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.

Spotlight: Big Sister of the Year, Caroline Kohler

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Big Sister Caroline Kohler has been matched with her Little Sister Nadege for over a year through the Boston College/Franklin Field Program. Caroline recently accepted the Big Sister of the Year award. Pictured above are Caroline and Nadege at Boston College during one of their weekly visits.

Guest Post by Marketing Intern, Molly Decker

Q: Initially, what made you want to get involved with Big Sister?

A: I was looking for a way to get involved in an organization I really cared about on campus. I had looked at a couple of different organizations, but none of them really seemed to emphasize service through the development of strong relationships. When I came across Big Sister and learned I would be able to build and develop a relationship with a girl within the context of such an amazing, empowering institution I was ecstatic and immediately jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

Q: What is the most rewarding part about being a Big Sister?

A: The most rewarding part about being a Big Sister is really watching the relationship that I  have with Nadege grow and develop with each passing week. While I see myself as Nadege’s mentor, I first and foremost see myself as her friend. We share our struggles, hopes, and dreams with each other and constantly encourage one another to do our very best. Having only known each other for a year and a half, the mutual respect and admiration that we have for each other is astounding, and I consider myself so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful relationship.

Q: What is something you’ve learned about yourself or about the world since becoming a Big Sister?

A: I have learned that “sister” means so many more things than simply someone you are related to and the role of a sister does not have to be filled by a biological relation. “Sister” means mentor, confidant, teacher, student, listener, helper, and friend.

Q: Who were some of your female role models growing up? What made them such positive role models for you?

A: My main female role model growing up is my grandma. She is an amazing person. An immigrant from Ireland, she came to America by herself at 18. She has taught me what it means to be a strong, independent, and pragmatic woman, and I could not thank her enough for that. She is the strongest, most resilient woman I know. I look at her and am so proud and in awe of her spirit.

Q: What is something your Little Sister has taught you since you’ve been matched?

A: Nadege has taught me what it is like to be a kid again. Something I noticed near the end of my freshman year was that often times I would get so wrapped up in exams, papers, commitments, and meaningless drama that I forgot what it was like to splash around in the pool or play Monopoly for hours or just hang out and paint nails. Over the last year and a half with Nadege, I have learned once again that sometimes it is not about how stressful the week before was or decisions looming on the horizon. Sometimes the only thing that matters is the good company you are in and who owns Park Place.

A Story of a Fourteen Year Friendship Onboard “Tupelo Honey”

Guest Blog Post By: Erica Brien, Enrollment & Matching Specialist

Big Sister Marisa and Little Sister Susanne matched for fourteen years.

On Sunday, September 15, I had the chance to join five Big and Little Sister matches at Big Sister’s “Come Sail Away” event, the final sailing event of the season. We met at Pier 6 in Charlestown before boarding “Tupelo Honey,” a boat owned by Legal Seafoods’ Director of Communication Ann Flannery and her beau, Captain Don.

“This is the happy bell,” Capt. Don informed us as we boarded Tupelo Honey. “Every time we hear a happy word, we’ll ring the happy bell.”

As the matches got comfortable on the boat, they went around in a circle to introduce themselves. One match explained that they’d been together for 16 months, another match for just about a year. The next two matches had been together since the beginning of 2012.

“We’ve been together for 14 years,” Marisa, the final Big Sister said.

Jaws dropped. Sounds of the happy bell rang in the air. “Fourteen years!” the entire boat exclaimed simultaneously.

“We were matched when Susanne was six years old, and she is turning twenty at the end of this month,” said Marisa as she turned to Susanne and smiled. “So this will be our final Big Sister event.”

Marisa and Susanne have been together since Marisa was in college, and now Susanne is a sophomore in college herself. They have experienced a number of milestones together: Marisa’s college graduation, wedding and the start of her family. They have been matched through Susanne’s most formative years, elementary school, middle school, and high school, and Marisa has even been able to celebrate Susanne’s acceptance to Boston College.

She put her arms around her Little Sister. “And just because we won’t technically be Big Sister and Little Sister,” she smiled at Susanne, “we’ll still be good friends.”

The winds were steady and strong, blowing us out to Castle Island. On our return into the harbor, Jaelin, the youngest Little Sister onboard Tupelo Honey, grabbed the helm of the ship and guided us as we made our way back towards the dock. Confident, Jaelin shared stories as she moved the wheel back and forth.

