t just have a small voice”); (c) a sense of empowerment (“It was very rewarding to hear that changes will probably be made”); and (d) enhanced connections with group members (“It gives us a chance to unite”), facilitators ( “She was a friend you could talk to”), and the community at large (“Adults will listen if they know you are passionate about the issue”). GO GIRLS! participants initiated multiple activism and advocacy projects. For example, they publicly protested the size of mannequins at several large department stores and used the media to deliver their messages. In another project, they created videos for peer awareness campaigns. The different projects reflected the challenges they were most interested in addressing.
GO GIRLS! appears to be a promising program for the development of media literacy and advocacy skills, positive self- and body image, and rewarding connections with others among high school girls. A larger study of the program among high school students with a longer follow-up period will be conducted during the next 3 years. Enhanced media literacy and advocacy skills, developed within a relational context, may be important to a scope of varied behaviors, such as alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking.
1. Piran N, Levine MP, Irving LM. GO GIRLS! Preventing negative body image through media literacy. Paper/workshop presented at Summit 2000 (Children, Youth, and the Media Beyond the Millennium) conference, Toronto, May 2000.
2. Levine MP, Piran N, Stoddard C. Mission more probable: media literacy, activism, and advocacy as primary prevention. In: Piran N, Levine MP, Steiner-Adair C, eds. Preventing eating disorders: a handbook of interventions and special challenges. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel, 1999:3–25.