Shorewood High School freshman Alexis Beverly watched her vision come to life before her eyes Jan. 14 as she watched 13 girls tear up pieces of paper that bore the worst insults they'd ever been dealt, aimed at their weight.
"I'm not this," they recited, as they tossed the words into a garbage can. "I'm beautiful."
It was the second workshop in a string of seven Alexis has planned for her Beauty Within Project, with the support of a $1,000 grant she secured in December from Lead2Change, a local non-profit that funds youth-led community service projects.
"I've never been the thin girl in the group," Alexis said. "I know a lot of younger girls that are full-figured, and I knew that they were having issues. So I thought, why not do that for them, because I didn't have that."
The girls range in age from 7 to 14. Some of the girls attend Shorewood schools, and others heard about the project through Alexis' family and church.
Alexis said she hopes the girls take away the message she learned from her mom, aunt, grandma, and herself — that beauty can come in any body type.
"Everyone has a different body type," she said. "Not everyone is thin, and it's OK to not be thin and just be comfortable in your skin."
The first workshop, Dec. 27, focused on nutrition, and Beverly has plenty more planned to last through March. Topics will include hygiene, undergarments, etiquette for professional settings, and a spa day.
Alexis' mom Bonita said she introduced Alexis to Lead2Change as something to consider getting involved with, but did not expect Alexis would take it so far.
"It can be emotional at times because it's just so moving that she would come up with an idea like this on her own," Bonita said. "The girls come and to see them being involved, giving it their attention with their hands up, asking questions, it's just been very moving for me."
Though Alexis' grant was only meant to cover nine girls, she and her mom decided they didn't want to turn anyone away as enrollment climbed to 13. If they run out of funds, Bonita said she’d be willing to dip into her own pocket.
"I'm proud of her, and I believe this is helping her as well," Bonita said. "It's promoting self-esteem, it's putting value into them, and teaching them to love themselves regardless of what size they are."
Beverly hopes to continue facilitating groups like Beauty Within for many years to come.
"We need more programs out like this because some girls really can't express how they feel, and don't really have anyone to talk to about their weight," Beverly said. "It's opened my eyes to how people really feel, with people commenting on their weight."