Claudia GarateI is a 25 year-old who works for GENaustin in Austin, Texas. GENaustin (The Girls Empowerment Network) began in 1996 as the brainchild of 12 women, each raising girls in Austin. The creation of GENaustin spawned after they read “Reviving Ophelia” by Dr. Mary Pipher which centers on the upsetting tendency for middle-school aged girls to have a marked decrease in self-esteem, sometimes leading to epidemic levels of eating disorders, self-harm, mental stress, reduced academic achievement, and drug abuse.
GENaustin works to prevent such devastating outcomes. Their mission is to “support and guide girls to make wise decisions as they navigate the unique pressures of girlhood.” To do this, their core curriculum focuses on healthy relationships, healthy communication, and body image. This curriculum is then used in educational events such as clubGen, an impressive afterschool program with weekly meetings that is held in over 20 middle and elementary schools. Beyond clubGen, they also host Girl Talk workshops, an annual statewide conference called We Are Girls, and 180, a program the works with court-ordered girls.
I recently had the opportunity to correspond via e-mail with this amazing beauty advocate. Take a look at what she told me!
Taylor: What do you do at GENaustin?
Claudia: “I started out at GENaustin as an Americorps VISTA Program Outreach Specialist. I got to work and do direct service with all of our programs and worked to expand our visibility, build connections in our community and improve our recruitment efforts. Now I am a campus coordinator for clubGEN, our afterschool program, and I go to 5 schools a week with our program.”
T: Can you tell me about your journey towards working with GENaustin?
C: “I feel so grateful to have found GENaustin. I ran into a blog post that talked about them and their work one night and when I was going through the website reading about the mission and work, it was a huge “AHA!” moment that shook me to my bones. Thankfully, they were hiring at the time and I applied on the spot, rushing through the application because I wanted nothing more than to work there.
Reading over everything, I just had this very strong feeling because I would’ve loved to have had something like this [GENaustin] growing up that encouraged me, empowered me and let me know that I could do or be anything I wanted- that it wasn’t my job to be pretty or desired.
I really didn’t think that I was qualified for the job or that I’d be any good at it, but I recognized that that thinking was exactly what GENaustin was fighting against and that I should just go for it. I’ve chosen to remain there because not only is our work amazing, but the women on staff are just the strongest, wisest, hard-working, supportive and loving that I’ve ever encountered. It takes that harmful “catty and competitive” stereotype and just demolishes it and throws it out the window.”
T: What do you think is the greatest issue facing young women in the world today?
C: “I think the most disempowering thing is the fact that so many cultures define women and don’t give them room to define themselves. . .This can go from defining beauty to defining what it means to be a woman and what they can or can’t do. We grow up hearing “oh don’t be such a little girl!” or “you throw like a girl!” It embeds in everyone’s minds that there isn’t anything worse than being a girl. And that’s so unfair and so untrue. It sets us up for struggle, suffering and unhappiness.”
T: If you feel comfortable sharing, tell us about your relationship to your “body image” in the world of today.
C: “I always struggled greatly with my body image and it started at a very young age. It’s really hard to fight it, especially when you’re young, when you get the messages to look a certain way and to be a certain size ALL THE TIME- from the media, school and often at home. I was never happy with my body and it became a huge source of anxiety and self-loathing for me. It’s this big thing we often drag around and causes us to get in our own way and in some ways, live for others. I’m 25 years old and though I’ve made remarkable strides in the past two years, it’s still something that creeps up once in a while when I’m caught off guard. It’s a constant practice for me to recognize the negative messages, see their roots, and reject them entirely.”
T: What advice would you give to young woman who are struggling to find confidence in their physical bodies?
C: “Think about all of the women you know and love and think are beautiful and ask yourself ‘Why do I think they’re beautiful?’ It will always be because they are: loving, fearless, kind, funny, compassionate, smart, hard-working. I’ve never picked my friends and role models for the size of their jeans so why the hell should I worry about that? I take those qualities that inspire me and motivate me and I work on them and recognize them in myself above all else. I try to see myself as my best friends see me. I would suggest that young women do the same—define beauty for yourself. It’s also so important to watch your self-talk. If you talked about your friends the way you talk about your body, chances are you wouldn’t have any friends.”
T: Thank you for sharing that with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
C: “Love yourself and support those around you. Don’t shame. And remember that the patriarchy affects EVERYONE- men, women, trans*, queer, etc. Notice not just the gender role boundaries, but all of the other privileges and –isms and check yourself. Listen. Remember we all get to define who we are and we should all have that power, no matter who disagrees or thinks otherwise. It’s a long battle uphill, but there’s nothing more worth it than self-love and support of diversity.”
BARE would like to thank Claudia Garate for being a beauty advocate with realistic expectations, and for the amazing work that she is doing in the local Austin community. YOU GO GIRL!