What RealGirls is.
RealGirls is a coloring book, featuring a collection of illustrated girls, which were created by many different artists with one mission: to provide girls with images they can identify with, so that they might feel empowered to remain proud and confident. RealGirls celebrates, on every page, all levels of difference as beautiful, in an effort to let every girl know she is valued for the unique and beautiful person that she is.
How RealGirls began.
My name is Terri Birnbaum, and about six years ago, my daughter, Lydia, and I were sewing clothes for her Barbies, and had trouble making the dresses fit well on their tiny waists. In frustration, I said, “Why don’t they just make real girls?” Immediately,
Lydia said we should create dolls of our own, ones that were more realistic. I loved the idea—girls need better, more diverse representations!—but I didn’t know where to begin. Later that night it hit me: What about artwork in a coloring book? As a magazine art director, I had worked with many artists over the years, so I knew we could work with artists to create a new kind
of coloring book that better reflected the myriad girls that exist in reality.
Both of my daughters, Lydia and Evelyn, got to work drawing and piecing together a few examples we could take to my friend,
artist Randall Nelson. He began developing a line art style that could accommodate the fine details we knew the artwork would need to have, if our book was going reflect the complexity of girls’ unique and beautiful differences.
With five prototype renderings in hand, I reached out to community groups, student associations, art galleries, and
college art programs, to meet with artists who were equally passionate about creating an alternative to the limited, and highly stereotyped, princesses and dolls that saturate our mainstream popular culture. Artists identified things they felt weren’t represented, and created girls that incorporated those qualities, or sketched friends or family members they felt embodied those qualities. Whether they chose to sketch girls they knew, or create girls from their imagination, the challenge was to work against stereotypes and generalizations, in favor of the unique and specific.
Art with a message.
Artists used the opportunity to invest their artwork with visual messages addressing things that were important to them like, socioeconomic concerns, education, and cultural identity. One artist created a girl with a huge smile, understated clothing, and books in her arms, another created a girl with a traditional, culturally-specific scarf. These are just two examples of how artists are visually communicating to girls that education and cultural identity are things to be proud of.
Incorporating ideas from many sources.
Over the course of this project’s six-year journey, I’ve met so many talented, passionate artists, as well as teachers, college professors, community leaders, student organization leaders, parents, and girls themselves. Each person has shared with me their own story, or reasons for joining me in this book’s creation, and they’ve also given me suggestions for more things to incorporate,
or other things this book should address. Out of these conversations, came the idea to reach out to organizations that support
girls with physical differences, girls battling illnesses, and girls with learning challenges, to request permission to feature girls they recommended. This process has lead me to some amazing organizations, and some amazing girls, who are breaking stereotypes and defying any and all limitations, in their own way, each and every day.
More than just a coloring book.
Embedded in each illustration are real stories, real hopes, and real aspirations, put onto the pages with the hope that girls everywhere might see an image they can identify with.
It took a village.
Thank you to the organizations that have partnered with us, introduced us to families, and, along with the families, helped guide
the process of creating artwork of some amazing girls they support: Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, msfocus.org; Lucky Fin Project, luckyfinproject.org; Helping Hands Foundation, helpinghandsgroup.org; National Down Syndrome Society, ndss.org; and The Cleft Lip & Palate Foundation of Smiles, cleftsmile.org. Many thanks to the families; we are so very honored to feature Ariana, Shaniah, Lorena, Ryanne, Lila, Sophie, and Kayla.
Thank you to the very talented artists: Alexandra Doty, Bohrha Yoon, Brianna Verser, Christopher Harrison, Jessica Wen, Ji Un Kim, KB Lor, Kia Vang, Lara Fuentes, Liza Goncharova, Lucy Bixby, Magdalena Szymaniec, Michael Maley, Paige Miller, Rachel Beenken, Randall Nelson, Ricardo Grijalva, Tara Sullivan, Yasmine Nur, and Yolei Yang.
Many thanks to artist Randall Nelson, for developing the RealGirls line art style, and for transforming the artists’ pencil sketches into the intricately illustrated renditions on each page. Many thanks also to Professor Gretchen Gasterland-Gustafsson, for wisdom and guidance throughout this long process.
With this book, we hope to begin a self-confidence revolution, among girls everywhere.