Empowering Young Women

Chippewa Falls YMCA class aims to boost health practices and banish dieting and bad habits for young women

Jessica Amaris

In a nation that makes the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show about as big as the oscars, it’s no surprise we find young girls going to the extremes to be the next Gisele Bundchen and anxiously Googling the fastest ways to lose weight.

Over the years, news outlets have revealed girls as young as six years old expressing their concern with being fat. In fear, they may turn to unhealthy methods of achieving the ideal body, whether it’s through crash diets, crazy workout regimes, or eating disorders.

“My hope is to work with girls and empower them to have a sense of self-esteem that exists outside an unhealthy focus on eating and body image. I want to focus on how they feel.” - Courtney Thon, certified trainer heading up Empower!

Courtney Thon is a certified trainer through the American Council on Exercise, and said she is nervous about the lifestyle direction some young women are taking. So, she took action and created the Empower! program at the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA in Chippewa Falls. Her goal is to teach young women healthy steps to a fit lifestyle. “My hope is to work with girls and empower them to have a sense of self-esteem that exists outside an unhealthy focus on eating and body image,” Thon said. “I want to focus on how they feel.”

The eight-week program is set to launch Jan. 20 and will run through March 10, and is open to six young women between the ages of 12 and 17. It consists of an hour-long session that focuses on many aspects of a healthy lifestyle such as eating habits, the effects of eating nutrient-rich food, examining nutrition labels, staying active, enjoying fun workouts, and even taking a few short cooking lessons.

Thon said this program is different from any she’s ever done because it focuses on nutrition and fitness as a lifestyle, not a quick solution. The program even incorporates conversation about society’s influence on body image and social acceptance, which is a crucial factor playing into a young woman’s psychological perception of herself. “We don’t focus on calories, body size, and BMI,” Thon said. “We want the girls to know it’s okay to not focus on those things, but focus on how they feel day-to-day.”

As a personal trainer, Thon works with a variety of ages. Over the past four years, she’s discovered that younger people are far less likely to carry healthy behaviors into adulthood if they have a negative experience when they’re young. “These years are crucial because young women are transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking,” Thon said, “which allows them to evaluate situations, and their health broadly and more rationally.”

Many of us desire direction when it comes to fitness and nutrition, but Thon said these young women who are transitioning into adulthood especially yearn for it, particularly when faced with mixed messages from the media. Thon said in order to create a greater impact on their futures it’s essential to teach them healthy behaviors early on. “I would like (fewer) girls to fall through the cracks that end up with eating disorders or become obese, and then pass those behaviors on to their own kids,” Thon said. “I want to stop that, and have these girls be healthy, feel good, and eat smart.”

Though Empower! is a program targeting young women, Thon said the YMCA would eventually like to incorporate a program tailored to young men. Until then, she hopes to give girls the confidence of a Victoria’s Secret model without the unhealthy eating habits.

“The more girls that carry these empowering messages back to school and invite that way of thinking (the better),” Thon said. “These are our future leaders and the challenge for them is to go out into the world and hold onto that, no matter what they see around them.”

Empower! A Non-Diet Lifestyle Program for Teen Girls • Tuesdays, Jan. 20-March 10, 4-5pm • Chippewa Valley Family YMCA, 611 Jefferson Ave., Chippewa Falls • $125 for members, $200 for nonmembers • open to two to six girls, ages 12-17 • (715) 723-2201 • www.chippewaymca.com