Blog Archives

Bright Young Girls or “Bright Young Things”?

Victoria Secret

Guest Post by Marketing Intern, Molly Decker

At Big Sister, we pride ourselves on staying up-to-date about gender-specific marketing; marketing strategies could not be more gender-specific than those of Victoria’s Secret: a corporation famous for their bras and underwear, and most recently for the popularization of their PINK line. PINK is Victoria’s Secret’s line for their younger 15-22 year-old demographic. However, Victoria’s Secret has gone younger.  Victoria’s Secret has recently come out with a line called “Bright Young Things,” otherwise known as PINK’s Spring Break collection. Bright Young Things features, among other things, underpants that have “Wild”, “Call Me”, “Dare You”, and “Feeling Lucky” printed on the back (or the front, in cases of the thong). Not only are they covered with sexualized phrases, they are cut in familiar Victoria’s secret styles of “cheeky hipster,” “lace trim thong,” and “The Date Panty.”

When a tween or teen girl sees her peers wearing PINK merchandise, few things will make her want it more than getting a “no” paired with a “because I said so” from her parents and mentors. This is why it is not enough to ask that Victoria’s Secret simply eliminate the collection. PINK will still be there. This is why it is not enough to tweet at Victoria’s Secret that this collection is unacceptable and leave it at that. The fact is, no matter how hard we try, young girls will continue to see these sexualized media messages, through other advertisements.

We need to educate these young girls.

Maybe they are daughters. Maybe siblings. Maybe they are our Little Sisters. Regardless, they need to know that when their parents, teachers, Big Sisters, and other mentors tell them to think critically about the messages on the backs of these underpants, it is not because we do not want them to be popular, or because we do not want them to succeed. On the contrary, we want them to succeed more than they know. We want them to succeed in finding relationships with people who will hear “call me” after a conversation about mutual likes and common goals, not see it on the front of their thongs. We want them to know that while Victoria’s Secret may see them as Bright Young Things, we see them as Bright Young Girls, and that alone makes a difference.

So the next time a young girl in your life asks why you think she shouldn’t choose “Wild” underwear, talk to her about why she feels she needs them. Talk to her about the social and media pressure she may be feeling. Encourage her to come to terms with her body and what she wants to do with it on her own terms, not her friends’ terms, or Victoria’s Secret’s terms. Teach her that success is not about what she wears, but what she knows and where she goes with that knowledge.

What are your feelings about Victoria’s Secret’s marketing campaign? How do you respond to the overwhelming pressure of the media? Do you have any advice for Big Sisters who don’t know how to begin that conversation? Leave a comment below.

Stay Connected Through Big Sister’s Alumnae Association!

Guest blogger Rachel Russell, Alumnae Association Board Member, talks about her experience with Big Sister Association and how to remain involved after being a Big or Little Sister. 

Big Sister Association of Greater Boston
If you have found yourself out of touch with Big Sister, there are so many ways to get back involved.  There are plenty of girls looking to be matched in both School and Community Based Mentoring.  Big for a Day always needs volunteers one Saturday per month, and we can always use YOUR help to recruit new Big Sisters.  No matter what situation you find yourself in, we hope that you will stop by our Alumnae events to say hello!  We love getting the opportunity to speak with such inspiring women.  Whether you’re a current Big, a former Big or a Little you’ll always have a place at Big Sister.
Five years ago I found myself moving to Boston, ready to begin a new chapter in my life, post college.  As a New Hampshire native, the thought of living in a city was new and exciting, but at the same time a little daunting.  I was eager to meet new people, begin my career and become active in my community. Although I was certain of my career goals, I wasn’t too sure how I wanted to get involved in my neighborhood.  After remembering a friend’s experience back in college being a Big Sister, I decided it would be a place to start.  I was matched with my little sister for three years before closing our match two years ago.  It was a wonderful experience and I’m so thankful I did it. 
I was probably out of touch with the Big Sister Association for a year when I got an email about an opportunity to join the Big Sister Alumnae Association Board.  I jumped at the chance to get reconnected with an organization I truly believed could make a difference in girls lives.  Serving as an Alumnae Board member allows me to participate in a new capacity.  As we begin our first year as a board, we have hopes to eventually hold quarterly events.  Our goal is to hold an annual appreciation event in January, a networking evening, a homecoming gathering in September and perhaps host a match or Big for a Day activity. We are all very excited to recruit Alums to assist us with these lofty goals!
Yours truly,

 Rachel Russell

Alumnae Association Board Member

To learn more about becoming involved with the Big Sister Alumnae Association contact Brenna Downing at bdowning@bigsister.org or click here to join.