Little Sister Jaelin takes the helm.

Each of us had the chance to sit on the bow of the boat and stare into the city. We watched as an orange butterfly skimmed the water, and we chatted about whatever subjects came to mind. We disembark Tupelo Honey feeling optimistic about the morning and what the rest of our Sunday may have had to offer. We became inspired by a story of a positive, trusting relationship built through years of dedication and commitment, inspired by the power of human connection and the possibilities of establishing life-long friendships with a Big or Little Sister.

Ayanna Pressley: Boston’s Voice for Women’s Issues

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, Big Sister would like to conclude the month’s celebration by highlighting a contemporary woman of influence and purpose who is making her mark on the Boston landscape. City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley immediately comes to mind, not only for her political triumph but also for her advocacy for women’s issues.

City Councilor At-Large Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected (in 2009) to serve on the governing board in the council’s 100-year history. In addition, she was the only woman in a field of 15 candidates to have earned one of four “At-Large” spots on the city’s 13- member council, garnering nearly 42,000 votes.

In keeping with her historic win, Councilor At-Large Pressley set out to support those whom she saw as undeserved and thus formed and chaired a new committee, the Committee on Women & Healthy Communities. The committee is dedicated to the causes that are close to her heart: stabilizing families and communities, reducing and preventing violence and trauma, and combating poverty. With a particular emphasis on girls and women, the committee focuses on adequate delivery of city services and programming for youth, families, seniors, and new Bostonians. The committee does not shy away from tackling the tougher issues ranging from domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, bullying, substance abuse to mentoring, poverty, and homelessness.

Councilor At-Large Pressley goes beyond government work to hold leadership positions with community organizations such as the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and the Young Professionals Preventing Child Abuse of the Children’s Trust Fund. She also serves on the Boards of UMass Boston Community Development, Inc., and the Young Black Women’s Society.

What makes Big Sister most proud of City Councilor Pressley’s advocacy for women is the special role she plays with our organization. Despite her busy schedule, she has found the time to join Big Sister Association of Greater Boston by becoming an active Big Sister mentor. Not only is she proud of her mentoring role, but she is just as proud to be considered a part of her Little Sister’s family. As an advocate for mentoring, Councilor At-Large Pressley recently spoke at Big Sister’s Rise & Inspire event in which she concluded, “I’m a Big Sister who happens to be a City Councilor.” Councilor At-Large Pressley launched a personal campaign, which she called ABC – Ayanna’s BIG Challenge – a yearlong initiative to recruit mentors for children living in the Boston neighborhoods with the longest waiting for Big Sisters. Now, that’s walking the talk.

A Strong Female Role Model For Every Girl

Washington based writer Gabrielle Nomura recounts meeting her role model, journalist Jenni Hogan, and the importance of a good female role model for every girl…

Gabrielle Nomura

Her role model, Jenni Hogan, KIRO 7 TV anchor

“What hit me then was the importance of role models.

Every girl, whether she wants to be a journalist, a professional athlete or a full-time world traveler should have a woman role model they can emulate, see a bit of themselves in, and be inspired by.

All girls should get an experience like I did at least once in their lives, to be able to sit down at a table with their own version of Jenni Hogan.

It’s not always easy to find a role model, as our society’s way of choosing which women to pay attention to is often skewed. As Faizon Love put it, why is it that Kim Kardashian makes the news, while masses of women who are actually doing newsworthy things, female doctors, researchers, teachers, activists, scholars, business owners and mothers, go unnoticed?”

For more of Gabrielle’s piece on Strong Female Mentors: CLICK HERE

To your Little Sister, you are her role model. Thank you Big Sisters, for being that influential woman in a young girl’s life.

If you are (or know) a girl between 7-15 who would like a women mentor call us at 617-23-8060, email us at bigsister@bigsister.org or visit us on the web at www.bigsister.org

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

Looking for a Good Read? Big Sister Recommends

Big Sister Recommends

Chances are, you’re still spending most of your free time inside. While you’re waiting for the weather to get warmer, not why head to the library or check out Amazon for these titles about the power of mentoring:

Stand by Me: The Risks and Rewards of Mentoring Today’s Youth by Jean E. Rhodes.

