Student uses dance to combat Barbie complex in young girls

Nancy Curtis, Arts and Life Editor

“I wish this was different,” is something Kairee Franzen, a NKU double major in exercise and dance, said she had heard all too many times from girls in her dance classes referring to different parts of their bodies.

So, she decided to try and do something about it.

She read an article about Barbie dolls, their unrealistic proportions, and how they’ve become a world all their own in an honors English course her freshman year. This topic sparked an interest in her and the following semester that the topic arose again.

“The theme just kept recurring in my college career,” Franzen said, who struggled with body image issues herself in high school.

So, when the time came for Franzen to choose a topic for her capstone the choice was clear.

“It began as just a research project, I didn’t necessarily expect to create something from it, but a brainstorm session with community partners got me thinking about the potential this topic had,” Franzen said.

Originally she had planned to work with the Girl Scouts of America, but when that fell through Franzen was directed to the Boys and Girls club of Newport, Ky. There she found the right fit to make an impact.

Smart Girls, which was named by the Boys and Girls club, became Franzen’s project which developed into a nine week program for girls in grades four and five.

In 2011, Dove released a study on women’s relationship with beauty. The study revealed that only 4 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and that anxiety about looks begins at an early age.

In a study of over 1,200 10-to-17-year-olds, 72 percent said they felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful. The study also found that only 11 percent of girls around the world feel comfortable using the word beautiful to describe their looks.

Franzen knew that targeting young girls was a way to make a difference before it was too late.

“I wanted to work with younger girls because my whole aim for the program was to be more preventative than intervening with girls who already had severe body image issues,” Franzen said.

At the start of the nine weeks the girls were given a pre-assessment questionnaire that Franzen used from other professional studies. Then Franzen herself held group discussions with the girls to find out their point of view on what beauty is. In the weeks after they learned about fitness, media influence, nutrition and what it means to have a healthy relationship with yourself and with others.

“Their minds were totally blown some weeks, they had no idea about airbrushing and the fact that food could be nutritious and taste good was incredible to them,” Franzen said.

They even were given the opportunity to create their own fitness dance which was one of Franzen’s favorite weeks.

Over the course of the nine weeks Franzen had a bit of a bump in her system.

“I started out with about 9 girls, but over time some stopped coming and others came in later weeks,” said Franzen.

However, she still could see a change in the girl’s mindsets as the weeks passed. The written responses had remained fairly similar, but in group discussion she saw an immediate change.

She recalls in group discussion one young girl telling her that her role model was Selena Gomez. Franzen prepared for the answer to be based on her appearance, like it had been at the start of the program, but was pleasantly surprised when her new reason was that Selena Gomez wasn’t like other singers, it was now because she dresses modestly and just likes to be herself.

“It was worlds of difference from beforehand, on paper there wasn’t a huge difference, but in life there was,” Franzen said.

 The biggest difference came from one particular girl who remained throughout the entirety of the nine weeks.

“She was very naturally skinny and got made fun of for it at school a lot, but every week you could see it click in her head that ‘ yeah I’m a good person… I can look as I am’,” Franzen said.

Franzen feels she grew a lot from the program as well. On the first day she recalls slightly panicking when the room full of children began running around.

Her biggest challenge was being able to go with the flow and not control every aspect at all times. She had to learn to be authoritative, but not over authoritative to where she’d lose the girls trust.

“I never expected to have so much fun with it, it’s totally different working with kids” Franzen said.

The girls genuinely seemed to love coming to the program according to Franzen. Some would be so excited to see her, running up and hugging her every time she entered the room.

“You could tell these girls genuinely wanted to learn, they weren’t just there to play games or have fun. They wanted to learn something new from the information I had,” Franzen said.

Franzen hopes to continue her work in partnership with other groups including the Girl Scouts of America.

“I grew a lot from it and it’s crazy to think I impacted these girls in some way,” Franzen said. “I never expected to learn so much from them as well.”