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Girls Film a Big Step Toward Self-Respect

October 22, 2000|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It takes a big person to stand up to the pressure of being a "perfect" teenage girl.

Which is precisely why 17-year-old Deidra Brown was standing in front of a camera Saturday in Long Beach, filming a national public service announcement that urges young women to accept themselves for who they are.

At 5-feet-10 and 264 pounds, the bespectacled Birmingham, Ala., high school senior has been bombarded all her life with television and magazine images of "beautiful" girls--those who are slender and have perfect skin, perfect eyes and long, flowing hair.

"I always thought I was fat and ugly and that no one would like me because of that," Brown said.

"People around me were always talking about how they needed to lose weight or gain weight or cut their hair or grow it longer. I was always saying it myself."

By the time she became a teenager, Brown was wearing bulky clothing to camouflage her size and avoiding situations in which others might stare at her.

Such self-consciousness two years ago almost kept Brown from joining Girls Inc., a 136-year-old national group formerly known as Girls Clubs of America.

But at the urging of a school friend, she joined. And it was an eye-opener.

"I started to see that the world is not full of size fours and sixes," said Brown, who considers herself healthy and muscular, not fat. "I saw that the true beauty in a woman comes in many shapes and sizes and colors."

An essay that Brown wrote earlier this year about how she managed to change her self-image was judged a winner of a national contest by Girls Inc. officials in New York. Her prize was a trip to Los Angeles to participate in a three-day public service announcement shoot with two dozen other young essay writers.

Saturday's final scene was filmed at Long Beach Poly High School's indoor swimming pool. It depicted friends persuading a bundled-up Brown to stop worrying about her appearance and join them for a swim.

"I had a similar experience once in summer camp. I was scared to take off my shirt and towel and go swimming because I didn't want everybody to see the size I was in a bathing suit," she acknowledged.

On film, Brown takes a deep breath, peels off her baggy jeans and shirt to reveal a swimsuit underneath and dives in to the cheers and splashes of her friends.

"I didn't realize I was going to be featured in this when I came out here. I thought I'd just be in the background," she said afterward.

Two other 30-second public service announcements involved girls getting the courage to try out for a basketball team and having the nerve to fight school peer pressure.

Among the 25 girls selected to appear in the television ads were six from Southern California--Dominique Bell, 15, of Los Angeles; Lauren Stanton, 15, of San Pedro; Lupe Chavez, 14, of Tustin; and Adeline Guyenne, 12, Chardonee Mota, 14, and Elizabeth Rodriguez, 14, all of Costa Mesa.

The completed spots will be supplied to television stations and cable providers such as Nickelodeon and Disney late next month.

Rodriguez said there are plenty of teen-oriented television shows that could use the message that the ads will provide--shows like "Popular" on the WB network.

"The girls on that show are all skinny, with perfect complexions and wearing the latest fashions," Rodriguez said. "They make you feel like you're less than they are."

But after Saturday's stint before the camera, Brown, Rodriguez and the others know better.

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