Multimedia Reporting by Erin Valentine
Every Wednesday at 8 p.m. in William Henry Belk Pavilion room 208, a group of girls gather in a circle. The conversation makes its way around, with each girl talking about a success, failure, or observation of the week. When there is an emotional moment, the girls pat over their heart to show support for their fellow member. There is laughter, and tears, and an underlying connection from something that has become more than just a club. They have each become THAT girl.
I Am That Girl is a movement that works to provide a community for girls to be who they are, express themselves, and have a support system to encourage and inspire them.
A vested interest
Alli Lindenberg affectionately explains her foray into I Am That Girl as “lovingly creepy, but still creepy.” Her interest originated four years ago when scrolling through Tumblr. As Lindenberg kept happening upon the I Am That Girl movement, she increasingly became invested in its mission. Starting as a cyber fan she participated in I Am That Girl from afar.
Her senior year of high school, Lindenberg decided she could no longer just be an admirer.
“I emailed them at just the general email saying, ‘Hi, my name’s Alli and I know you guys don’t have high school chapters, but I really want to start one and would this be a possibility?’ And within a day, they were like, ‘Absolutely!’ And I was on my way.”
Lindenberg started the first ever high school chapter for I Am That Girl in early 2013. Her Greensboro high school’s chapter was the 19th chapter of the movement to launch.
Two years later, I Am That Girl has 136 chapters, over 1600 chapter members, and it is continuing to rapidly grow.
Lindenberg, who is now a sophomore Human Services major at Elon University, is currently an intern for the movement.
“I think why I fell in love with it was because it spoke so true to my core,” Lindenberg said. “Just reading the pledge, everything the organization was saying about turning self-doubt into self-love, about helping other people succeed, about collaboration over competition, and trying to be your best but accepting where you are, it just hit me so hard, I just couldn’t ignore it after I read it. I was hooked.”
According to I Am That Girl’s 2013 annual report, chapters have been started in eight countries. I Am That Girl has been associated with celebrities, such as actress Sophia Bush, and partnered with companies, such as Dell, to spread their message. Revenue for the movement was at around $245,000 in 2013, and their website also draws quite a bit of traffic, with over 98,000 site visits in 2013.
Most of their impressions on social media are female, with the majority in the age range of 18-34 years old. Those who wish to join the cause can take the I Am That Girl pledge. For males who wish to align themselves with the movement’s mission, there is also an I Am That Guy pledge, which promotes positive support for the girls in a guy’s life.
I Am That Girl states on its website that it isn’t just a girl’s movement, but also a human movement.
Camellia Khalvati, the Local Program Manager for I Am That Girl, has high hopes for continuing to build the I Am That Girl community and to make the next step to shifting girl culture.
“The safe space we create in our community is a place where girls can be truly themselves, together,” Khalvati said. “It’s magical what amazing growth and positive change can happen when girls join hands and stop competing. “
Forming a community
The Elon University chapter of I Am That Girl has grown massively since its inception. From starting with 15 members to now having over 200 participants in the chapter’s Facebook group, the group is gaining traction.
According to Lindenberg, about 30 to 40 girls regularly come to the weekly Wednesday meetings.
“The meetings are really the crux of I Am That Girl,” Lindenberg said. “It’s bringing people together to be honest and talk about things that matter and to encourage people to be themselves and have this supportive community where you have permission to express yourself and grow into the person you want to be.”
A member of the group, who starts off the conversation with specific questions, usually facilitates the meetings.
Every meeting is started with the opening exercise called, “I’m a badass because…” Each member states what that week made her feel good about herself. For example, one member stated that they were a “badass” because they brought their skateboard to campus and hadn’t knocked anyone over yet. Another member said that they had run every day that week.
Then, the meeting topic is introduced, which becomes the focus of the discussion. One week the issue was discussing loneliness versus being alone. The girls tell anecdotes, offer advice, and develop thoughts together on the topic.
The closing activity of the meetings is, “You are that girl because,” which is when the members give shout outs to each other on why they are exemplary.
