The Pretty Powerful Project

Pink Karate

What is considered “pretty?” A flower, a sunset, a dress, a picture… a girl? But what or who defines “pretty?” We say “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder. But how do we view ourselves? When I was younger, I thought I was “pretty.” I mean, I wasn’t “ugly” in my eyes. I was thin, I had clear skin, long hair, etc. But, then I wondered, if I was as pretty as any of the “popular girls,” why wasn’t I as popular? I wore the same kinds of clothes, I listened to the same music. But, as I wrote in my last blog, I was painfully shy. I lacked confidence… I lacked belief in myself… I lacked inner “power” to stand up and convey “I’m pretty inside and out, even if no one else thinks so.” I knew I was a worthwhile, good, kind person. I’ll say it again: I lacked inner power; that core belief that I was worth standing up for, even if no one else would stand with me.

When I was younger, I envied girls I thought were “pretty.” Looking back, it wasn’t just how they looked, but it was the whole package. They knew how to make friends, and socialize. They were the athletes, cheerleaders, the girls who could stand up in front of a class or assembly and speak effortlessly… So they looked pretty to me. They had power, both outside and inside.

We know how to make ourselves pretty on the outside….just pick up any magazine, or turn on the tv or computer, and you can find the latest clothing trend, best hair care, makeup, etc. So, how do we get or give women and girls “inner power?”

I’ve met thousands of children and adults over my 25+ years teaching karate and kickboxing. But it wasn’t until the past few years, that I truly understand what “pretty” is and how powerful that word can be.

This August, it will be ten years since I came up with my karate/self defense program I named “PINKarate.” Along with the name, I made up our slogan, “Pretty Powerful.” Pretty Perfect, I thought, for little girls in pink karate uniforms, punching with pink boxing gloves. When I found out a popular cosmetics company started using that same slogan, I thought it would be fun to film my students saying “I’m pretty,” or “I’m powerful,” and send it to them, to show what the slogan really means. But as I started filming my students (with their parents’ permission), I was taken aback by how hard it was for many of them to say “I’m pretty.” Maybe they were embarrassed to say it, maybe because they thought they were, or they thought they weren’t. One, flat out wouldn’t say it. Her mother told me she probably wouldn’t, because it was not a word they used in their family as a character trait. So, I decided to have them say any other positive word to describe themselves. Almost all of the responses were spontaneous (sometimes they did have to have a suggestion from mom or dad, the person who knows them best). However, this time, I had them say it right before, or right after, they hit the heavy bags.

After I filmed the girls saying something they liked about themselves, I asked some of them to say something they don’t like about themselves, or to finish the sentence “Sometimes I feel…” Once again, I was surprised, sometimes saddened, mostly enlightened by their honesty. The moms didn’t get to hear what the girls had said until I showed it to them. One mom, when she heard her daughter felt bullied, said “So you don’t!” Well, didn’t that start a whole conversation.

What started out as a fun little video turned into “The Pretty Powerful Project,” where real girls talk, unscripted, about real feelings.

I think when most females are young, they are told how pretty they are. Maybe when they’re wearing a pretty holiday dress, or dolled up for Picture Day. Every woman agrees that the girl in her life is the prettiest girl ever. I have two boys, and I guarantee they are still the cutest six year old and most handsome 15 year old in the whole world!

But what is it that’s giving the girls in my life, my students, that inner power that I didn’t have at their age. They know something that many girls don’t. They are learning how to assert themselves with their bodies and their minds. Maybe any sport does this, but I think there’s something about females being given the “permission” to kick and punch someone or something; to feel a kind of strength and emotion that goes against the “polite and helpful” upbringing as females. I believe nothing is prettier than how a young girl or woman looks when she puts on her first pair of boxing gloves and learns how to punch. Or the first time she kicks a pad or heavy bag. It’s like she’s just just discovered sliced bread. She can stand up for herself mentally and back it up physically if she needs to. There is nothing prettier than that look of “I never knew I was that powerful!” No makeup can create such a pretty face.

*Dear readers, if you’d like to send me a clip of you saying “I’m Pretty,” “I’m Powerful,” or anything positive/negative… I’d love to make an Athleta project for the website. Send them to


June 07, 2013 at 11:21 am

As the mother of two girls–11 and 13–I think this is amazing. I know that my daughters do not think they are pretty or powerful, no matter how I try to instill that in them. Thank you for your project and all that you are doing for these young women!

Liz Durning

June 07, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Dear Lois,
Thanks so much for your kind words. I was amazed by the girls, too. I think just making girls (and women) have to say positive affirmations helps them believe it…like, “you are what you think you are.” Have they seen the video? Maybe you could ask them what words they’d use if they were in the project. I’d love to hear what they say.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment. It really mean a lot!


June 13, 2013 at 10:29 am

Yes! We are entering a time when girls and women are finally accepting the innate power that we’ve always had, and it’s things like this that make all the difference. Thank you for teaching these awesome ladies to love and honor themselves! We are all taking a journey of health, and you are strengthening the core elements of these girls’ health: their minds, their hearts and their bodies!!!


August 05, 2013 at 7:51 am

I knew Liz in high school—beautiful, talented, ambitious and, especially, kind. I never imagined she’d also be kicking butt as a martial artist, but I can’t think of a better role model for young girls. Go Liz!

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