By: Erin Contini
Everyone remembers the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” but in today’s world, this motto is easier said than done.
Society idolizes the stereotypical representations of beauty and physique that media outlets commonly present as perfect. The pursuit of achieving the thinnest, most beautiful figure can drive people, especially females, to a point of obsession.
In order to combat the negative body image issues that plague our generation, visionary advocacy groups created several solutions. One such solution is a non-profit organization that was founded in Charlotte, North Carolina, called Girls on the Run. According to its website, the mission of Girls on the Run is “to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”
Founded in 1996, Girls on the Run has exploded across North America over the past 17 years. Currently, the organization serves over 130,000 girls in over 200 cities with the help of more than 55,000 volunteers.
One particular Girls on the Run Council exists right here in Baton Rouge. The South Louisiana branch of the organization leads 14 parishes and is present in 29 public and private schools. Strong leadership and loyal volunteers contribute to the success of Girls on the Run of South Louisiana. According to Hydie Wahlborg, the South Louisiana executive director, Girls on the Run of South Louisiana is the fastest growing council in the nation. The number of teams in their area grows at a rate of about 35 percent per year, and this school year, they will serve over 1,000 girls.
Stephanie Bloss is one of the inspired angels who has dedicated her young life to helping Girls on the Run’s cause. Bloss, program coordinator, manages each school program in all of the parishes. Her duties range from leading biannual coaches’ training, to recruiting new sites and even organizing the end-of-semester 5k.
Bloss says she has always had a passion for inspiring positivity in others. When she came across an opening with the organization in early 2012, she immediately knew it was the exact opportunity for which she had been searching.
“As I read the job description on the website, I began to shake,” Bloss says. “This job. Oh my. It entailed everything that I was interested in – motivating young girls, maintaining a positive attitude, practicing a healthy lifestyle – the list goes on and on. I also realized that my skill set fit really well with the tasks that were going to be asked of me.”
After a full year of intern work, Wahlborg offered a full-time position to Bloss upon her graduation. Bloss says she and Wahlborg have a very special relationship and have formed a perfect work duo.
“I like to think our relationship is unique,” Bloss says. “Hydie is the visionary. She dreams about expansion and how to better our organization. She researches the other 210 councils to understand the best business practices. I am the person who creates task lists and turns her dreams into a reality. We make a really great team.”
Increases in the use of social media are progressively transforming the way adolescents interact. Cyber-bullying has become an issue for children across the country, and positive outlets for these young people to escape are needed now more than ever.
According to the National Institute for Health, a direct relationship exists between self-esteem and body weight in adolescents. However, attaining a positive body image has become increasingly difficult due to constant pressures from society about what is acceptable.
Young people are extremely impressionable, and they need reinforcements to ensure a healthy mindset. If correct information on how to eat healthy and stay fit are taught to youths, they are much more likely to carry those positive habits over to adulthood. Bloss said the Girls on the Run curriculum focuses on several areas, such as bullying, gossiping and self-respect. The goal of the 10-week program is to break down the false ideas placed in these girls’ heads about perfection.
“These young girls are learning to love themselves at a young age,” Bloss says. “The girls that participate in the program are shy and self-hating at the beginning. After a week or two, they are confident young women who aren’t afraid to share what they believe in. They are brave enough to discuss their problems with their peers, and together, they reach a solution.”
Numerous testimonies from volunteers and program participants attest to the power of Girls on the Run. Celebrating other’s unique qualities and respecting their fears, as well as recognizing personal doubts, transcends the ugly words said daily. Bloss believes empowering young girls is the most fundamental way to end eating disorders, bullying and social inequality.
“We can’t let these negative powers win,” Bloss says. “If we can continue to share this joy with those around us, I know that we can make the word a much happier place – one little girl at a time.”
Below is a timeline of the Girls on the Run history. Also, click the link below to view a slideshow of Bloss speaking about her achievements.