Love Me For My Mind, a social media campaign run by the chapter in the fall, ended up having 15 other I Am That Girl chapters from around the world participate.
The group also has brunches and get-togethers outside of the weekly meetings to “celebrate each other,” according to Lindenberg.
Elon’s chapter has participated in activities with the Sigma Kappa sorority and Girls to Empower Teens to host an event called “Commit to Fit.” The chapter has also done service with the Burlington Housing Authority through a program called Dream Girls, which is aimed at providing a safe environment for positive socialization with girls in middle school and high school.
Lindenberg said that I Am That Girl is interested in establishing relationships with Elon organizations such as SPARKS (Students Promoting Awareness, Responsibility, Knowledge, and Success) and EFFECT (Elon Feminists for Equality, Change, and Transformation) in the future.
Making an impact
It is the members of I Am That Girl that give the movement life at Elon University. Now that the club has started to gain some recognition, the impact of I Am That Girl is starting to sink in.
Some members said that I Am That Girl has expanded their understanding of others and has opened a venue for authentic conversations.
“There’s something about the IATG community,” Lindenberg said. “It’s so authentic and it’s so real and honest… Once I realized that communities could be like that, that they be completely supportive and encouraging and just accepting, it was a feeling like nothing else I’ve experienced.”
Katharine Milbradt, an Elon first year, found the group appealing for the safe space it offered.
“It’s so relieving to be able to come into a space where people are so accepting and so willing to talk about things that we don’t always talk about,” Milbradt said.
Members have been drawn to the club either through friends, Elon’s organization fair, or social media.
Rachel Kading, a first year at Elon University, found out about I Am That Girl at the organization fair.
“I just saw these girls and I walked up to their booth and they said their main message is changing self-doubt into self-love… which in college is a chance to start over,” Kading said.
Kading saw I Am That Girl as a support system to help her improve herself in college.
“I’ve always struggled with self-esteem, so I thought this could be my chance to have a clean slate, and to start with a brand new me, and a stronger, better me,” Kading said.
Helen Thompson, an Elon first year, found I Am That Girl to be the community she needed in her first semester at college.
“I actually felt that there was a community here of people that were going to support me,” Thompson said.
Elon first year Marissa Baum found I Am That Girl appealing partly because of its welcoming nature.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Baum said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, or anything. You can just come as much or as little as you need to. We’re going to love you no matter what. We’re always going to accept you. We’re always going to welcome you.”
Some members have been inspired by the lessons they have learned at I Am That Girl and have plans to share them with others in the future. Elon first year Sophie Faxon has plans to take her experiences at I Am That Girl to the camp where she works.
“I just desperately want to take these values and give them to my campers this summer as devotionals,” Faxon said. “For a young girl to hear these things, and to realize that it’s true and it’s real, that it’s important, at such a young age, like 12, 13 or 14, it’s just so so needed, especially in today’s world.”
For others, the group inspires support and strength to keep them on track to improving themselves. Elon first year Emily DeMaioNewton found I Am That Girl essential is helping her focus on being a healthy, happy person.
“It definitely strengthened me as a person in a way, where I can be soft but I can be strong at the same time,” DeMaioNewton said. “Sometimes that’s hard for those things to co-exist at once, especially because of the way society defines strength, and a lot of times puts vulnerability down and says things like that make you a weak person when really that makes you a strong person.”
Lindenberg said that the organization has helped her understand others and herself better and to find inspiration in others and herself.
“It’s all this feeling of I want you to be your best self, and I want me to be my best self, how can we do this together?” Lindenberg said.
Some members said for the future that they wanted men to come to some of the meetings to get their viewpoint on some of the topics talked about. Others mentioned that they wished that the message and culture of I Am That Girl could be everywhere.
Lindenberg’s main goal is to continue to create a culture of kindness.
“I’m surrounded by such amazing women that could all lead this chapter to do incredible, incredible things, and we’re doing it all together,” Lindenberg said. “But I just feel so grateful to be a part of it in the capacity that I have been and will continue to be. The prominent feeling I have when I think of I Am That Girl is gratitude.”