Stay connected through the Alumnae Association!

Exploring Art Outside Boston: Match Activity at the Decordova

deCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA

Guestblogger Big Sister Brenna Downing weighs in on her recent adventure out of the City for a match activity.

I’ve lived in Boston for almost four years, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t explored a lot of the area’s landmarks and museums.  So I was excited when I heard about last month’s match activity at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln.

My Little Sister, Amaia, and I will have been matched for 2 years in June.  Like most 10-year-olds, she’s creative and imaginative, so I thought the Rachel Perry Welty exhibit at the deCordova would fascinate her.  I was also excited to do something outside of the city, since the vast majority of our time (together and separate) is spent in Boston.

The exhibit focused on making art out of the things we’re surrounded with in everyday life, so the theme was interesting and accessible to even the littlest Little Sisters.  There were large photographs where the artist was covered in things like twist ties, Styrofoam take-out containers, and price stickers.  Amaia especially liked the row of iPhones that showed constantly updating Facebook posts from a day that Welty updated her status every minute for the entire day!  It was a perfect exhibit for us to go to together – it was engaging, interactive, and made you think, without being stuffy.  

Amaia loves meeting other Little Sisters, so we go to a lot of Big Sister’s planned match activities.  When the group sat down for an art project after the exhibit, she bonded with another Little Sister over a shared love of dogs and got into a pretty opinionated debate over which was better – bacon or mac and cheese?  Hmm, tough call.

Before we had even left, Amaia was already planning her collection of twist ties and our next visit to the deCordova.

For more information on the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA please visit: www.decordova.org

 For more information on how to volunteer visit us at www.bigsister.org or call 617.236.8060

The “Little” things, by guest blogger Big Sister Jillena Furr

Jillena and Ja

Big Sister Association of Greater Boston is open to all girls, no matter their situation, and my Little Sister hadn’t really faced many hardships before we met.  Ja’Najia comes from a single-parent home, but for the most part, she is a very happy, smart and well-rounded young lady who lives in a loving and stable household.  Besides her mother, I don’t think Ja’Najia has had many older, strong females to look up to or relate to, and I feel I’ve been key in providing that for her.  The biggest benefit for me is knowing that I’m making a difference in at least one person’s life.  She is someone whom I sought out and chose to be in her life, someone who is not in my family, or circle of friends, but a young person who was once a stranger and now feels as close to me as family. To know that I’m actively teaching her life lessons and as a result, she will be a stronger, better person due to our relationship is rewarding in itself.  The best part is that doing this has not been a difficult journey and we’re just having fun!  I can only hope that she’s learned to be confident and caring, and that she values the person she is and the person she can become as she grows up.  In the two years since we were matched, I’ve already seen Ja’Najia transform from a bit of a shy tomboy into a confident pre-teen.  She’s learned leadership skills and she accepts all people, no matter what their background.  These are things I try to instill in her through our chats and activities.

Currently, our favorite activities include sleepovers, watching movies, and being outdoors.  We also love to swim.  Our activities haven’t changed too much over the past couple years, but I feel they will as she becomes a teenage.  We’ve said that we will remain friends, or “sisters” forever.  We’ve joked that when I get married and have kids, that she will be at the wedding, and will babysit my kids when my husband and I go out.  I honestly do see us always being in each other’s lives.  It is what I hope for.

It’s hard to imagine not knowing Ja’Najia before we met.  I became a Big Sister because I wanted to give back and participate in something that would help make someone else’s life better.  Never did I imagine that it would also make my life a lot more worthwhile.  That is the gift I receive every time we are together.

She is truly my “little sister” and I truly love her!

Everything I need to know I learned in middle school by guest blogger Deborah Re, Big Sister’s CEO

Admittedly it’s been a long time since I was in the seventh grade.  I grew up in Roslindale and attended a local K-8 school.  Now, as the head of a girl-serving organization, I was curious to find out what was on the minds of adolescent girls growing up in Boston today. I also wanted to actually experience our Group Mentoring program and how it “worked.”  Well, I heard what was on the minds of young girls and I know first-hand why our Group mentoring program is successful. But, I learned a whole lot more than that.  

Being a Big Sister is about being in the moment; it’s being totally real, authentic, and present to whatever is said or whatever you are feeling. If you truly want to connect with adolescent girls, then you must be ready to give and to receive; you must have an open mind and, an open heart.