From Booklist:

Rhodes, a psychology professor, examines the popularity of mentoring programs and their effectiveness in improving the prospects of disadvantaged youth. She particularly focuses on research involving the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, the best-known youth-mentoring organization, showing that at-risk youth who are mentored through structured programs are more likely to succeed.

The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent People Recall Their Mentors by Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Editor with foreword by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Amazon Description:

At some point in the odyssey of our lives, most of us have been affected by caring adults who made a difference: their advice, their guidance, their example led us to encounter the world. The Person Who Changed My Life is a collection of essays in which individuals who have distinguished themselves in their fields write about the men and women who served as their mentors. Among the contributors are Walter Cronkite, Larry King, Dr. Arthur Caliandro, Elie Wiesel, Marian Wright Edelman, Julia Child, Gloria Estefan, and Dina Merrill.

Because You Believed in Me: Mentors and Protégés Who Shaped Our World by Marcia McMullen and Patricia Miller.

From the Publisher:

Because You Believed in Me uses stories of real people—Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin, Ulysses S.Grant and Abraham Lincoln—to demonstrate the powerful benefits of mentoring. The relationships of these and other historical pairs are explored throughout this book to illuminate the inherent value of mentoring. What if Eugene Boudin had not encouraged Monet to paint in the out of doors? Could anyone else have inspired him to abandon studio painting and venture into the beauty of landscapes? As with this case, mentors open worlds of possibilities for their proteges. Even brilliant people need heroes.

Or check out a couple new books from the New York Times bestseller list that are focused on women and girls:

Read them already? Comment below and tell us what you think! What other books would you like to suggest for a good read?

“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

All That Jazz: Grace Kelly to Perform at Big in Boston

Grace Kelly performs National Anthem at 2009 NBA Playoff Game between the World Champion Boston Celtics and The Orlando Magic.

“Grace Kelly plays with intelligence, wit and feeling.  She has a great amount of natural ability and the ability to adapt that is the hallmark of a first-class jazz musician.” -Wynton Marsalis

She’s recorded more albums than Miley Cyrus.  She plays more instruments than Taylor Swift.  She’s performed with more legends in her musical genre than Britney Spears, but she won’t be starring in the next Disney movie, appearing on lunch boxes, or lending her name to the latest department store clothing line.  She’s Grace Kelly, and she is amazing.

On November 12, Grace, the Brookline-based jazz sensation, will be performing at Big Sister Association’s signature event, Big in Boston, held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  Not only will she fill the room with musical talent well beyond her years, she will also represent what is at the core of Big Sister’s mission:  when someone is there to believe in you and support you, there is no limit to what you can do, become, or achieve.

Grace first picked up a saxophone at the age of 10, and hasn’t put it down since.  She became the youngest student ever to complete the four-year Jazz Studies Certificate Program at New England Conservatory Prep School.  At age 15, Grace was offered a full scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music. She finished her high school requirements and entered Berklee College at age sixteen.  She is currently in her sophomore year.

Says Grace of the musical mentors that have helped her on a path to success:  I have been very lucky throughout my career in music to have many wonderful mentors.  Jazz greats such as Lee Konitz, Frank Morgan, Phil Woods and Wynton Marsalis have taken me under their wing and had me perform with them.  However, when I first started in music there was one person in particular who was a significant mentor to me.  My elementary music teacher Ken Berman was the first one to discover my talent and help nurture it.  When I was in kindergarten he heard me sing and immediately recognized it as real talent.  Ken is also a great jazz pianist and wonderful musician.  He was the one who stayed after school to work on songs with me, encouraged me to do my first solo performance at school, and later emboldened me to record my first CD at age 12.  We all know it’s important to have support from your family and friends, and that of course means a lot, but to have a professional musician who mentors you is irreplaceable.  Mr. Berman challenged me, supported me, and believed in me so much.  He watched me grow musically and was there throughout the years to help me out.  He helped me find my passion and for that I will be forever thankful.

Now just seventeen, Grace has already recorded and performed with many notable musicians including Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Kenny Barron, Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland, Dianne Reeves, James Cotton, and the Boston Pops, among others.  She has recorded five CDs and performed around the world.

