Heather McDonald, Esther Drill, and Rebecca Odes, authors
A chat about life as a "gURL."
September 17, 1999
(CNN) -- Heather McDonald, Esther Drill, and Rebecca Odes, creators of gURL.com and authors of "Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a gURL," joined CNN.com for a Book Chat on Thursday, October 21, 1999.
"Deal With It!" contains excerpts from real-life conversations with teenage girls and offers resources for them. NOTE: Some topics may be too mature for younger teens. Our guests joined CNN.com from New York and the following is an edited transcript of the chat.
Chat Moderator: Welcome, Heather McDonald, Esther Drill, and Rebecca Odes!
Rebecca Odes: Hi there.
Heather McDonald: Hi!
Esther Drill: Hello, everyone!
Question from Candyce: I'd like to know how gURL.com got started and how long it's been around.
Esther Drill: GURL.com started three years...
Rebecca Odes: Esther and I have known each other since we were babies and so in some ways the site was gestating since we were teens ourselves.
Esther Drill: Hmmm…I seem to be experiencing technical difficulties. We were in graduate school for interactive telecommunications at NYU. There wasn't much for teenage girls on the Web at that time.
Rebecca Odes: We really wanted to do something that was inspired by personal stories and what we would have wanted to read as teenagers.
Heather McDonald: And we had a number of our own personal stories to tell.
Chat Moderator: How long has the website been up?
Rebecca Odes: Since May, 1996.
Comment from Candyce: Your website is chock full of stuff!
Esther Drill: Yeah.
Chat Moderator: Please tell us about the site.
Esther Drill: We've got…geez, that same problem again….
Heather McDonald: …a great teen girl community, with articles, games, free e-mail, free homepages.
Question from Lettuce: Is your website one that parents should look at to get a realistic idea about what their girls are thinking and doing?
Esther Drill: Lettuce, definitely!
Rebecca Odes: The content from the site really informed the book, as well. Both the book and the site provide a really good window into what teenage girls are thinking because they are anonymous, so girls can really talk about their true feelings without worrying about being embarrassed or found out.
Heather McDonald: And they can be very open and honest in their discussions.
Question from Lettuce: How do girls contribute to your site? By e-mail?
Rebecca Odes: Posting boards, mostly, although we also have chat, and girls make their own homepages on gURLpages.com.
Esther Drill: Girls send e-mail to us, too -- a lot of it.
Question from Lettuce: Do you have chat on your site?
Heather McDonald: Yes, text chat and a visual chat called the gURL palace.
Esther Drill: We have a bunch of different ways they can contribute through e-mail.
Chat Moderator: What do they send e-mails about?
Esther Drill: We ask for movie reviews and music reviews. We also ask for their input on specifics. We just did a feature on Halloween costumes and we…
Heather McDonald: …got so many letters from girls with their own ideas about Halloween costumes, etc. I do an advice column called, "Help Me, Heather" and I get about 100 to 200 e-mails every day with questions from teen girls on just about every topic.
Question from Haley: Has anyone compared your website with "Seventeen" magazine? It seems similar, as far as topics go.
Heather McDonald: Yes.
Rebecca Odes: Our site is really different from "Seventeen" magazine. We talk about some of the same topics because they are things that matter to girls but we talk about them in a very different way. gURL is very much about NOT telling girls what to do, not providing formulaic answers, etc., more about showing girls that there are many, many possibilities and ways of being, not just one right or "cool" way.
Heather McDonald: And we really have a sense of humor about these issues that we feel the girls relate to.
Question from Sunny1: The e-mails are from girls asking for advice?
Heather McDonald: We respond to these letters on the site. We also offer the girls the "Shoutout for Advice," a place to post their questions and get suggestions from other girls. We also have a girl member advice panel once a week. We put up a new question and then, every day, we have one new suggestion from a girl from our community.
Question from Lettuce: How has that been working? Do the girls give pretty good advice?
Heather McDonald: Yes, and they really illustrate the different options and approaches out there.
Chat Moderator: What does your book address? And how does the content of the book differ from the website?
Esther Drill: Our book "Deal With It!" covers a whole host of different issues -- everything from body image to safer sex to self-destructive behavior to
family to friends to school, etc. Everything the girls talk about on the site is in the book. We provide a lot more in-depth information than we're able to on the site.
Chat Moderator: Does your book address the illogical focus on being thin?
Rebecca Odes: Yes, actually we have a whole chapter on body image, which does address that in several ways. We have a timeline of beauty ideals through history, showing the wide range of women's shapes and sizes that have been thought of as beautiful. We also deconstruct the kind of models of beauty presented by fashion mags by showing just how much of a production is involved in making only one "perfect" image.
Question from Lettuce: Is your site and book geared to any particular age group?
Heather McDonald: Mature teens. We don't say a particular age because everyone matures at different rates.
Rebecca Odes: Some of the content on the site and in the book is very frank about sexuality.
Question from Lettuce: How about college girls? Would they find things of interest to them?
Rebecca Odes: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely, college girls would.
Heather McDonald: Yes, and we hear from girls our own age that they find many things in the book.
Question from Candyce: Do you get feedback from parents who appreciate what you are doing? Or not appreciate it, even?
Esther Drill: Yes, we get lots of letters from mothers who wish this book had been around when they were teenagers!
Question from Haley: Is the gURL Website available worldwide? If so, is it in other languages?
Heather McDonald: Yes, it’s available on the Internet but only in English.
Chat Moderator: How is life for a teenage girl different from when you were growing up?
Esther Drill: There are certain things about being a teenage girl that will always be the same -- body changes, oncoming sexuality, changing relationships -- and that's the majority of the stuff we deal with. The things the girls talk about on the site are very similar to the things we were concerned about when we were teens. There are some differences -- more girls are interested in vegetarianism, etc.
