Through a few connections on the PopPos staff, I was honored to be connected with Michelle Cove, New England native and founder of MEDIAGIRLS – an organization that educates both young womxn and their parents to critically interpret media, understand their value, and focus on what matters. I was beyond excited when she agreed to an interview – so I’m proud to call Michelle our next name in our Good Influences series.
So I’ve read the background on why you founded MEDIAGIRLS. How did you go about transitioning that conversation with your daughter into a curriculum? Was she part of the discussion and creation of your messaging and materials?
I honestly don’t know. It was a strange experience – I wrote the curriculum in one weekend and it just kind of poured out of me. That makes me think I’d been percolating on it because as I writer, I can assure you, that just does not happen!
I knew I wanted the curriculum to be three parts: Part 1: Help middle school girls understand that the story they’re being told by media – that their self-worth comes from how close they can get to meeting media’s impossible beauty standards – is a multi-billion story made to drive profits. Part 2: Help girls understand where their true self-worth comes from, based on inner qualities, and Part 3: Deconstruct media, and also create empowering content so they’re part of the solution. While we’ve tweaked the curriculum a lot, those three parts stayed intact.
When I was a young girl (in elementary school in the early 2000’s), my “positive media” influence was American Girl Magazine. What are some other examples of positive media that has existed for young women? Were you inspired by any organizations or “influencers” that were around more than 15-20 years ago?
Well, I grew up in the 80s before girl-power. I was the girl playing with my Barbies, reading magazines like Teen Beat and Seventeen, reading romance books, and watching romantic comedies. So … you really just never know. HA. But my mom taught me early that it is essential to be independent and strong and help bring up girls and young women with us along the way. She was a huge influence in my life. She didn’t refer to herself as a feminist but she absolutely was one.
I know you’ve written several books for women – the title that stood out to me most was Seeking Happily Ever After – what role do you think media plays in making girls (and women) feel like relationships are part of “self actualization”? How do you think the programming in MEDIAGIRLS addresses this specific type of pressure?
A lot of media content has taught us – and continues to teach us – that to truly matter, we women need to be attractive. We need to be “hot” and be in relationships, and a wedding means we’ve “made it.” The real “making it” is knowing our own value, that we matter on our own and that what counts most about us is who we are internally, how we act toward others and our contributions to the world. It just so happens that truly feeling valuable on our own is what allows for the most rewarding and healthy romantic relationships. Much of our curriculum is based on getting girls to identify their positive traits, and practice speaking up for what they believe in. There is no “happily ever after” moment. There is continued growth and learning if we’re doing it right, and enjoying the happy moments when they come.
When you host workshops for parents, do they seem to already be on the “up and up” of what their kids are exposed to online? Or do you have a lot of parents who are learning about their kids’ media environment for the first time?
Definitely not. Parents tend to be confused and anxious about social media, and fearful about the potential damage. This generation of parents did not grow up with social media – myself included – so they don’t know how to set guidelines or talk about best practices. But they have shown up to my workshops open and ready to learn, and I think they leave feeling more hopeful and optimistic. There is actually a lot of good happening on social media too and they don’t hear about that ever. They don’t know, for example, about the amazing female teen role models using their platforms to fight for social justice.
I know you were the Senior Editor of Girl’s Life Magazine for several years. What was it like working for a major publication like that?
Well, I was there only for the first few years of Girls Life as a Sr. Editor, and we published features on really bold women, like college presidents, activists, and astronauts. The friendship advice was always kept very spot on, and we were talking to girls about their real worries: everything from “how do I kiss?” and “what if I get my period in class?” to “how do I speak up when I’m a total invert?”
What sorts of programs do you have coming up this Summer?
We’ve always kept our summer program-free. I do speaking engagements and there’s a lot of work on the business end, but as far as programming, we tweak and revise and make sure we’re staying current. It’s important in this job and in life to have time to stop and reflect so we can keep growing. That said, we’re adding a new component to our business model: licensing our 90-minute #REALMEDIAGIRL workshop to schools for the first time this school year, training teachers and guidance counselors to teach it, so we’re gearing up for that!
Sara Remus is the founder and Executive Director for Pop Culture Positive. A California native, she lived in the golden state’s high desert and Central Valley until 2015 when she relocated to Boston to start a new East Coast life. She is passionate about creating spaces for inclusion, critical thinking, and changing how we handle body image. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.