“Sleepovers” documents the personal journeys of four preteen friends through age 21. The girls’ stories unfold in non-linear fashion — at times, their older selves reveal reactions and responses to the often negative messages adolescent girls receive about how they look, how they should feel about themselves, where they fit in. As the years expose their struggles and successes, we watch them grow into young women, recognizing the value of strong relationships. The aim of “Sleepovers” is to share with girls the importance of finding their community and knowing that they are not alone.

Girls face plenty of challenges between ages 12 and 21 — big and small, real and imagined — and a vital survival step is finding friends to go through it with. I want “Sleepovers” to help viewers have a real conversation — not through text messages, Facebook or email. This actual talking and sharing is one of the critical blocks of building relationships.

An article in the Summer 2000 issue of “Rethinking Schools Online” inspired the idea behind this film. In “Girls, Worms, And Body Image,” the author discussed 7- and 8-year-old girls in her class who were greatly concerned about their body image. She noted how both boys and girls she taught were greatly concerned about their body image. She noted how both boys and girls she taught perceived expectations based on gender, relating to things such as which activities they could do or what they wear. I wanted to learn more about girls’ beliefs and experiences, and my goal was to explore the realities of issues such as gender stereotyping and body image as girls grow into young women, noting how they coped with and/or overcame their challenges. Ultimately, “Sleepovers” became much more than the issue-oriented project I started with.

Everyone has different experiences growing up — and different backgrounds and roadblocks — but we all go through it. My hope is that “Sleepovers” provides food for thought for girls, friends and parents so adolescents don’t merely survive, they thrive.

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