The statistics about self-esteem are not pretty for young women. The National Institute on Media and Family reports that by age 13, more than half of girls are “unhappy with their bodies,” and that surges to 78 percent by age 17. According to a 2008 report commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 75 percent of girls with low self-esteem admit to “engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking or disordered eating.”
Here in Las Vegas, Dr. Carli Snyder is trying to do something about those numbers. A certified clinical psychologist with a private practice, she has spent the past two decades studying women’s health issues, with an emphasis on the challenges of adolescence. She’s also the founder of Girl Nation, a local organization for young girls grades 2-8. “High school is where it gets scary. Pressures are much more intense,” Snyder says. “It’s important that we have girls coming together earlier and solidifying their self-esteem.”
Since 2015, Snyder has developed Girl Nation workshops including “What I Wish I Knew Going Into High School.” These events are full of activities such as art projects, yoga and preparing healthy snacks to build self-worth beyond physical appearance. At these workshops, Snyder is joined by Girl Nation ambassadors, young women high school age or older who serve as mentors to the younger participants. “Parents can say things till they’re blue in the face, but when a young girl hears it from her peers, it makes an impact.”
One such ambassador is 18-year-old high school senior Sarah Paglini, who says her involvement in Girl Nation has inspired her to become a clinical psychologist like Dr. Snyder. “At the beginning of each workshop, we give every girl a fun question to answer. I remember one girl who was asked to name one thing she loved about herself. She immediately broke down crying because she said she couldn’t find anything. Every girl started complimenting her on something,” Paglini says.
An all-girl setting is important to Snyder, a mother of three boys. “It creates a powerful place where the girls can come together and connect.” She limits each workshop to about 13 participants—“Small enough so they each get time to share, but big enough so that they can hear each other’s stories. They realize how similar they are.” Above all, Snyder says she wants each girl to have fun. “It’s a day to celebrate how great it is to be a girl.”
Girl Nation workshop for fifth and sixth grade girls: May 21, 1–5 p.m. and “What I Wish I Knew Going Into High School” workshop: June 4, 1–5 p.m., Belly Bliss, 5761 S. Fort Apache Rd., $150, itsgirlnation.com