This Many Girls Can’t Be Wrong

I had the opportunity to be a Featured Speaker at the GenAustin “We Are Girls” conference. I gave my keynote talk “The World is Messed Up, But You Are Fine.” It was an amazing, powerful, and humbling experience that I want to tell you about.

The conference is “a statewide annual event that helps girls explore the issues of bullying, body image, and being a girl.”  I’ve long been a fan of GenAustin and did some work with them when I still lived in Austin so I was absolutely thrilled to be involved in the event.

As I walked into Austin High I saw signs that instantly told me that this was my kind of conference:


As I walked into the gym for the opening rally (at which I was going to be giving a quick preview of the talk I would give later that day,) I was met by an enthusiastic crowd of cheering girls and their parents who were filing in.

Gym Filling up

That’s when I started getting nervous.  The conference had over 1,700 registrants and you could feel the power in the room – the power that these girls have to make change, to reject a culture of body hate and shame, and demand that industries stop trying to, as my friend CJ Legare puts it, steal their self-esteem, cheapen it, and sell it back to them at a profit.  I knew that I had a chance to really make a difference and I did not want to miss that chance.

I was the final speaker to go on, so I got to listen to amazing mini-talks from musician SaulPaul and members of Jaime Horn’s Andi Leadership Institute for Young Women.  When it was my turn I talked about the power that they had to create the world they wanted to live in, I talked about ways that the world is messed up when it comes to women and girls and our bodies, I talked about how every body is a good body, and I talked about the fact that they have the power to make a difference.
Then I asked them to stand up and scream at the top of their lungs “I HAVE A GOOD BODY!”  And this is what it sounds like when 1700 girls and the people who care for them reject a culture of body hate.
Then it was time for my talks.
Because of the number of registrants they decided to do two lunches and so I got to give my talk twice to make sure everyone had a chance to come.  The first talk went great and the girls’ participation during the Q&A was off the charts amazing. Girls left telling me about organizations they were going to start, changes they were going to make in their own lives, and conversations they were going to have with their friends and families.
Then something really interesting happened. The amazing Meghan, who was the Featured Speaker Coordinator and made sure that our day went super smoothly and we were super well taken care of, brought me an delicious lunch!
This is Meghan. She is awesome!

By the time I was done with the people who came down to the stage to talk to me, ask questions, take selfies, and get autographs I only had a couple of minutes to finish lunch.  So I sat on the edge of the stage to eat my lunch and chat with the GenAustin staff.  At some point I realized that the room was filling up and that more than a hundred people were now just watching me eat.  And I didn’t feel self-conscious at all.

It was a big deal in terms of understanding how far I’ve come on my journey.  There was a time when I would have risked passing out rather than eating in front of people, and now eating in front of over 100 people didn’t even phase me.  That thought powered me into the second talk as the room began to fill.   The second talk also went well.  Tons of great participation from the girls, positive feedback from everyone, more autographs, more questions, more selfies.
I left the conference feeling so excited and humbled by the power of the girls I met and by their willingness to really say no to a society that is set up to make them hate themselves for profit. I definitely set a personal record for number of selfies taken with third graders in a single day.  I can’t even say how much I appreciate the opportunity to be part of this stellar conference, and huge thanks to Julia Cuba Lewis, Blair Stirek, Ami Kane, Joy Beth Meyers, Meghan Young, and the entire GenAustin and We Are Girls staff.
This conference is just one of the things that GenAustin does – they have programs for everything from leadership development to interventions designed to help girls at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system, to camps.  If you’re looking for a group to support I can’t recommend them highly enough.
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10 thoughts on “This Many Girls Can’t Be Wrong

  1. Wow, Ragen. That is FANTASTIC. I wish we could arrange a national series of conferences like this! And thank you for sharing the amazing sound of 1700 girls passing on a body positive message. WONDERFUL and so energizing to my soul!!!

  2. Hi Ragen, glad you had such great success. Since you get so many readers and call for activism (underpants rule of course). I propose that maybe some activism can sending an email to Forbes magazine. They published an article today (that both my brother and sister –independently of each other I’m thinking– could not email me fast enough by the way) that it is a myth that you can be healthy and fat. They used a sample size of 2500 people to basically shame and push more hate our way. I don’t want to link the article here for the massive triggers it could pose.

    I have been pretty upset all morning over receiving this from my concern troll families and just wonder when is this outright hatred of my existence going to end?

    1. Simon, I understand. My mom used to send me stuff like that all the time. I’m so sorry you got that sent to you. If I were you, I would send them back links to studies that say the opposite and make the point that there are so many conflicting issues related to weight, size, BMI (NOT a measure of health, btw), fitness, and health that we can all find something that confirms our biases. Additionally, no causal link has been shown among most of these issues, and correlation is not the same as causation. I would close by letting them know that you appreciate the love and care they are trying to show you because you love them, too. Then suggest that rather than sending you such material in the future.that they simply reach out and call you and ask you how you are.

      And if all that fails, find something about them that you think should be changed and start mailing “concern packages” to them about it.You know – see how they like it. 😉

  3. Wow! What a powerful experience! And what a great personal breakthrough.

    I’m encouraged by the number of girls who turned out to hear how they can be powerful and by how enthusiastic they are to seize that power.

    When these girls start sharing what they learned from you, diet culture watch out!

  4. Oh Ragen, I just want to HUG you… eating in public is a real difficulty for me as well. What a breakthrough, though, that you felt so comfortable with that group! You are a wonderful example.

  5. That video of those girls saying “I have a good body” is amazing. They need all the help they can get. Thank you so much for the work you do!

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