What makes her a great role model for the girls we serve—and girls everywhere—who want to have a career in music is that she has not had a meteoric rise to fame, though she could have gone that route.  Today’s girls are inundated with images of instant fame:  the tween set who become their own brand before they’re even old enough to drive, the American Idol hopefuls who need only endure Simon Cowell’s grueling remarks to make it into the national spotlight.  Instead, she is taking her time to arrive at the stardom for which she is destined.  While Grace’s reputation as an extraordinary musician is growing, she continues to study her craft and to explore new areas of music.  Not only is she an accomplished saxophonist, she is also a singer, songwriter, composer, and arranger.  She plays the alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, clarinet, flute, drums, and bass. In addition to jazz, she embraces blues, funk, rock and contemporary styles.

We look forward to not only hearing Grace’s inspiring music on November, 12, but also her thoughts on the power of mentoring in helping girls follow their dreams.

Click here to learn more about Grace and Big in Boston.

What we say about Hillary is what we are saying to our girls

There has been much ado made recently of the comments dogging Hillary Clinton in the midst of her trip to Africa, a trip focused on her promise of making women’s issues central to our foreign policy. It seems that the media still can’t take its focus off her proclivity for pantsuits or the way she styles her hair. Media mainstay, Tina Brown, even went so far as to say that Hillary looks like she needs to go to the gym.

You’re not hearing these comments made about President Obama or Vice President Biden. Sure, Obama took some flack for the jeans he wore at a recent baseball game, but he brushed it off by remarking that they are comfortable and he’s not a skinny jeans kinda guy. And that was that. When it comes to Hillary, why can’t we let it go? Why do even other women insist on belittling her and focusing more on her appearance than her work? As the blog Jezebel.com so astutely asked “How is Clinton supposed to make good on her promise to make women’s issues ‘central’ to foreign policy, if the US media keeps making her looks and her husband central to her policy?”

Girls growing up in America right now just witnessed the first woman to have a legitimate shot at the US presidency, a woman who is one of only three in history to be appointed Secretary of State. What we say about Hillary is what we are telling girls regarding our feelings about women and power. We are shaping the future for them—and it is bleak. When we focus on Hillary’s hair, her clothes, or her weight, we are telling girls that these are ultimately the only aspects of their being that will ever matter, that their accomplishments will inevitably be overshadowed by their appearance.

But we can change this by changing the conversation we are having with girls. Some advice that we gave to our Big Sisters earlier this year explores this topic and offers great ways you can talk to girls in your life about her accomplishments instead of her appearance:

If opportunities to model a focus on character, talent or effort over appearance occur; seize them! Say for example you happen to be with your Little Sister as she flips through a magazine or surfs the web and the “issue” of Oprah’s weight fluctuation shows up; why not mention how you admire Oprah’s savvy business sense. If Angeline Jolie is being worshipped for her body, focus on her commitment to charity or her Oscar nomination. If you meet a new person comment on their actions or behavior “The other matches we met at the Halloween party seemed friendly and were great at Twister!” Bring your curiosity to your match relationship and encourage your Little Sister’s curiosity as well. Wonder out loud why people were more interested in Aretha Franklin’s hat than her historic performance at the 2009 inauguration. Ask your Little Sister what she thinks about the fact that people seem more interested in what Michelle Obama is wearing than the fact that she graduated from Harvard Law School or that the President of the United States said she is the smartest person he knows. What does she think about Jessica Simpson getting more attention for the shape of her body than the strength of her voice? Finally, be mindful of the well intentioned reflex to comment on appearance when greeting your Little Sister or others. Rather than “you look great” comment on her spirit and energy: “you seem very excited to go for our hike”. This seemingly small shift can expose your Little Sister to a different perspective while simultaneously sending the message that you are much more interested in how she is than how she appears. By acknowledging society’s focus on appearance and its potential for negative impact you are arming your Little Sister with information that may assist her in honing her critical thinking skills. You are also suggesting that she turn inward for feelings of self-worth and value rather than turn on her external self. Remember, you are an important person in the life of your Little Sister–she is watching what you do and listening to what you say (even if she doesn’t admit it!). By merely modeling a different approach to our culture’s focus on appearance you can have a big impact on your Little Sister and how she makes meaning of the world she lives in.

In being aware of what we are saying about women, we can ultimately work toward a time when the color of a woman’s pantsuit will be the furthest thing from our minds.