Reprint: Empowering Teenage Girls


The following article was written by Court Booth of Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education and originally appeared in the Concord Journal.

May, 2010

Social and academic pressures can be acute for middle school girls. Concord resident Susanne Liebich is doing something about it.

A certified Pilates, Nia and dance instructor, Liebich knows firsthand the benefits of exercise and wellness. But as she witnessed while raising her own daughter, the road to healthy living is not always an easy one for adolescent girls.

“What I have observed is that around the middle school years,” Liebich said, “girls experience self-esteem issues regarding their appearance, their accomplishments, and their social situations. They are constantly being judged or ranked on how well they perform.”

Liebich decided to channel her passions for health and teaching preteen and teenage girls into a program she called Girlpower, now offered through Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education.

“We can help empower young girls, with an experiential program that is non-judgmental and focuses on skills related to self awareness, self care, and peer connections,” she said.

Now in its third season and with three separate one-week sessions this July, Girlpower introduces girls between the ages of 10 and 15 to a host of healthy activities such art, yoga, cooking, skin care, fashion, and writing.

Q: You have a combination of creative arts, practical skills, and fitness activities. Why did you choose that particular mix of elements and how do they blend together to support your goals?

A: I tried to combine elements that support my holistic philosophy toward wellness. Exercise and health of one’s body along with nutrition, are the fundamental goals; we need these elements in place in our lives before we can enjoy the benefits of other, more abstract activities. Journaling and art are wonderful ways to express a wide array of emotions, and both can also be very healing. Fashion and developing a personal style is both a fun way for the girls to start thinking about how they want to present themselves in an authentic way, and also reinforces important ideas regarding appropriate dress and careful spending habits.

Q: What type of girl would benefit most from the program?

A: I believe all girls would find something to like in GirlPower. The active girl would be happy with the variety and duration of exercise; we exercise every day — yoga, Pilates, expressive dance and hiking. The artistic girl would enjoy performance arts, (dance and drumming), visual arts, culinary arts and literary arts. To appeal to girls in touch with nature, we enjoy daily hikes on local trails. The outgoing or social girl would enjoy making new friends and bonding over lots of different activities. I find most girls are a combination of all three types, and they enjoy pretty much everything.

Q: Parents and their daughters may each have their own reasons for wanting to participate in the program. Is that so?

A: Absolutely. Most parents want their daughters to do the program for the health benefits. Most girls want to do the program because they are interested in two or three of the activities that perhaps are new to them.

Q: You also bring in some guest experts. Who are they and how do they support the philosophy of the program?

A: The program is always evolving to include new guest experts. Debra Stark, proprietor of Debra’s Natural Gourmet, does a wonderful job in instilling the nutritional importance of natural ingredients, while also stressing the enjoyment of food and sitting down to a beautiful meal. Susan Ticknor is a wonderful artist with a sense of whimsy who has a studio at the Emerson Umbrella. Ruth Herman is a professional writer and teacher who is able to help the girls express their feelings in words. Deborah Ricci owned a second hand retail fashion store for 25 years and does personal style consulting. All of these women have gone through difficulties in their lives, and persevered to find personal success. They are great role models.

Q: You have added a new element to the program time at the Henry David Thoreau House. Tell us about that.

A: I loved the idea of having some of the program in a location that evokes principles of simplicity, conservation and love of nature. There will be a beautiful circle of stones out back where Ruth will conduct the journaling. The yoga and exercise will be done outside under the canopy. Gaining Ground is right next door, so we may be able to integrate learning a little about gardening while spending a little time harvesting some vegetables, and then perhaps preparing a simple salad.

Q: Girlpower is now in its third season. What feedback have you received from past participants?

A: The girls seem to really enjoy the variety of activities. One mother said that her daughter enjoyed it so much, she would definitely be registering for this summer’s program. I had one parent thank me last summer for bringing “beauty and peace” into their lives. Also, several of the girls became friends and exchanged e-mails, phone numbers or met after the program ended. It was a great forum for new friendships.

Holly Kania