Mary Stevens is a clinical social worker and exercise physiologist born and raised in Key Biscayne. She recently moved back with her husband Albert and one year old daughter Sloane to raise their family on the key.

A first born child will dramatically alter the life of any young couple. In their case Sloane has even inspired a new business endeavor dedicated to helping young girls adapt to modern life.

“I started thinking about my daughter and what all girls go through and it kind of scared me,” said Stevens.

She has launched a fitness and emotional wellness program on the island for middle and high school girls called Fit Start.

She thought self-esteem issues were difficult when she was growing up with girls her age aspiring to be like the images of the perfect Kate Moss genre model on magazine covers.

Unattainable or unrealistic images defining what beauty supposedly looked like, caused her, like innumerable other pre-pubescent girls, to struggle with body dysmorphia related issues.

“Now it’s everywhere, on Instagram and Facebook…half-naked girls their age that look ten years older. It’s more than I had to go through.”

Stevens said the critical age group when girls struggle the most to understand where they fit in and how to develop a confident self-awareness as their bodies are changing, is from about 6th to 12th grade.

“It’s about self-esteem and emotional health at a time girls really need this structure.”

During the first 30 minutes of class Stevens leads a series of stretching and “age appropriate” exercise routines.

“The last 15 minutes are reserved for discussions ranging from nutrition, body image, and making good choices.”

Topics also include the importance and inner-joys found in being kind, nurturing self-respect, respecting others, accepting and celebrating one’s own uniqueness, bullying related concerns, and how to use social media responsibly.

Stevens has a master’s degree in social work from Florida International University. She worked in foster care settings and teen shelter group therapy for over twelve years.

In her practice she was impressed with the degrees to which young girls were preoccupied with looking a certain way. She found it often lead to eating disorders beginning with obsessive calorie counting or physical appearance preoccupations.

The classes are designed to ameliorate related possibly unhealthy behaviors and develop a balanced approach.

“The adolescent years are crucial years in the prevention of eating disorders and to teach young women to respect their bodies,” said Stevens.

Summer is an especially challenging time at that age she said so she is augmenting her class offerings with morning sessions as well.

“If you aren’t a super athlete many girls their age can get left out of traditional summer camp activities.”

“So they hang out on the couch and watch TV. If they aren’t keeping active over that three or four month summer time as their bodies are changing, it can be unhealthy.”

Program offerings include special meet up talk times with moms or care-takers once a month. They can then participate in discussions in the hope of opening up channels for better communication within the family.

Fit Start classes take place every Tuesday and Thursday at Vida Fit Studio. For more information & the full class schedule visit www.thefitstart.com

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