Girls Now! conference to focus on cyber bullying, body image


By Omar L. Gallaga
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
AUSTIN, Texas — Pooja Shetty, a 17-year-old senior at Bowie High School, learned about cyber bullying firsthand. But, to her surprise, she turned out to be one of the bullies.

She and a friend used AOL Instant Messenger to pose as a popular girl and send messages to their friends. “We were kind of making fun of them a little bit,” Shetty said. “We were just joking, but they found out it was us.”

Her best friend felt hurt and fired back, calling Shetty arrogant. “It hurt to have her say that. I learned that just because it’s on the Internet, it’s a lot easier to be mean to someone.”

Today, Shetty uses the experience as a lesson for younger girls she helps mentor for the Girls Empowerment Network of Austin (GENaustin). The organization invites high school girls to visit middle schools and engage in activities to promote self-esteem, healthy eating, positive body image and other lessons especially relevant to young women ages 13-18. GENaustin, which launched in 1996 as The Ophelia Project, now has programs in 20 Central Texas schools.

On Nov. 14, the group will host its second annual Girls Now! conference, in which the group hopes 1,200 students, parents, educators and social workers will participate in more than 100 workshops. Alexis Jones, a former “Survivor” contestant, will be keynote speaker. Jones founded the company I am that girl, which works for social change and female empowerment. The packed conference schedule also includes “American Gladiator” champion Ally Davidson, author signings, Hula-Hoopers and roller derby girls, and performances by the Djembabes and Girls Rock Band Camp members. Texas first lady Anita Perry was named honorary chairwoman and will deliver a message on video to girls at the conference. Full story.

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