Navigating with Mean Girls in a Barbie World

The Siouxland community is very fortunate to count among its many blessings to have the only Iowa chapter of Girls Inc.. The Sioux City chapter recently received national attention from the talking points guidelines that Executive Director, Mandy Engle-Cartie, wrote for two major motion pictures in the theaters, Barbie, and the new Mean Girls movie. The guidelines were written to help facilitate discussions among the staff and participants.  

“The mission of Girls Inc. is inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold! In today’s world, with not only the stress of peer pressure but also the strong influences put on young women through the media and social media, attempting that goal may seem daunting. However, Girls Inc. wholeheartedly accepts the challenge. I love the mission statement; it’s so pithy and straight to the point. For us, being strong means being healthy; we do a lot of education for the girls about maintaining both their physical and mental health throughout their lifetime. Smart, we view as being educated and having education goals, our goal is to encourage girls to be lifelong learners. We have a tutoring center where they can get help if they’re struggling academically. We also take them to local colleges, hopefully, to inspire them to consider post-secondary education,” explained Mandy.

The proof is in the pudding; as Mandy went on to explain.

“We’ve been able to watch this work, as a number of Girls Inc. participants go on to college and then come back and work for us, which is great!” stated Mandy.

Then, there is the third component of the mission statement, BOLD.

“As women, we view being bold as becoming independent, and there’s a lot that goes into being an independent woman. There are plenty of challenges and barriers that you have to navigate; however, the key to navigating that path is to develop a strong support system. Wonderful role models that can help get you through that path and inspire leadership. We try to do that by giving girls the opportunity to experience that for themselves,” said Mandy.

 Addressing the mental health needs of girls and young women today, as Girls Inc. is available for girls from age 6 to 18, is not something Mandy takes lightly. Girls Inc. serves as a safe environment for the participants to try different things and to know that it’s ok to fail and try again.

“Our overarching environment and commitment is to serving girls’ needs, and to do this through meeting them where they are. The beginning of that is having that space at Girls Inc., where we have removed boys from the equation. It doesn’t have to be that way all the time, but girls need that time to really develop at their own rate and to be able to ask questions that might be embarrassing to ask in front of a boy. We have different bodies and different health needs, and this is a safe space to address those needs and issues,” said Mandy.

Remembering a specific incident, Mandy smiled and almost teared up, recalling the situation.

“One of my favorite memories is getting a call from a mom who was on vacation in Florida with her family. She called and said, ‘I just had to let you know that while we’re here on vacation, my daughter got her first period, and it was no big deal. Thank you, Girls Inc.. She knew what was going on and why; she’d been educated, and it was really organic. She knew it was just part of growing up.’ I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that conversation, but as women, it’s a reality and something we have to learn how to deal with and we need to figure out how to get through life,” stated Mandy.

Statistically, 82 percent of families in the Sioux City School district are in the reduced or free lunch program at school and come from dual-working households. Prada purses and Gucci sunglasses are not the norm in these lives, despite the pressures from the media to fit in and be cool.

“We are absolutely deliberate in not talking about how someone looks because that is such a sensitive subject. We talk about who they are inside. We love what you can do. We love what a great friend you are to people. We, as a staff, share tips about comments to make that will encourage girls and truly elevate their mental health. To help them really rise up above the pressures that they face. We remind them time and time again that it is about what you can do, what you want to do in your life, and all the support that’s there around you to help you achieve that. Let’s focus on gratitude as much as we can; there’s a lot to be grateful for, particularly in an environment like Girls Inc. Here, we’re all on the same page. We’re not focused on how you look; we’re focused on who you are inside, and we go back to that time and time again. We’ve found that’s really important with girls. They want to be acknowledged for their caring selves, their intelligent selves, and for their friendships,” stated Mandy.

Mandy has a sharp eye on things in the media addressing young ladies today, and she takes an assertive and proactive approach to addressing these concerns.

“As a kid, I wasn’t that into Barbie. Looking back now, though, I can see the many career choices and great messages about not limiting yourself. The movie was directed by Greta Gerwig, and I knew she would have a lot of strong messages; the movie had a lot of diversity and female empowerment. But as I followed the discussions nationally on social media, and even through the Girls Inc. affiliates, it was all about the pink, Ryan Gosling, and crushes.”

Mandy wrote out a set of questions, which she then developed into a discussion guide that the staff at Girls Inc. implemented.

“At Girls Inc., we are very intentional about the things that we do because we know they send a message. The conversations that came out of the talking points among our staff were amazing! We took girls from 4th grade up to see the movie. When we came back, the conversations we had were incredible. That from 4th grade, and even younger, girls are feeling the pressures of how expectations are different for girls.”

Inspired by what they had witnessed with their own staff and participants at the Sioux City branch, the discussion guide was posted on the Girls Inc. national service. Various Girls Inc. chapters added questions to the guide, and then also implemented the use of the guide with its staff and participants.

“I was so honored, Dr. Stephanie Hull, the National Director of Girls Inc., had seen the Barbie discussion guide and really liked it. She reached out to me after Tina Fey had reached out to her and said that she would like to partner with us for the release of the new Mean Girls movie, in January 2024. Dr. Hull asked if I would take the lead on writing the discussion guides. It was a huge honor for Sioux City.”

Mandy developed two discussion guides for the movie; one was to be facilitated by Girls Inc. staff, and was a bit more intense, and then one was developed for parents to discuss the movie with their children. You can watch the entire Facebook Nonprofit Spotlight interview on Siouxland Magazine’s Facebook Page. You can also access the guide on the Girls Inc. website to talk with your daughter about the movies to make sure they don’t miss the important messages that are woven throughout.

Girls Inc. is located in Cook Park, at 505 Main Street in Sioux City, Iowa. They offer programs for girls from ages 6-18 during the school year and the summer. For questions or concerns, the organization can be contacted at 712-252-1088, at, or on their Facebook Page.

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