National Geographic : 2017 Jan
american girl 127 told the silent girls. “So why say them to yourself?” The girls tore the notes into confetti. “It got so concerning,” Alexandra said. “Over and over it was: no thigh gap, no thigh gap, no thigh gap. That was on my mind. But these girls were 11 or 12. Why was it on their minds?” Moore required each of her patients to have pro- gressed in her recovery before leading the work- shop. “I was better, but far from full self-acceptance and self-love,” Estrella said. “But being next to Alex- andra, doing that workshop, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for both of us. I realized I could make this my life, carrying myself this way and not talking about how much I hate my thighs.” That was the beginning of the Embody Love Movement, which now has 250 trained volunteers who run workshops in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. i WatcheD a WorKshop in suburban Dallas one morning with about 60 Girl Scouts, ages 10 to 13, and also attended part of a weeklong summer camp at Alluem Yoga in Cranford. Karen Gilmour, who runs the yoga studio, had the girls do partnered yoga, physically supporting each other in the poses. Other exercises were about mental support. The girls mirrored one another’s movements. They had to tell their partners one thing about them they found beautiful. Gilmour asked the girls to assume powerful poses, then they lay down on body-size sheets of paper and their partners traced them, creating a life-size portrait of a powerful girl. They received hand mirrors with “I am loved” written on the front. Grace has taken the Embody Love workshop at Alluem four times. “Every time I’ve been at a dif- ferent stage of my life,” she said. It was an epiphany the first time. “ Whenever I felt insecure, I felt like I was the only one who feels like that. It turns out everyone feels like that.” For Lily, who’s 12, four days at Alluem’s Em- body Love camp reconfirmed her determination not to grow up too fast. Her screen time consists of watching old musicals, I Love Lucy, and cook- ing and home decorating shows on TV with her family. She’s not allowed on the Internet unsuper- vised, a rule she endorses. “I’m not sure I want to be exposed to the world yet,” she said. When she is, she’ll understand better how to interpret the photos she sees. “It’s a false reality— even if you know it could be photoshopped, your brain forces you to believe it, because you’re seeing it,” she said. “It must be one of the worst jobs in the world to edit those pictures. You have to see the flaws in everything you look at.” She keeps her “I am loved” mirror on her dress- er. “I always look in there,” she said. The sorority Tri Delta hired Moore to design a workshop for its second-year members. The work- shop is now a part of Tri Delta on every campus. Es- trella and others have led it at schools nationwide. Alexandra brought the Embody Love workshop back to her college, leading several large work- shops and training other women to lead them. She even confronted her friends. “We would sit around in the cafeteria and talk about bodies and our food and our weight,” she said. One day she’d had enough. “Can you imagine what we’d get done in the world if we weren’t spending time on this crap?” she told them. “I can’t remain friends with you if this is all you talk about.” They stopped. Alexandra considers herself recovered. “If I’m hungry, I eat,” she said. “I don’t know the last time I weighed myself. I don’t think about calories.” Preventing suicide remains a focus of her life. The week we met, she had attended a funeral for a close friend who had killed herself. She works as research coordinator for a clinic that treats suicidal adolescents. She plans to go to graduate school in psychology. A few weeks earlier Alexan- dra’s mother had dropped her off for professional training at the hospital where five years earlier she had been treated—and had promised to come back as a therapist. “I felt just like she had dropped me off for therapy,” she said. “But this time, I had a badge around my neck.” j Tina Rosenberg is co-writer of the New York Times’ Fixes column. For National Geographic, she has written about community health workers in India and women in Ethiopia burdened by the daily chore of hauling water. Kitra Cahana has photographed stories on hunger and the teenage brain for National Geographic.