Health Column: A conference that’s for and about girls

There’s a lot facing the young women of today: peer pressure, relationship troubles and unrealistic body expectations broadcast on television screens and social media sites.

With so much to keep up with, it can be easy for girls to lose their sense of self, and the bigger picture of the woman they hope one day to become. 

On Saturday, a number of organizations are coming together to help young women find that sense of self, at the first ever Girls’ Health, Wellness & Empowerment Conference, at Riverhead High School from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Open to area high school students, the event will encourage discussion of the many issues young women face and create a safe environment where they can open up about their experiences.

Dr. Jennifer Rich of Peconic Pediatrics said many messages girls receive through the media and in their day-to-day lives “don’t encourage girls to explore their own power — to say no — and to advocate for themselves.

“That’s not going to happen by accident without parents, the community and schools getting involved to give young women the tools they need to make themselves feel confident.”

A mother and pediatric physician for more than 17 years, Dr. Rich said she feels invested in these young women’s struggles, because every day she helps a young patient with one issue or another.

Maria Spera, a licensed clinical social worker with both the school and the Pederson-Krag Center, said she was inspired to create the event after seeing the struggles of girls at the high school level.

“I want these girls to find a way to empower themselves, learn how to take care of themselves and their bodies and project a positive image of themselves,” she said.

The day’s topics will include lighter chats about health and fitness, providing girls ways to stay healthy without having to spend money on costly gym memberships, such as doing simple workouts at home.

Dr. Alexis Hugelmeyer of The Suah Center for Natural Healthcare will join Dr. Rich in a discussion about healthy eating, and the dangers of crash dieting, which, Ms. Spera said, is a known issue among area high school students.

Once equipped with health tips, the girls will see a fashion show that includes styles for all different body types, to help them prepare for college and job interviews.

The conference will also foster discussion of healthy relationships, and students will hear from women their own age in a presentation by The Retreat, a nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of domestic abuse and violence.

Two students from East Hampton High School who have overcome dating violence will share their stories as part of the group’s Teen Leadership Project.

The overall goal is to encourage the young women to become strong leaders, employees, or entrepreneurs, Ms. Spera said.

Dr. Rich said that many messages girls receive are “about them not being good enough.

“If you don’t stay mindful about what you think about yourself, you’ll succumb to all the bad messages,” she said. “I think a conference about feeling self-confidence and knowing who they are and what they have to offer, it is a really good message.”

For more information about the conference, contact Ms. Spera at 591-5950, 294-1540 or [email protected].

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].