On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Boxborough mother Paula Grieco saw a blue T-shirt that read “Future President,’’ next to a pink one that read “Future First Lady.”
She was discouraged, but not surprised.
It was yet another example of a cultural stereotype that keeps girls from dreaming big, she said. From the moment girls are born, Grieco said, they are flooded with messages about the importance of appearance and body image instead of being encouraged to develop their own identity.
“There’s an obsession about what girls look like, and what matters most is appearance,’’ Grieco said.
It was a concern shared by her friend Liz McHutcheon, also of Boxborough, who, like Greico, is the mother of a teenage girl. They began talking about empowering girls and about ways that women could make a difference. Two years later, they published their first book, “Take 5 For Your Dreams.’’ The book came out in April.
‘The idea is to provide as many reasons as we can for parents and young women to be brave, dream big, and take action.’
“We said, ‘Let’s try having conversations with teen girls and get the real deal about what’s going on,’ ’’ Grieco said. “Do they only care about body image? What are their dreams? Do they think they can reach their dreams?’’
After conducting more than 100 interviews with girls across the country, the two women found that girls do have big dreams, but that there often is a rift between those goals and how they see their futures unfolding.
The topic for the book came into focus after talking to a 15-year-old girl who was passionate about astronomy and science. Even though such studies were all she talked about, the teen said she would probably go into the culinary field.
When pressed for more information, the girl said she would bake “the box cake,’’ meaning a packaged cake mix, because it was what she knew.
“There was this disconnect between what she wanted and what she thought she should do,’’ McHutcheon said. “She had never been exposed to other options.’’
So instead of having them settle for a box cake, the mothers decided to help show girls a path toward realizing their dreams.
The book provides more than 90 five-minute daily exercises designed to make girls think about their future, their goals, and how they can get there. The book has colorful pages and uses quotations, essays, and photographs to help girls develop a habit of visualization and goal-setting, they said.
“The idea is to open up your world, start to think the sky is the limit,’’ Grieco said.
One idea in the book is for girls to make a wish list: If the sky was the limit, what would their life be like?
“Look at it and see if there is one action item you can take, one easy step toward one of those goals,’’ McHutcheon said.
The authors hope that if girls take just five minutes a day to work on their wish list, the practice will become second nature. Grieco and McHutcheon said too many adults do not take that time and end up living someone else’s life, instead of pursing their own dreams.
“You’re making girls conscious about their lives and providing an outline of how you identify and pursue your goals,’’ Grieco said. “What do you love like crazy, and how do you take action to get there? How do you overcome obstacles? When someone believes they have a future, that changes everything.’’
Take 5 is part of their larger project, What’s Your Brave? (www.whatsyourbrave.com), an online forum for helping girls dream big and giving parents information and tools they need to help their daughters.
“The idea is to provide as many reasons as we can for parents and young women to be brave, dream big, and take action,’’ Grieco said. To the authors, being brave is having the courage to be who you really are and taking steps to fulfill your dreams.
They are using social media and working with organizations nationally and locally to reach girls and spread their message.
In the meantime, Grieco runs her own web-based software technology company. She and her husband have a daughter, 13, and a son, 9. McHutcheon, an artist and small-business coach, is married and has two daughters, 13 and 9.
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@