Glass ceilings. Body image. Inner voices. What do these three concepts have in common? They all have a tendency to prevent women from being their best selves.
But Ursuline Academy (UA) in Dedham is rewriting that narrative for young women. Through a series of Health and Wellness Workshops funded by the Catholic Health Foundation, UA students are learning emotional and social tools to empower one another and themselves. And most importantly, they are learning the art of self-love.
While peer pressure, bullying, and numbers on a scale have always preyed on adolescent girls’ self-esteem, new research shows that their mental health after the pandemic has plummeted. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports an unprecedented rise in girls’ feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and suicidal thoughts. An additional contributor to these unsettling statistics is the prevalence of social media use and teenage girls’ social and emotional connectivity to these platforms.
Understanding this information and knowing that social support leads to resilience, Ursuline Academy has been proactive in its response. As part of a strategic initiative to better support their students’ emotional wellbeing, Ursuline has created health/wellness activities and learning opportunities. Throughout the 2022-2023 academic year, they hosted Wellness Workshops that emphasized healthy relationships, positive self-care, and a healthy spiritual life. By leading the girls through simple meditations and visualizations, workshop leaders coach girls on positive self-talk, reminding them to treat themselves like they treat their best friend.
The Workshops also foster a sense of belonging among the girls. Together, they develop supportive friendships, recognize and encourage one another in their abilities, and focus on developing a healthy confidence that is rooted in their natural gifts. Intentional group dialogues also help students make positive associations with food and body image while creating a strong foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
Ursuline’s Workshops also include programs for faculty and parents that address the current social-emotional challenges faced by teenage girls, especially those stemming from social media.
Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok greatly contribute to girls’ fear of non-acceptance. These platforms inundate girls and young women with carefully curated images, fostering in them a desire to look “instagood” at all times. Unrealistic beauty standards are being upheld as gold standards while filters and photo editing tools have become accessories of choice. The reality is that more and more young women feel dissatisfied with their own appearance. Educating the UA students on the dangers of perception (and misperception) inherent in social media is integral to helping them navigate adolescence. The Wellness programs are also vital in removing the stigma around mental health and opening up conversations around anxiety and stress.
Ursuline’s Wellness Workshops develop healthy, resilient, young women and equip them (and the adults in their lives) with strategies to accomplish that goal. As the school’s mission suggests, the aim is to guide students to be women of integrity who live with faith, courage, and joy. Developing these three traits will help young women effect meaningful change in the world and simultaneously learn that their best attributes shine from the inside out.