Social media and "selfies" can dominate the daily life of any teenager with a smartphone, but the pressure to "look beautiful" trickles down even to elementary-age girls, said Worthington Park Elementary School sixth-grader Audrey Yates.
"With social media these days, there are all these models out there that are so skinny and all Photoshopped," Audrey said. "We don't want girls to look at that and think, 'That's what I need to look like.' We want girls to know they are beautiful and that they are strong."
She and classmate Lauren Carpenter began that effort by founding the Inner Beauty Club at Worthington Park. They meet during a lunch hour once a week with eight to 10 girls – all sixth graders – to talk about "girl stuff."
"We want our club to be a safe place for girls to find friends and learn how to be comfortable in their own shoes," Lauren said.
"We talk about how to deal with our problems and we like to give constant support to each other."
Topics the girls discuss include feminism, confidence, happiness, female role models, stereotypes, inner strength, drama, hope, standing up for oneself and others, leadership, gender equality and beauty, Audrey said.
"Our goal is to empower girls to speak out and to be confident with themselves and have high self-esteem," she said.
Principal Asia Armstrong said she asked the girls "a lot of questions" at first, but soon loved the idea of the club. Sixth-grade teacher Sandy Norse also agreed to allow the girls to meet in her classroom.
"One of the really cool aspects of IBC is that it is not all about conforming and getting all the girls to be the same," Armstrong said. "The girls encourage each other to be who they are and love who they are. They understand that it is OK to be unique.
"I also appreciate the fact that these girls are forward-thinking. They often have discussions about what they plan to do in middle school and beyond."
Audrey and Lauren said they were inspired to form their group by the Ruling Our eXperiences club – known best by its acronym, ROX – they joined in fifth grade.
Coordinated by the school counselor, the ROX program is a nationwide club. However, it only is for fifth-grade girls.
"There is a lottery for girls to get in, so only about 10 to 15 girls are allowed in each year," Audrey said.
Lauren said a major goal for the Inner Beauty Club is to organize guest speakers who can address issues important to girls.
"We like to talk about things like confidence, inner beauty, problems they are facing, drama and their opinions on current events or issues," she said. "You don't have to act like a 'normal' girl and you don't have to do everything that everyone else is doing. You can be what you want to be."
Armstrong said she is excited about the club's potential.
"These ladies are amazing young leaders and they undoubtedly will do great things in the future," she said. "I am so thankful that I get to work with them."
Audrey said they are looking for two-fifth grade girls to take over the group at the end of the school year when she and Lauren move on to middle school.
Her mother, Nancy, said she was "pretty impressed" that the two girls decided to start and run a club on their own.
"I'm also impressed that they've continued so long with it and have such interesting topics to discuss," she said. "Audrey really seems to be blooming as a leader."