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The Los Angeles Times Monday, January 01, 2001
For a moment,
the Bubbleman, a female boxer,
a recovering alcoholic and
others shone in our pages.
Here are updates on their remarkable lives.
By Lynell George

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 groups.

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."

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