DESPITE gains in equal rights, education and employment, American women appear to be losing a bigger fight - the war on low self-esteem, which cuts across race, social class and age. It's a war two female kickboxers are fighting with a strategy of free classes for girls, starting in Philly next month.

The seeds of self-esteem, sown during childhood, seem to reach their peak in American girls at about age 9 - then wither unceremoniously to a low point from which they often never recover. Many American moms would probably be surprised at this finding by the NYU Child Study Center. The Center's research cited myriad reasons for this dramatic decline in self-esteem, among them media influences, hormonal changes, sexual objectification, internalization of negative comments and negative self-talk.

Unchecked, girls' low self-esteem can bloom into high-risk behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, bullying, cutting, smoking, eating disorders and more.

Inspired to change this trajectory, kickboxing instructors Erin Fennell and Brittani Warner created the Float Like a Butterfly program for young girls. The two reached out to Joe Hand Boxing Gym and Computer Lab; now, in collaboration, they are offering free classes for girls ages 10 and up, starting June 7.

Float Like a Butterfly is more than just a workout. In addition to sculpting the body, the program is designed to help a young girl realize her inherent value, inner beauty and self-worth.

Fennell, who has a master's degree in clinical and group psychology, created Float to give girls "a sanctuary . . . for even just two hours a week."

She explained that while the first hour is dedicated to exercise, the second is about self-esteem, with activities such as creating a personal inspiration board and girls' leadership building.

This program is more than fun; it's about creating inner and outer strength, cardiovascular conditioning and toning, which also let girls tap into their inner warrior goddess while simultaneously building their self-confidence.

Fennell continued, "I am hoping to allow these girls to feel safe enough to open up, so that we can send them back out the door with a solid sense of who they are and an unwillingness to allow anyone to ever try and take that from them."

Now that's what I'm talking about - a workout that not only trains girls' bodies, but heals their heart and empowers their souls!

The free kickboxing classes, open to girls 10 and up, will meet at 5:45 p.m. every Friday, starting June 7, at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym, 547 N. 3rd St. All participants are required to have a signed parent permission slip and sign a medical waiver. For more information and registration, email
Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.