The talk ranged from liposuction to anorexia to an R&B star’s hairstyle.
"Beauty is not being fat. Beauty is not being thin. It’s what you have in here," said Nakeya Bell, tapping her chest and a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo for the Girl Scouts of America.
Bell, an outreach assistant for the 26,000-member Tierra Del Oro Girl Scout Council in and around Sacramento, Calif., is part of a revolution in the ranks of Girl Scouts.
The 94-year-old group is eschewing the image of frumpy uniforms and home-and-hearth activities in favor of frank talk about provocative issues, extreme sports and career exploration.
Girl Scouts executives in Manhattan are moving to recover from what they call a "crisis of relevance," cutting bureaucracy and creating compelling programs for ‘tween and teen girls who tend to drift from the organization.
"We see that girls are feeling trapped, not knowing what to do or where to go for answers," said Courtney Shore, vice president for marketing at the Girl Scouts of America. "We think as an organization known for being a nurturing safe place, we have a real place in the future of girls’ lives."
Shore said the organization put its research branch to work several years ago to delve into girls’ concerns: body image, eating disorders and self-cutting. She said the organization is training troop leaders to broach the topic and is willing to bring in experts to give talks.
"We’re creating safe places for girls to talk about these things," Shore said.
Other issues alien to Girl Scouts’ mothers surfaced during the research, Shore said. What if someone uses a camera phone in the changing room at gym? What if a girl is subject to vicious gossip posted on MySpace.com?
For support on cyber concerns, the Girl Scouts joined the Digital Living Project, an educational program for families coming of age in an Internet world.
Reform, though, has given rise to resistance.
Conservative Christian groups have decried the Girl Scouts as pandering to the pressures of pop culture rather than urging abstinence and shunning leaders who are in same-sex relationships.
"They have downplayed typical and traditional women’s vocations of motherhood and being a wife as not as desirable as having a career," said Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow for the research branch of the Concerned Women of America in Washington, D.C.
"When you promote an attitude that men are not necessary, being a wife is not necessary, that leads to the idea that sex is recreational," she said.
Eleven years ago, former Girl Scout troop leader Patti Garibay of Ohio launched a "Christ- centered" alternative to the Girl Scouts called "American Heritage Girls." Garibay said she was alarmed when the Girl Scouts left the definition of "God" — as mentioned in the Girl Scout Promise — open to interpretation.
"We’re not here to destroy Girl Scouts, that’s not it at all," Garibay said. "Things have become more secular, more reflective of the culture, and we’re concerned about that."