There were nine girls sitting around a table the first day I walked into the room. They were all chatting, talking over each other, laughing loudly; the sound was high-pitched and loud. There was one girl who sat by herself putting her hair in a pony tail.  I sat down quietly in the available chair and then it hit me: I was nervous. As the CEO of Big Sister, I often tell women who are thinking of becoming a Big Sister that you don’t need special skills, that age is irrelevant and that just being there to listen, encourage and support girls is all that matters. Yet there I was silently telling myself that I was too old, that I didn’t know what music they listened to, what TV shows they watched, what books or movies they liked; and, the message that bothered me the most: the girls didn’t look like me.  How will I connect with them?  How could I, a successful, confident woman who champions diversity and inclusion feel that ethnicity, race, or age could get in the way of a connection between me and a young girl? I was creating a barrier before I even had the chance to talk to the girls. I felt unsettled.

I met with my group at a middle school in Roxbury every week on Thursday afternoons for 90 minutes. After the girls ate their lunch, we began our activities with a check-in. Each girl would tell the group how they felt by giving a number from 1-10.  

“I’m a 5 today because I had a fight with my mother.” 

“I’m a 9 because I’m going to the movies with my friend this weekend.”

“I’m a 2 because…”

After the check-in, the social worker leading the group initiated games that were fun for the girls but also unveiled the issues they may be dealing with:  body image, relationships, conflict resolution, self-esteem, and puberty. These activities were certainly informative and helped the girls to make healthy choices in their lives. But, what struck me the most were the questions that they asked me directly.

The questions weren’t asked in rapid-fire succession, but over the course of our time together. They were simple and telling.

“Deb, do you get paid to come here every week?”

“No” I responded.

“Why do you come here?”

“To be with you.”

Another girl responded “Wow, that’s cool. You are coming here to hang out with us!” 

“Where do you live?” one girl asked.

“Jamaica Plain.”

“You mean near here? You live near here?”

“Yes.”

There were other questions about the choices I made in my life, the fact that I was married yet didn’t have children, the fact that I paid someone to put the “yellow stripes” in my hair or that I went to college and now work full time. We were equally curious about each other and more questions led to more dialogue between us.

“I wish I was smart” a girl named LaToya said under her breath one day. I didn’t know what to say. How trite would it sound if I said “You are smart, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not.” I said nothing. The following week, she was on my team. Our goal was to build the tallest structure that could stand on its own using just straws. The four of us began making the building by connecting the straws, but realized that we didn’t know how to make it stand on its own. Then LaToya said, “I know, I’ll make a drawing first.” She took a piece of paper and drew a building that had four corners and was strengthened by straws across each square. We used her drawing to build not only the tallest building, but also the strongest. I looked at her and said “You made this possible. You took the initiative to create the drawing and worked as part of the team to make your concept a reality. Only a smart person can do that.” She beamed.

Our Group is over for now. I know that these girls will hold our time together in their heads and in their hearts. I know that they now think differently about themselves. I now have a purple string around my wrist. LaToya tied my string, and I tied hers. We made a pact to not forget each other or all that we learned from each other.

I know that I think differently about myself now. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words often ring in my ears and today, this is what I am hearing: Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.

Big Sister Eneida Roman weighs in on the importance of a more diverse volunteer base

Migleila and her Big Sister Eneida Moran

My journey with Big Sister Association of Greater Boston began six years ago when I became Migleila’s Big Sister.  I will never forget that first time we met, she was the cutest seven year old, and she greeted me with a couple of key chains she had made.  One said “Little Sis” and the other one said “Big Sis.”  We have a scrapbook, and I keep that key chain in it to this day, along with other memories and pictures from the past six years of our relationship.  After returning from our interview at NECN last week, we went over our scrapbook and enjoyed every memory cherished all over again…the moment was priceless!

When I first heard of the Big Sister program my initial impulse was to apply so I could make a difference in a little girl’s life.  The blessings I have enjoyed throughout my life have been countless, and I felt like it was time for me to pay it forward.  I am privileged to have a wonderful family that provided endless support and positive role models, and where education was always a priority.  It was my intention to provide the same type of guidance and support to a Latina girl that shared my same background and heritage.

As a Big Sister and a member of Big Sister’s Diversity Council, which aims to increase the number of women of color who become Big Sisters in order to reflect the diversity of the girls they serve, I am aware of the amazing benefits of sharing a “Big-Little” relationship with a girl of the same cultural heritage.  In my relationship with Migleila, we can relate to each other with more ease and understanding of our experiences and upbringing.  It is a very enriching relationship, and I am inspired every day because I see how she aspires to become a productive member of society when she grows up.  Children learn by example, and our relationship is providing positive examples for her to follow in her own life.

If you are a woman of color and are thinking about making a difference in the life of a girl in our community, I would strongly encourage you to apply to become a Big Sister.  I also want to hear from you.  What is your experience mentoring a girl from a similar ethnic or cultural background? Why do you think it’s important and how can Big Sister Association encourage more women of color to become mentors?

