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Saturday, June 10, 2017

IATG day at 6 Flags

My world is spinning. Today was magical... I can't find the words right now. So until I can, here's a copy of the keynote speech I gave today at Great America...

Good Morning! My name is Allison Annala, and I am so excited to be here today to help celebrate an organization that has not only impacted my life, but the lives of nearly 1 million girls worldwide. If you haven’t already heard about I AM THAT GIRL, get excited, because if you are a girl, are the parent of a girl, or just happen to know a girl, I can guarantee that you are going to love this organization and what it’s already doing to help the women and girls in your life.

As women, we receive countless messages every single day reminding us of all the things we are not. They tell us to wear push up bras and slim fit jeans, buy designer brands, and keep up trendy fashion. Then they harp on our bodies by saying we should work out but don’t get too muscular, don’t be too fat but don’t be too skinny either. Don’t wear too much make up, but make sure you wear enough make up… and don’t forget the “anti-aging” creams, because God forbid you get a wrinkle before you turn 60…you name it, we feel the pressure. Whether its through advertising, feedback from our peers or the opposite sex, or messages in the media, we are constantly being reminded that we are not enough. It positively boggles my mind to think that we are all chasing after an unattainable ideal, that as a society, we’ve somehow manifested this image of perfection that every woman has been tasked to live up to.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think girls deserve better than this and thankfully, so does I AM THAT GIRL.

I AM THAT GIRL is a chapter-based 501c3 non-profit organization made up of almost 300 active Local Chapters in the US and a network of over 1 Million online followers! We provide leadership & social and personal development programming to young women in High School and College. Our mission is to cultivate self-worth, community engagement & action, so that together we can amplify the voices, stories, and potential of girls everywhere.

We are a for-girls-by-girls community, that is peer led. This means that every chapter is founded and maintained by the girls themselves - with the help and support of IATG staff. We provide the curriculum, but the girls provide their own unique experiences, concerns, and values. Though chapters discuss many of the same topics, every community is a little bit different and has different needs. We don't tell girls how to think, we empower them to speak their mind and listen actively to others to create an atmosphere that empowers each individual group. Every chapter is unique, but they are all connected in a robust community, allowing girls to make strong, lasting connections with each other and inspiring them to grow as leaders and mentors both at their school and on a global scale.

One example of this, is our curriculum topic “Your Future”- Obviously, it’s a really broad category with discussion prompts that include, “How do you picture your life in 5 years?” or “What are you doing now to set yourself up to reach your long term goals?” Even though these questions are pretty standard, they can solicit a myriad of different conversations across chapters. High school chapters will be looking more toward the excitement of the college experience, while our collegiate chapters may have conversations about their post college-life aspirations. While the discussions may be different from coast to coast, or across the age spectrum, the theme behind the meetings is always the same. Celebrate each other through open mindedness and lift others up with love and compassion.

While the conversations can vary tremendously, one thing remains incredibly consistent with our chapters, and that is our signature activity that kicks off every I AM THAT GIRL meeting, it’s called: “I am that girl because…”

At the start of each gathering, members take turns going around the circle telling each other what makes them “that girl” in this moment. They may have a success to celebrate, like a good grade on a test, or a scored goal in a soccer game. They may have overcome something to help gain perspective. Or, they may simply acknowledge that they are going through a tough time, and they are just trying to keep moving forward. Whatever it is, this activity works in many ways to help build understanding among members and cultivate lasting relationships by developing a circle of trust and support.

I’d love for you all to take a minute right now and think of what makes you “that girl” or “that guy” in this moment. What can you celebrate about yourself right now. It can be something totally small or something truly spectacular. It might be hard at first… because bragging about ourselves is something that most of us only do well until we’re about 6.

So, while you’re taking a minute to think of what makes you truly special right now, I’d like to share mine! Today, I am that girl because I’m doing something that scares me. I’m standing in front of a crowd of strangers challenging myself to be vulnerable, authentic and honest… and to not worry about what all of y’all think of me. Not an easy task, but I’m going for it, and I’m proud of myself.

This incredible organization is aimed at helping young women to become the best version of themselves. We want to empower, inspire and help women to express, love and BE who they are. One of my absolute favorite quotes, is “Comparison is the thief of Joy,” because it could not possibly be more true. In this day and age, it is so easy to compare our lives with the social media highlight reels that we are exposed to. You know, all of those people on Facebook and Instagram that appear to only go on vacation, eat fancy dinners or get married all the time?! That’s not necessarily their reality… it’s just what they choose to showcase to the world. But when that’s all we see, it’s hard to not compare ourselves to those seemingly lavish lifestyles. Our goal is to encourage collaboration among women instead of competition, to teach girls to lift while they climb, and to recognize that someone else’s achievements DO NOT diminish their own.

Part of our programming at I AM THAT GIRL, is to encourage each other to embrace vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness. Like many people, this was not always easy for me. You see, I was a competitive gymnast for almost 20 years, and growing up as an athlete, I definitely embraced more of a “prove I’m a badass by concealing all emotions” kind of mentality. Learning to recognize my feelings, to allow them to exist and to appreciate them for what they were was not an easy task for me. It took a lot of practice, but I’m definitely getting better at it. So before I tell you my story, I’d like to ask your permission to get real with you, to be vulnerable, and to really share what’s on my heart.

