Mayor Bloomberg Launches NYC Girls' Self-Esteem Project

By - OCT. 01, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Services Linda I. Gibbs and Executive Director for the Women’s Commission Andrea Shapiro Davis today launched the New York City Girls Project, a multi-faceted girls’ self-esteem initiative. Recognizing girls as young as six and seven years old are struggling with body image and self-esteem, New York City is the first major city in the nation to tackle the issue by helping girls believe their value comes from their character, skills and attributes – not appearance.

The project includes an empowering public education campaign geared toward girls ages 7 to12 appearing on buses, subways and phone kiosks and an accompanying 30 second video. The City’s Department of Youth and Community Development will also be piloting self-esteem programming at more than 75 after-school programs and half a dozen schools. Additionally, the Parks Department will be targeting programming at girls, including free fitness program classes in all five boroughs, especially for girls ages 8 to 13 years old, along with all- girl teams in the City’s flag Football League. The New York City Girls Project is a collaboration among the Human Resources Administration, the Center for Economic Opportunity, the New York City Commission on Women’s Issues, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Youth and Community Development. Samantha Levine has been appointed Director of the New York City Girls’ Self-Esteem Project.

“New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the nation with strong, successful women in every area of leadership,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Yet girls are struggling with body image issues at younger and younger ages, a struggle that has negative public health consequences: including eating disorders, bullying, alcohol abuse, early onset of sexual activity and obesity. New York City is going to take a leadership role in sending a message about what really should matter – their skills, their beliefs and who they are and who they are going to be, not what they look like.”


“We know that girls – and often women’s – sense of self-worth and esteem is inextricably linked to self-image,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “And every day girls are confronted by unrealistic, often photoshopped images that they can’t possibly emulate. This intervention sends an important message that girls are valued for who they are and what they do.”

“I am an accomplished and successful woman,” said Women’s Commission Executive Director Andrea Shapiro Davis. “And yet, for much of my life I was incredibly insecure, to a large extent because I was constantly comparing how I looked to the images I saw in the media. Every woman has been touched by this issue at some point in their lives. This is an incredibly important initiative that goes to the heart of who we are as a society.”

“Low self-esteem has been linked to teen pregnancy, making it even more challenging for girls growing up in poverty to reach self-sufficiency. The Girls Project is important because it reminds girls that substance and character are more important than appearance,” said Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar. “Along with HRA’s commitment to ensuring teen pregnancy rates continue to decrease, we also promote personal responsibility among New Yorkers in need.”

“We are proud to support the ‘I'm a Girl’ project, which makes an important statement as part of the City’s efforts toward helping strong, smart young women become tomorrow’s leaders,” said Center for Economic Opportunity Executive Director Kristin Morse.

“Empowering our girls to embrace their unique strengths, make positive choices, respect themselves and go after their dreams is part of DYCD’s core mission,” said Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Jeanne B. Mullgrav. “We are delighted to be a partner in this important initiative that will develop the confidence and leadership skills of our young people. I look forward to seeing the curriculum in action in our afterschool programs across the City.”

“We are proud and excited to participate in this pioneering multi-agency initiative,” said Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner Ronald E. Richter. “This is a valuable project for young girls in foster care, as well as girls in our juvenile justice system, where self-esteem and self-confidence issues can be prevalent.”

“Every time I’ve read about a woman or teen who died trying to lose five pounds on diet pills, or after botched liposuction I wished there was a way to turn back time and tell her she was worth so much more than that,” said Director of the New York City Girls Project Samantha Levine. “Our goal is to help girls believe that they are valued for so much more than their appearance, and that they don't need to struggle to meet someone else’s idea of beauty.”

“I thought it was important for my daughter to be a part of this campaign to show her that there are other girls that are smart and confident too,” said Twanna Cameron, whose daughter appears in the campaign. “She thought it was important to show other girls that they are beautiful just the way they are.”

“We are thrilled to use the resources of our one-of-a-kind collection and our media literacy expertise to join the city in addressing this important issue,” said Paley Center President and CEO Pat Mitchell. “At the Paley Center, we recognize media’s profound power to shape how we see others, and ourselves. With these new classes and the video history, we can help young girls – and boys – think more deeply about how girls are reflected in media, and challenge the idealized or stereotypical images that have a negative effect both on girls’ elf-esteem and the ability of young people to have a nuanced understanding of gender.”

