Shine On! Conference turns spotlight on girls’ confidence

PLATTSBURGH — Morgan Polhemus knows that models in magazines use a lot of makeup and that photos of them are digitally manipulated.

The 10-year-old Momot Elementary School fifth grader gained that insight last weekend at the Shine On! Conference, an overnight event held at the CVPH Wellness Center in Plattsburgh for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade girls.

In one workshop, the girls looked at magazines and found pictures that portray unrealistic images of women in advertising. The girls then ripped the pages from the magazine and threw them out, symbolically refusing to accept the message.

“We learned that beauty isn’t just on the outside,” Polhemus said. “We learned that we shouldn’t pay attention to endorsements that say you’ll look better if you do this or buy that, or you’ll be more popular if you do something in a certain way.”

The conference evolved from an extra-credit practicum created for public relations majors last year by Assistant Professor Colleen Lemza to a credit-bearing, two-semester event-planning class. It received funding through a grant from the CVPH Foundation in association with the Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York.

“Last year, it was a four-hour workshop held on a Saturday. We had no money; we worked on a shoestring budget,” Lemza said. 90 girls signed up.

“This year, we had more than 180 girls attend,” she said. Lemza had to turn away 92 girls. “Obviously, it’s striking a chord. The whole point of the conference is to try to develop resiliency in young girls. Everything out there says they can’t do this or they can’t do that. It’s all about looks; it’s all about being pretty or popular — being the fastest, being the best. As a result, we watch girls go from rambunctious 5- and 6-year-olds to girls who question their appearance and ask if their rears look big at age 8.”

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