Is that okay with y’all?

I stumbled upon the I AM THAT GIRL community when a celebrity I worshiped posted about it on Twitter. I was so enamored with what I found, that I immediately went out and purchased our founder’s book, coincidentally titled, I AM THAT GIRL. I as I was reading Alexis Jones’ inspiring words, I felt, for the first time in years, that someone truly understood what I was going through. Here’s a quick excerpt from her book,

“To be ‘that girl’ just means you’re going to give life your best shot, that you’re not going to make excuses or justifications, that you’re going to go for it, whatever that means for you. It also means you’re going to be an example of true beauty in the world and encourage the same for all the other women in your life. Being ‘that girl’ means you are a constant work in progress—you’re willing to be vulnerable, flawed and compassionate and are someone who stumbles and falls but isn’t afraid to admit her shortcomings in the midst of her magnificence.”

That’s when I started thinking about all of those girls I had admired for being ‘that girl’ in my life. You know, ‘that girl’ who is an amazing singer, ‘that girl’ who beats all the boys at sports, ‘that girl’ who has no idea how beautiful she is, ‘that girl’ who radiates confidence no matter what her circumstances, ‘that girl’ who is so smart, she’ll probably change the world …

I had never pictured myself in the same way. I felt less than those girls somehow, never assuming that I would be worthy of the same kind of admiration I felt for the girls I looked up to. But reading Alexis’ words about what truly defined ‘that girl’ changed me, and started me on a journey of self-discovery that completely transformed my world.

I devoured every word in that book. I felt as though she was speaking directly to me, like she knew what I was going through even though I was completely unable to express it to people I knew and trusted. I felt like I was carrying this really heavy secret, that if I actually told people how I felt, they would look at me differently. I had this perceived image of myself that was happy go lucky girl. I was a good friend, a doting daughter, a loving big sister and a hardworking, independent young woman. But that was only half of my story and I wanted desperately to connect with someone who could understand the deeper part of my heart.  

I AM THAT GIRL gave me the outlet I was looking for, and when I finally found the courage to share my story on the their website, the response I received was overwhelming. You see, I spent the better part of 10 years fighting feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating habits. The worst part of it was that I couldn’t understand where it was coming from. I had a GREAT life… and in the back of my mind I couldn’t grasp why I was going through all of this internally when externally, everything around me indicated I had a perfect life. It just didn’t make sense. I mean, I knew that my friends and parents and other people I looked up to had their own insecurities, just like the next guy, but when I looked around, it seemed to me that I was the only one I knew who struggling the way I was. That is until I was brave enough to publish my article.

The response was immediate. It was shared hundreds, maybe thousands of times on Facebook. The comments came in from everywhere and I was gifted this incredible opportunity to embrace who I was and talk about my struggles openly both online, and in person. You would not believe the kind of doors that opened for me in my everyday life. My friends instantly began asking me more questions and opening up to me about their own inner struggles. Though our challenges weren’t necessarily the same, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt alone in my problems, and that was an incredibly comforting realization. You see, we live in this world that rarely provides space for us struggle. I had gone on for years, just convincing myself that I was “handling it” – and it wasn’t until I found this community of women who weren’t uncomfortable learning about my battle with anorexia that I finally understood what I had been missing. It was a space to be unapologetically me… exactly as I was then, and exactly as I am now. I’m always changing and growing and learning… and I don’t plan to be the same Allison in 5 years that I am today, kind of the same way I’m definitely not the girl I was 5 years ago. I truly believe that we GROW THROUGH what we GO THROUGH and I AM THAT GIRL provides girls the tools to embrace their own uniqueness and their vulnerability and to appreciate both of those beautiful parts of them.

I can’t even begin to tell you what leading a Chapter of I AM THAT GIRL has meant for me. It’s taught me to quit hiding behind perfection, and to be 100% my most authentic self. And guess what… people like that version of me! It’s crazy, right!

Our founder, Alexis Jones says that the two most powerful words in the English language are “Me Too.” I can say from experience, that it feels really good to know you’re not alone. But sometimes the only way we can discover that someone else is walking our same path is by being courageous enough to go first and to say what’s truly on our hearts.

My story is just that, it’s my story. But it’s one of a million stories that represent what this community is doing in the world. I could tell you stories of countless other amazing girls who have faced mountains of their own. Each one is unique, each story is different, but the one thing these girls all have in common is that they have found comfort, encouragement, support, love and resilience in the communities that I AM THAT GIRL helps to provide.

I AM THAT GIRL is not just a safe place for girls to express, love and be who they are. It’s a life style. It’s teaching these young women that it is okay to embrace who they are, to celebrate their differences and lift each other up, and these are skills that every young woman should possess. The effect that this organization has had on my life is profound. The magnitude of what I’ve learned has snowballed into every aspect of my life. I’d love to see a chapter pop up at every high school and college campus nationwide. Because to me, the greatest gift any girl can receive is permission to be herself, to love who she sees in the mirror, the voice in her head, the dreams in her mind and the spirit in her heart. It’s the gift of I AM THAT GIRL… and I’m so thankful I received it.