Click here to watch Eneida’s interview on BNN’s El Show de Fernandito about the importance of more women of color becoming Big Sisters.

Is “mean girls” demeaning girls? Guest blogger Sharon Daura weighs in

Sharon Daura is a Big Sister staff member who leads the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley’s Intentional Mentoring initiative.  This capacity building program provides training and support around gender-sensitive programming to girl-serving organziations throughout Boston.

I listened in my car recently as two well-known radio talk show hosts discussed the topic of bullying.  The recent and tragic suicide of Phoebe Prince, the fifteen year old girl who was being bullied at her high school, prompted the discussion.  Both used the term “mean girls” repeatedly, while one was convinced the answer lies in prosecuting the girls who bullied Phoebe.  I gripped my steering wheel and waited for what I knew would eventually come.  A few seconds later, one of them delivered the inevitable: “Girls are worse than boys.”

We know by now that both boys and girls engage in relational violence and aggression and both suffer as victims.  However, the issue deserves a gender-sensitive perspective, especially since the current media discourse about bullying is placing gender in the spotlight.  The “girls are worse than boys” opinion is a popular one.  Yet, what does it really say about our beliefs about gender and behavior?

Society gives girls plenty of messages about where their value lies, which in turn equips them with the tools to devalue one another.  It’s no mystery why Facebook pages become venues for harassment that target girls’ appearance, weight, and sexual behavior.  Viewers of The Bachelor can tune in as women compete with one another for the ultimate prize: a man.  Girls will tell you a similar story–most of the conflicts start with competition over a boy.  When girls use language to hurt one another, they access the very same sexist language they hear on a regular basis.  It’s important to shed traditional beliefs about girls’ behavior and realize that while they are capable of violence and aggression, they are also not biologically predisposed to it.  The labels, like “mean girls,” offer very little in the way of solutions.  They also demean girls and contribute to the very problem we are trying to address

Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection Among Girls, urges us to consider the ways our culture “nurtures and reinforces meanness between girls.”  As we do that, perhaps we should also nurture a new kind of culture where we talk to girls about anger and equip them with tools like assertiveness.  We could reinforce a dynamic of respect between girls and provide them with examples of women supporting other women, on television and in real life.  Rather than judging girls’ behavior as “worse than boys,” we could focus on our own language and behavior as adults. Let’s start here: Are we willing to retire the term “mean girls”?

A convention center of one’s own–by guest blogger Judy Neufeld

I remember my very first time at the Massachusetts Conference for Women. It was December of 2005.  I was a recent college graduate in need of a job and sorely missing the support network of being a student. I was unsure what the conference would be like and what the day would bring, but as I walked into the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that early and chilly Thursday morning, I felt optimistic that I may get some leads on job opportunities and was excited to attend the workshops and panels. What I actually got that day was so much more than just some business cards.

I remember walking in to the Convention Center and being surrounded by thousands of other women. These were women who were eager to learn and grow personally and professionally; women who were eager to mentor and support the younger generation in the crowd; women who wanted to reach out and connect with others. What I got that day at the first Conference was a new network beyond my friends from college; I got a network of other women who wanted to see me succeed, to help me grow personally and professionally.

Now in its fifth year, the Massachusetts Conference for Women remains a space where women gather to connect with each other, motivate and inspire others, and build their personal and professional skills. It is a space where over 4,500 women gather annually to hear from speakers like Suze Orman, personal finance expert and bestselling author; Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University; and Susan Taylor, editor emerita of Essence magazine and founder of the National Cares Mentoring Movement.

Every year, I look forward to the Massachusetts Conference for Women. I always leave the Convention Center feeling refreshed, energized, and inspired to do more. Women need more opportunities to connect with each other and we all need to ensure that we are taking responsibility for mentoring the next generation of young women leaders. In fact, Big Sister Association of Greater Boston has a booth at the conference where women attendees can learn about our mentoring opportunities to ensure that we are all doing our part to encourage, inspire, and support the next generation of young women.  I’m excited that for the third year in a row I will be attending the Conference as a representative of Big Sister Association!

But why should we wait until the Massachusetts Conference of Women to encourage, inspire, and support another woman? Why does it take a space exclusively dedicated to women to help us reflect on our personal and professional goals? What if every day you felt supported and empowered, and in turn helped to instill confidence in a younger woman or girl? Isn’t that what being a mentor is all about?

I hope you’ll leave your comments on this and also join me and Big Sister Association at the Massachusetts Conference for Women on December 10!