Sister to Sister Mentoring Program Holds Annual Summit

By KAYLA LICHTMAN

On November 11, middle school girls from Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS), Vergennes, and Mount Abe, joined female Middlebury students in the Kirk Alumni Center to experience some of Middlebury’s extracurriculars and discuss body positivity and feminism at the Sister-to-Sister Club Annual Summit. The Summit is the highlight of the year for the club, which aims to support and mentor middle school girls in the local Middlebury area.

“This event is supposed to have the biggest curriculum,” said co-president Ivy Geilker ’19, also noting that it allows the girls to “talk about things that middle schoolers don’t [usually] get a chance to talk about.”

Before the start of the summit, the group sat down to create guidelines that would shape their interactions for the day. On a list posted on the wall as a reminder were some rules: stay kind, respectful, positive, open-minded, non-judgmental, and, of course, goofy.

The day kicked off with a short workshop from Midd Masti, Middlebury’s South Asian dance group. Club members taught the attendees some beginner hand motions and the corresponding foot movements in slow motion, then impressed them by speeding up to perform a sneak preview of their dance for the talent show later that day. After that, the middle schoolers chose between participating in a workshop with improv comedy group Middlebrow or heading to the kitchens with a member of the Nutrition Outreach and Mentoring club to create a tasty and healthy snack.

After their first workshops, the group got together for the highlight of the day: an educational talk by Treasure Brooks ’21 on body positivity entitled “Myths, Marketing, and the Metamorphosis of Body Image.” The goal, as she put it, was to have everyone in the room “develop a more critical eye on how they look at the media they’re digesting.” Brooks believed that middle schoolers were “completely capable” of achieving this goal. As she pointed out, when looking at billboards or magazine ads, it is necessary to think beyond the perfection of the image. What is important, she reminded the room, is to look one step further, at how such false perfection is achieved.

Brooks first asked the audience to distinguish between beauty and attractiveness, the former including a combination of qualities while the latter simply connotes visual features. The girls discussed how the qualities perceived as attractive are often unattainable and unrealistic. Then, Brooks asked the room to compare two images, one before photoshop and one after, andpoint out the differences, which were everywhere: noses, cheeks, eyes, butts, thighs, had all been reshaped in order to perpetuate the idea of physical and visual perfection that opposed realistically attainable goals.

The presentation took on a more serious tone, sharing that 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, and that 42.6% of 15 year-old girls believe themselves to be overweight as compared with only 23% of boys the same age. Brooks then asked each person to share one thing she loved about herself. It was a simple, yet incredibly powerful exercise that brought a smile to everyone’s faces.

“I love that I am a good singer,” one girl shared; “a good friend,” another one said; a good student, a painter, empathetic… the list went on.

As club member Kaila Thompson ’21 said, doing such exercises and holding summits like this allows the girls to “see how diverse people can be and how individualism plays into who you can become.”

After the presentation, the group headed to the second workshop of the day, either facing down the cold to play a fun game of Frisbee outside with the Frisbee club or sitting down to a writing workshop which discussed character development and tackled writing blackout poems.

Ella Dyett ’20 commented that the goal for the day was to “send positive messages to middle school girls [and] to hang out with them.”

While this was a running theme of the whole event, it was especially emphasized in the feminism talks. Club members and students initially broke into small groups to discuss what feminism meant to them. The middle school attendees astutely pointed out that they experienced differences in standards at school during gym tests which set unequal goals for boys and girls. They saw friends field comments and odd looks when they chose not to wear conventional girls’ clothing or have long hair. Coming together as one, the groups discussed this and more.

“It’s expected to be a joke if a boy wears girls’ clothing,” one girl pointed out in frustration. Ideas of acceptance and of fighting for equality abounded as the talks went far beyond the allotted time.

The day came to a close with cupcake decorating and letter writing. Amidst yellow frosting and blue sprinkles, the girls wrote letters to the students of the School of Leadership in Afghanistan, a grade six-12 institute. They introduced themselves and asked some questions in hopes of getting replies in the months to come.

Overall, Ivy said, “[The event] went really well,” Geilker said. “Every girl who left here was super excited about participating.”

Dyett added that  was also meaningful to her to give the middle school girls “someone to look up to.” It was a day of thoughtfulness, exploration and bonding that the club plans to repeat next year.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.