You Go, Girl! What One Writer Learned at a Conference for Young Women

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This powerful statement is from Marianne Williamson's A Return To Love: Reflection on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. It was delivered by girls from the Brentwood School drill team at the third annual It’s Our Turn: Young Women’s Conference on January 30.

Here is the conference's mission statement: “It’s Our Turn: Young Women’s Conference at Brentwood School is a gathering of teenage girls in search of ways to transcend popular culture’s portrayal of young women. A variety of female leaders, mentors, and performers will address issues that most concern girls. Our goal is to seek wisdom and guidance from others, empower ourselves, and inspire those around us.”

Having attended this event, I can say that it definitely fulfilled its mission. I found myself in a room oozing with positivity, support, and strength. Before the event officially started, my friend, my mom, and I explored the booths on the main lawn. There were a flower crown-making booth, a sweets table, a Blushington makeup station, a Barnes and Noble-sponsored table piled with books by amazing women, and much more.

The event opened with the theme: Me, From the Inside Out. Jess Weiner kicked it off with an inspiring talk. In addition to being the CEO of Talk to Jess and a Dove Global Self-Esteem Ambassador, Jess was one of the pioneers of the new Barbie dolls, which come in a variety of body shapes, hair colors, and skin tones. She talked about how, when she first started to work with Barbie, people would ask her why she would join such an awful company. As she explained it, once you're invited in the door and have a seat at the table, you can use that seat to create change. I thought this was a really cool idea, that if you can get in the door, you can create the changes you want to see.

Positive female role models help girls to move beyond cultural stereotypes. (RomitaGirl67 / Flickr)

There were interviews with the Olympic gold medalists Allyson Felix (track and field) and Jordyn Wieber (gymnastics). They spoke of the challenges of being a young, elite athlete, and they both said something that resonated with me. They said that when you are pursuing something like a professional sport and are practicing all the time and not going to school, there will come a point when you will feel isolated. But in the end, they say, it is worth it. I relate to this because I run a charity, and so I often miss out on things and feel isolated. It is reassuring to know that it is, in fact, worth it.

In our first breakout session, I heard a panel with Sophia Amoruso, CEO of the clothing company Nasty Gal; Gabi Gregg, founder of GabiFresh, a clothing line for fashionable young women sizes 14 and higher; and Peter Kim, founder and CEO of Hudson Jeans. Hudson Jeans was one of the first high-end clothing companies to stop photoshopping and retouching their photos. Kim talked about how it upset him to use fake people to sell his clothes, giving the false message that if you buy his clothes you will look this way. So he decided instead to advertise truthfully.

Fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg gave a talk filled with grace and humor. She spoke about her crazy, incredible life, and about how you should never be afraid to do things that haven't been done. When she created the wrap dress, it was far from the fashions of the time—and it blew up. She talked about how you should never lose your voice; you should share your ideas and let people hear what you have to say.

Later I listened to Dr. Kathy Magliato, director of Women’s Cardiac Services at St. John’s Medical Center and one of the world's only female cardiothoracic surgeons. She discussed how, as a woman, she had to work twice as hard to get half the credit. She felt she could only be taken seriously if she were the best heart surgeon in the hospital. Another theme she and many of the others touched on is that, when you are looking for a mentor, you shouldn't just look for another woman. You should find the best person who is willing to mentor you, man or woman.

Next I sat in on a panel about woman who've paved the way. They included Gillian Zucker, president of operations for the Los Angeles Clippers; Julie Ann Crommett, program manager of computer science education in media for Google; Iana Daniels, engineer officer in the US Army; and Dr. Jos’lyn Woodard, a neurosurgeon a UCLA. My main takeaway from this panel was something that Dr. Woodard said: she suggested that, when you start climbing higher on the ladder of success, don’t just look ahead of you for mentors—look behind you and be a mentor for someone else.

At our second breakout session, we heard LaShonda Coleman, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and the director of the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA-Santa Monica Medical Center; and Taylor Trudon, the Voices editor for MTVNews. Their topic was how to empower yourself with social media. For me, one of the most powerful points made during this session was a comment from a girl in the audience. She talked about how she finds it funny and sad that we talk about social media as though it were a person who is doing bad things and is somehow at fault. The truth, she said, is that WE are social media. Twitter and Instagram are just tools. We can use them to spread positivity and create change. Or we can use them to be mean and hurt one another. BuIt is within our control to decide how we want to use these tools.

For the last portion of the conference, Nicole Richie and jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer spoke of the importance of friendship and surrounding yourself with good people. Maria Shriver interviewed Cindy Crawford, who talked about how a woman should never be with a man who doesn’t like that she makes more money then he does or who won’t let her wear heels if she'll be taller than he is. She said that, when she was starting her business, she kept waiting for a “business daddy” to come along to help her. But when no one did, she realized that she had to be confident, believe in herself, and be her own “business daddy”.

It was a wonderful event that supported women’s empowerment without bashing men. It was positive, full of love, and incredibly inspiring. The lessons I learned: be your own “business daddy”, always look behind you to see who you can help, surround yourself with good people, and be confident.

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You Go, Girl! What One Writer Learned at a Conference for Young Women

Riley Gantt

When Riley isn't working to bring equal education to all the elementary school kids in Los Angeles as the Founder/CEO of Rainbow Pack she is a high school student. She loves to belt out tunes and play guitar as she does her homework. Her dog Ella and cat Finnegan make a fabulous audience for these impromptu performances. When she's not rabble-rousing or writing you can find Riley behind her camera.

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