‘Girl Culture’ arrives this month

Kristen Grimmer

Promoting emotional and physical health for teenage girls will be the focus of the exhibit “Girl Culture,” by Lauren Greenfield, which will be coming to Topeka in March.

The exhibit, which is funded by the Topeka Junior League, will be hosted in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery from March 6 through April 17. It will be the center of a series of events aimed at both teen girls and parents.

“Girl Culture” is a collection of photos taken over a five year span by Los Angeles photographer Lauren Greenfield. Her work documents the effects of the fashion industry and media on the way young girls perceive themselves and their body image.

The exhibit may be controversial, said gallery curator Trish Nixon.

“Some of the photos are not cheerful, lighthearted images,” said Nixon. “They’re very powerful.”

She expects some controversial reactions from the public, but welcomes this as a way to get parents and teens to communicate with each other.

Debra Rukes, director of Teen Pregnancy Prevention at the YWCA, will be leading a workshop called “Illusions of Me” as part of the exhibit. The workshop will be a discussion about sexuality and body image for teenage girls and it will focus on helping teens realize their own value and potential as individuals in order to make healthy life choices.

“The reality of what we’re exposed to changes what we think,” said Rukes. “Why not Topeka? The pictures in gallery, they’re somebody’s daughter or niece.”

Rukes said it was important to discuss the kinds of issues that will be presented in the exhibit with teens who are being exposed to them everyday, and she referred to the unsafe percentage of teens who are already experimenting with sex at alarmingly early ages.

According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Kansas State Department of Education, 34.4 percent of teens in high schools across the state engaged in sexual intercourse with one or more partners during a three-month span.

Last year in Shawnee county, six girls ages 10-14 gave birth.

“This is a nationwide problem,” said Rukes. She also said that to think teen girls don’t face these kinds of problems in Topeka is naive.

An artist discussion with Greenfield and the showing of her HBO documentary film “Thin” will be featured along with the exhibit. The movie follows four women as they receive treatment for anorexia nervosa. It will be followed by a question-and-answer session led by Gabriella M. Adorino, who has experience dealing with eating disorders.

Parents in the community are invited to take part in the events, and they are also encouraged to take part in the panel discussion by community leaders called “Are Girls Growing Up Too Fast?”

As a way to interact with the art itself, a postcard project is also included in the events. The project is meant to help girls tell things about themselves anonymously by filling the back of the postcard with images and words. The postcards will be arranged in collage format by gallery curator Heather Kearns.

“It’s something interactive that utilizes Lauren’s works but also starts dialogue between people,” said Kearns. “Sometimes it’s very painful to say things. This is one way they can talk and still be anonymous.”

She also said that the project is important to the exhibit because people can better understand the photos when they have a personal connection with them.