“Weight does not equate to health.” – Carly Compton, B.Ed, MSW
MOUNT VERNON — Two hundred-plus strong, the women arrived at the Woodward Opera House in a steady stream on Friday night for the second annual EmpowHER event.
Hosted by New Directions Domestic Abuse Shelter and Rape Crisis Center and Women United, the event recognizes International Women's Day and emphasizes women's empowerment, leadership, and connection.
GALLERY: EmpowHER 2023
The second annual EmpowHER event was held March 3, 2023, at the Woodward Opera House. More than 200 women browsed exhibits sponsored by local businesswomen, enjoyed a dinner, and heard an empowerment presentation by Carly Compton of recoverwithcarly.com. New Directions Domestic Abuse Shelter and Rape Crisis Center and Women United hosted the event in recognition of International Women's Day.
“My goal is that each one leaves here feeling empowered, comfortable in your body, and embracing who you are,” keynote speaker Carly Compton told the group. “As I look into this crowd, I am overwhelmed with the beauty in this room. The reason why is because we look different. We are all unique.”
Compton's message stems from her lifelong struggle with self-worth due to her weight. Realizing at a young age that her size did not conform to society's conventions, she felt unworthy and undesirable.
In seventh grade, a classmate called Compton fat in front of other students.
“No one stood up for me,” she said. “The school counselor said it was 'just being kids.' I felt invalidated. I felt invalidated in front of my class; I felt invalidated in front of my counselor.”
Diets did not work, and although she became more active, she still was not happy with her body. In her sophomore year in high school, Compton was introduced to bulimia.
“I was willing to put my body through the wringer to look a certain way,” she said. “Five years. I was experiencing really scary symptoms of eating disorder.
“Five years of extreme battle,” she continued. “Through that struggle, I realized that I wanted to be in the eating disorder field.”
She left her undergraduate field of elementary education and pursued a Master of Social Work degree, developing an eating disorder curriculum for fourth- through eighth-graders.
Noting she is extremely proud of the curriculum, she said, “It's exactly what I wish I had growing up.”
Now a clinician at Pacific Mind Spa in Long Beach, CA, Compton is pursuing a licensed social worker degree. She has a website and podcast, and her modeling credits include JCPenney, Adidas, and Apple.
Nearly 29 million Americans will experience an eating disorder at some point in their life. Eating disorders carry the second-highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
“Someone dies every 52 minutes. That's because we don't talk about it with our kids or anyone,” Compton said. “I have clients from age 12 to 65 years, which is why education is so important.
“There is no need to compare yourself to others. I wish I could take away all comparisons, all negative feelings. But I can't. But I can share skills to help you move through those feelings in a positive way.”
Noting that weight does not equate to health, Compton said she still struggles with automatic pre-programmed negative thoughts. She also points out that you can control those thoughts.
“You can control your reaction when you realize your worth is defined by who you are as a personality,” she told the women.
Compton challenged the group to do three things:
•Educate yourself on the effects of your words. “Understand they are impacting your children. Even if they are directed to yourself and not your kids, the kids absorb them.”
•Picture yourself saying that list of negative thoughts to a 12-year-old; reframe them by creating a list of positive thoughts in rebuttal. “It is life-changing.”
•Go through social media and unfollow anyone who “makes you feel like crap.” “I want you to be aware of the messages you are taking in because it affects you.”
Prior to Compton's presentation, those attending the dinner event had the chance to browse among a variety of local women vendors. Following the presentation, New Directions handed out 2023 awards.
The EmpowHER Award: Beth Marhetka
The EmpowHER Award is given to a woman who champions women in her workplace, community, and network. She is a team player and active mentor who paves the road to empowering women in leadership roles, a leader in inspiration, true to herself, and provides an example that inspires others spontaneously.
Vision Builder Award: Lisa Wilson
The recipient of this award is a woman with less than 10 years of experience in her field who has wasted no time making an impact and breaking down barriers. She emphasizes building honest relationships, values input, has the mind of a leader, and leads by example with an immense amount of courage. She values what she's learned from her mentors and wants to pay it forward as a mentor to others.
Grit & Grace Award: Jennifer Grassbaugh
The Grit & Grace Award goes to a single mom who has overcome adversity and demonstrates resiliency. She has transformed her life and the lives of her children with dignity and grace. She leads by example and is a picture of selflessness and courage to all who encounter her.
Heart Award: Tanya Strausbaugh
The Heart Award was born out of COVID-19 and the need to acknowledge greater endeavors in the support of humanity with a focus on others over self. She has a passion for service, dedicated her life as a successful front-line worker, and proven endless dedication to her field.
Raising the Bar Award: Kathie Brown
This award is given to a woman with 20+ years of experience in her field who has manifested a legacy that continues to inspire others. She has dedicated her life to the advancement to those around her, paved the way for leaders of tomorrow, and is recognized as an ambassador for women through her dedication, personal achievements, and service to others through mentorship, philanthropy, and business.
Girl Power Scholarships
Girl Power scholarships go to high school seniors who have used their girl power to influence others. Fourteen seniors submitted essays this year. Gwyneth Sands and Laney Wenger each received a $2,500 scholarship sponsored by Women United.
Sophie Snively, Allic Ashcraft, and Chloe George each received a $500 scholarship from New Directions. The $500 scholarships were in honor of Dr. Anna Quinn Denzer Emerson, a former New Directions board member and psychologist with Mount Vernon City Schools.