Revisiting the Real Women Project
Whether you thought
of it as the first year of the third millennium or the last year of the second
millennium, 2000 was a rich time for purveyors of feature stories.
Today, Southern California
Living publishes postscripts to the tales of some we've profiled in the previous
12 months. Together, the stories give a glimpse of the startling range of life
that has been chronicled in these pages.
...When three old friends
conceived the Real Women Project ("Real Women Take on a Real Image Problem," July
5) over a casual dinner about four years ago, they figured it just might hit a
nerve. It was intended as an outgrowth of their years of not just treating, but
trying to treat women who put off their breast or pelvic exams because it required
disrobing or--even worse--getting on a scale.
"It was as if they would
choose to have cancer rather than to get the checkup because they were more concerned
about what they looked like," says psychotherapist Cathy Conheim, who founded
the project along with two ob-gyns, Donna Brooks and Donna Levy.
Employing the same tools
used by advertising--seductive visual imagery, music, literature--the Real Women
Project hosts workshops geared toward promoting self-acceptance.
Starting with a commissioned
set of sculptures representing a woman's life span--the project has grown to include
a book, CD, Web site and even educational seminars--all of which address body
image issues and the health problems, such as anorexia and bulimia, they often
create. Since July, the project has hosted standing-room-only seminars and been
featured in several monthlies and television news magazines. But, says Conheim,
who is based in La Jolla, what is most significant is that programs are popping
up across the country utilizing the Real Women framework--from workshops to support
The word-of-mouth has
been such that what began as an adjunct program in Kansas City, Mo., is now the
Real Women Project's headquarters. Tapping into private sector funds has allowed
Real Women's new national director, Trace Shapiro-Hoffine, to begin recruiting
and training a team of traveling counselors. Updating the project's Web site,
http://www.realwomenproject.com, to include interactive forums and chat rooms,
Shapiro-Hoffine hopes to bring the workshop experience to the virtual world.
Conheim and the rest
of the founding contingent will continue to spread the word on the lecture and
workshop circuit, hoping ultimately to get the message into more school curricula.
"We're looking at innovative ways to teach health care issues. If people are asking
about workshops and training sessions, we'll be able to bring it to any city.
It's not meant to be a franchising thing. Our feeling is, we don't need to own
it. . . . We need to start an epidemic of health."