“I Am That Girl’s” new generation of girl power

Author Alexis Jones talks to Salon about teaching girls the power of being "unpopular"

Topics: I Am That Girl, Alexis Jones, Millenials, Feminism,

"I Am That Girl's" new generation of girl power (Credit: iamthatgirl.com)

Girls are mean, right? Mean to each other. Mean to their parents. Mean to themselves. They’re also shallow and narcissistic and bratty and bullying and self-loathing. That’s how our culture talks about them, anyway. It’s how it expects them to be. But in a world in which “selfie” can become the word of the year, author Alexis Jones and bracingly positive folks at I Am That Girl want to change the conversation.

The 5-year-old organization has already established itself as a global call to “transform self-doubt into self-love” through education and community building. And now founder and chair Jones has – with the help of inspiring female artists, leaders and entrepreneurs – put together “I Am That Girl: How to Speak Your Truth, Discover Your Purpose, and #bethatgirl,” a user-friendly antidote to the cheesy, oversexualized messages girls digest on a daily basis, and a rallying declaration that “I am enough. I have enough. I do enough.”

Part memoir, part manifesto, the book’s breezy tone will be familiar to those who’ve perused the similarly bubbly empowerment tomes of Gabrielle Bernstein and Kris Carr. But as it aims squarely at girls and women in their vulnerable, confidence-losing years, “I Am That Girl” has a message that unique — a guide to life in which Jones offers girls the uncommon advice to be unafraid to “be the good kind of selfish,” “be unpopular,” and find your passion by finding “what pisses you off.”
On the eve of the book’s publication, Salon spoke with Jones about building a new kind of girl power.

How did the book come about?

It came out of asking: How do we give girls a sanctuary to be honest about who they are and where they want to be, and then how can we provide them with a community? It’s powerful when we are able to come together and just share. All of a sudden you see it’s OK to be scared and its OK to soar.

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For me, it started out as, “I’m going to change the world!” And then I humbly realized I needed changing too. We look in the mirror and don’t love what we see. I get it. We all have this. I never preach about anything I don’t struggle with on a daily basis. The two most comforting words in the English language are, “Me too.”

Why did you choose to write it in such a personal style?

I really put my life out there because whenever I’m working with girls, I think, “How dare you have the audacity to ask people to be vulnerable if you’re not putting yourself on the line?” If you’re not being honest, how can you ask others to follow suit? The last thing that girls need are airbrushed highlight reels. Be scared. Be vulnerable. Have days when you feel overwhelmed.

Why do you think it’s a challenging time right now to be a girl?

All these girls are struggling but we haven’t equipped them. One of the things I try to preach on courage is the willingness to put your vulnerability on the line. In the social media world are girls creating this idea of who they want to be. The crazy thing is that there is this through line of self-doubt. One of our big missions is: How do we silence self-doubt long enough to give a girl space to figure out who she is?

And how do we do that?

It has to start with silence. The willingness to disconnect. Go into a separate room. It’s interesting to me that there are so many books about relationships and getting the perfect guy, and the most important relationship we can cultivate is with ourselves.

Thinking for yourself is about silencing the distractions. There’s so much anxiety and pressure to be engaged 24/7, to not miss anything, always be posting cool, impressive things about yourself. Even if it’s five minutes, I try starting my day from a place of abundance and gratitude. I make it a priority to think of what I have. When girls do that, there’s an intention and there’s an authorship to their lives.

I try to tell girls that we’re not really given the time to figure out who we are. We’re programmed to not be nice to ourselves. We’re working against a $40 billion beauty industry. We’re consuming 10 hours of media a day. Where are the female role models for our daughters to emulate? Given the opportunity to see that this is why we’re so mean to ourselves and to other girls, there is an incredible opportunity to change.

Telling girls it’s OK to say no and be unpopular and be a little selfish runs so far in the opposite direction of the messages girls constantly get from the media, from their friends, even from well-meaning family members. What’s the payoff?

You have nothing to give when you’re not full. This isn’t a women’s movement; it’s a human movement. It’s about taking care of ourselves. Do you know how many girls, when they’re asked what they want to be, say “famous”? What is it in fame we think you don’t have? All we want is validation and belief that we matter. If we have the source of that inside, we don’t need it.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

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