Heather McDonald: One big difference is that the girls now have the Internet.
Question from Garbanzo: Your book, "Deal With It!" seems to be a bit more intimate than your website. How have parents responded to that?
Esther Drill: The book isn't necessarily more intimate than the website. It's really been informed by what the girls talk about in the community. And they do get into intimate subjects. Maybe it's that a book feels more intimate….
Chat Moderator: On your site, you write in a note to parents, "We talk about sex because it is something we believe is relevant to the lives of teenage girls." Do you mean that sex is relevant to girls over the age of 14 or that knowledge about it is relevant?
Rebecca Odes: We think that it is important for teens to be informed about what sex is and that, without that knowledge, teens are not prepared to make the right decisions for themselves.
Question from Candyce: I think the website and book are a terrific idea but do you think your popularity says anything about family relationships in terms of how these girls come to you and not their Moms?
Heather McDonald: Well, I think in some ways this always has been the case for many teens when dealing with sex. I don't think it has changed that much from when I was a teen or when my older sisters were teens. Also, many girls are coming to our site to get feedback from each other in an open and honest environment.
Question from Mags: It seems kids are trying to grow up too fast these days, with the clothes they wear and dating so young. Does your book address these issues?
Rebecca Odes: We do deal with those issues in the book and we encourage girls to focus on developing other parts of themselves but, when I was a teen, the same problems existed.
Question from Garbanzo: Do the three of you have teenagers? If so, what do they think about the popularity of their Moms’ site and book?
Heather McDonald: No, none of us have kids.
Question from Mags: Do you have any advertisers on your site? If so, who are they?
Esther Drill: Mags, we don't have any advertising on our content right now.
Question from Candyce: When you first put up gURL.com, did you have any idea it would grow into what it has become?
Rebecca Odes: No, we had no idea. When we first put the site up, we didn't even know if anyone would see it! We certainly had no idea it would grow from a school project to our careers.
Question from Lettuce: How do you get the word out about your site? How do you promote it?
Esther Drill: In the beginning, it was really word-of-mouth. Girls who were on the Internet found us and told their friends. Now, we have space in the "dELiA*s" catalog where we promote the site and the book. And we also advertise in the teen-girl mags, like "Seventeen," "YM," etc.
Heather McDonald: We have also gotten some good press that helped to raise the awareness of gURL!
Question from Lettuce: Do you have chat on your site?
Heather McDonald: Yes, we have text chat and a really, really fun visual chat called the gURL palace. Girls can dress up and chat in a number of exciting rooms.
Question from Haley: What is a visual chat?
Heather McDonald: You have an avatar and then chat with comic-book style text bubbles. You can move your avatar around, etc. The girls on our site love this type of chat.
Question from What: Do you think your actual age matters in working on a teen site?
Heather McDonald: Yes, you can. We are in our late 20's.
Esther Drill: I don't think the actual age matters, since we hear constantly from the girls about what they're interested in and how they feel about what we're doing.
Comment from Lettuce: I have a daughter in college. I'm going to tell her about your site because I know she is dealing with issues she doesn't want to worry me with.
Question from What: What was the hardest chapter to write about in your book?
Esther Drill: "Family" was one of the hardest to write for me, since there are such different experiences in families and such sensitive topics.
Heather McDonald: For each of us, it was different. Yeah, "Family" was hard.
Question from Kkkkkei: Did you have different ideas on how to go about it?
Heather McDonald: Yes, we did. We always went back to the actual questions and quotes from the girls to make hard decisions on what things to include and exclude from the book. Cutting things out was very difficult.
Chat Moderator: Do you have celebrity spokeswomen?
Esther Drill: We don't have any official celebrity spokeswomen, though we have had a few celebrities give us nice quotes about the book, most notably Shirley Manson, from the band "Garbage."
Heather McDonald: "A great manual to consult whenever you need confirmation that you're not half as weird and scary as your friends and family think you are." That was the quote from Shirley Manson.
Question from Kkkkkei: Are you going on a book tour? I'm from Ashville. Are you coming here? I would like you to sign my book!
Heather McDonald: We are going on a book tour. We are going to be in Chicago, LA, and parts of Florida, but we may be adding more places in the future. However, I am not sure about Ashville. Wait.
I must stop the chat to explain that it is very colorful and visual. That is hard to show in a chat room :) But you can see some examples at www.dealwithit.com.
Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts about your book and website?
Heather McDonald: We feel very lucky that the community on our site is so terrific and, in a way, our book is a tribute to the great girls on our site. The book is available wherever books are sold and also from dealwithit.com.
Rebecca Odes: If you don't see it at the store, ask! (It is in a lot of different sections.)
Esther Drill: As well as from our site at www.dealwithit.com.
Comment from Kkkkkei: I want to say that you have a great book.
Esther Drill: Thanks!
Comment from Candyce: I think it's great that all three of you came here today. Thanks!
Rebecca Odes: Thank you very much.
Chat Moderator: Thank you, Heather McDonald, Esther Drill, and Rebecca Odes!
Comment from Haley: Thank you Heather, Esther, and Rebecca, for coming! GREAT book chat!
Comment from Sunny1: Yes, thanks for coming here today!
Heather McDonald: Thanks for having us! Bye bye.
Esther Drill: Thanks for having us!
Rebecca Odes: Beybe. Bye bye, that is.
Comment from Kkkkkei: Bye!
Comment from Lettuce: I'm gonna buy the book for my daughter! Very good chat! Thanks, CNN!
Chat Moderator: That concludes our Book Chat for this hour. Please join us again at CNN.com/chat. Be sure to check out our future Book Chats on CNN.com!
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