“SPARK Movement was thrilled to partner with the Mayor’s Office to declare October 11, 2012 the New York City Day of the Girl and in the year since, we have been inspired to see the city continue with their commitment to improving the lives and well-being of our girls,” said Executive Director of SPARK Movement Dana Edell. “At SPARK, we are committed to challenging dangerous and sexualized images of girls in the media and we are so happy to see New York City celebrate girls' strength, creativity, intellect, compassion, courage and humor – along with all the diverse ways they are beautiful just the way they are. The inspiring posters and video show our girls – and all of New York City’s citizens – that what their bodies do and say is so much more important than what they look like. Samantha Levine and her team working on the New York City Girls Project are setting a national example of how a city can use its resources to educate and raise awareness about our need to support our girls.”

“You don’t have to be a young girl in today’s society to be aware of the myriad pressures girls face, from their peers, family, culture and media,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair Ed.D. author of Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health, And Leadership.“As the author of a program shown to increase girls’ body image, self-esteem and overall leadership, I thank the City of New York for taking a leadership role and sending a powerful message to girls that their value lies in being who they are.”

About New York City Girls Project

Even as women have made enormous strides in education, politics and the workplace, young girls report struggling with body image and self-esteem at younger and younger ages and stories abound about bullying around appearance and sexual behavior.

Girls’ dissatisfaction manifests around body image, particularly weight, at an alarmingly young age: More than 80 percent of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat and, by middle school, 40-70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body, and body satisfaction hits rock bottom between the ages of 12 to 15 years old.

The initiative aims to tackle the issue of girls’ self-esteem and body image by helping girls believe their value comes from their character, skills and attributes – while challenging an unhealthy idea of beauty.

About the Public Education Campaign

Working closely with girls organizations and the City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, the City developed test messages and then focus grouped messages and design concepts among girls 7 to 12 years old. The final campaign will run for four weeks on buses and phone kiosks and eight weeks on subways. It features a diverse group of 15 girls performing activities like reading, playing sports and drawing with the words: “I’m a girl. I’m smart, a leader, adventurous, friendly, funny. I’m beautiful the way I am.”

The campaign invites girls to share what makes them beautiful the way they are with #ImAGirl. Creative by Dennis Ahlgrim, President and Creative Director of Ahlgrim Design Group and photography by Richard Brathwaite.

The Paley Media Center – SPARK Movement Collaboration

As part of this initiative, in partnership with the City and SPARK Movement, The Paley Center for Media has developed two new class offerings for its K-12 education program. “Girls, Body Image, and the Media” helps students look critically at television programs targeting girls that send messages, both positive and negative, about body image and ideas of beauty. “A Brief History of Girls on Television” traces the evolution of the representation of girls on television, from the 1950s to the present. As with all Paley Center curricula, the classes are offered on-site for New York City-area school groups.

Paley Center educators have assembled a decade-by-decade visual history of the changing portrayal of girls on television –unique resource created by this collaboration. Clips from this compilation will be utilized in the classes as a catalyst for discussion and will be made available at

New York City Parks Department Programs

Physical activity has been shown to improve self-image and girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. The Parks Department is therefore targeting fitness programs to girls including:

Shape Up NYC, Parks’ citywide, free fitness program, will offer a class in all five boroughs for girls ages 8 to 13 beginning in October.

The NYC Parks Flag Football League, free for kids ages 8 to 17, has 14 and under all-girls teams in Manhattan. Girls with any level of experience are welcome to join.

he NYC Parks Street Hockey Program, a partnership of NYC Parks and the New York Rangers, starts in the winter and welcomes girls ages 5 to 15.

Additionally, Parks Recreation Center membership is free for youth 17 and under. For young girls, membership provides access to indoor pools, sports clinics, educational programs, fitness classes and more at 35 Recreation Centers across the five boroughs. For more information on all programs, visit

The New York City Girls Project is supported by the Human Resources Administration, Center for Economic Opportunity, Administration for Children’s Services and the NYC Commission on Women’s Issues with additional resources and support from the Department of Education, the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. For more information, visit and search “I’m a Girl.”