Get Graceann Belgiorno talking for more than five minutes about the women in her life and she’ll likely say “badass” more than once. And rightfully so.
Badass girls surround themselves with like-minded women.
The Nashville chapter of national organization I Am That Girl meets every other week to talk about women’s issues and changing the culture. Belgiorno and the other members always begin meetings by going around and telling the group their badass moment of the week.
“My badass moment this week was turning down a job,” said Belgiorno. “I say that because I think I’m finally learning what I am capable of having on my plate.”
Right now, Belgiorno’s plate is pretty full.
Approaching the end of her junior year at Belmont, studying entertainment industry studies and minoring in public relations, Belgiorno also works part time at Red Vinyl records as the creative assistant.
Not to mention, she launched the Nashville chapter of I Am That Girl chapter Nashville in July 2014 and continues to run and host the meetings.
I Am That Girl co-founders, who are based in Southern California, Alexis Jones and Emily Greener developed the national nonprofit in order to inspire women across the country to take pride in who they are and for girls to see greatness in themselves and spread that to the other women in their lives.
As the founders stated on the website, “THAT GIRL is the best version of each of us. She speaks her truth, sees the best in others, and is leaving this world better than she found it.”
An Instagram post by actress Sophia Bush, Jones’ best friend and sorority sister from college, caught Belgiorno’s attention. Bush posed with Jones’ book, I Am That Girl, and Belgiorno soon read the book, researched more on the organization and applied to become a chapter leader.
“I had always been a guy’s girl growing up,” she said. “When I got to college I was very much surrounded by girls all the time and kind of seeing the girl culture that is with our age demographic.”
This girl culture she talks about: one of constant gossip, comparisons between each other and blaming it all on natural tendencies.
“We need to come together and just make a difference,” says Belgiorno. “Gossiping, talking behind each other’s backs, I mean, what good does that do for you? It’s just a bad habit that is misconstrued as camaraderie between women.”
Though gossiping and backstabbing sound like juvenile issues to be discussed by 20-somethings, women still deal with these issues daily. I Am That Girl aims to be a place for women to work through and find solutions to the problems.
“I wanted I Am That Girl to come to this city because it’s such a career-based city,” said Belgiorno. “I wouldn’t consider it a college town, I consider it a career town and you need to find your place of security within this city or else you’re going to get swallowed by it.”
I Am That Girl member and friend of Belgiorno’s, Taylor Edwards, echoed similar feelings about the presence of the organization in Nashville.
“As a musician, it’s really nice to have an organization that encourages girls to work together and support each other,” said Edwards.
For now, the Nashville chapter focuses on college-age women and brings them together to a safe place to discuss the struggles and triumphs of being a girl. Members share their stories, their insecurities and the importance of the positive female role models.
Nearly every woman in the room names her mother as the greatest female role model in her life.
“Ever since I can remember, my mom always told me to be an individual,” said Belgiorno. She recalls how her mom would say, “what fun is being like everyone else? Be different. Different is good.”
Belgiorno also sites comedy queen Chelsea Handler as a role model, which she admits, “sounds so bizarre.”
Why Handler? Pretty simple.
“She’s always struck me as very authentic regardless of the hate or love she receives,” said Belgiorno, quickly adding, “total badass.”
However, meetings don’t only focus on the women in the room. Belgiorno works to bring I Am That Girl to the rest of the city.
In February, the group took the I Am That Girl spirit to the women of Nashville through crafting notes with uplifting quotes.
Belgiorno contacted the manager at Frothy Monkey on 12th South, who agreed to pass the notes out to female customers throughout the day.
“It was really exciting that day, knowing that our notes were potentially making women’s days,” said Belgiorno.
She also looks forward to future plans for the chapter and its involvement with Nashville. Her goal: Bring the program to high school girls.
“High school girls are about to bridge into that point in their lives where they need self confidence, they need reassurance, they need to know certain steps to take in certain situations and they need to know their worth,” said Belgiorno.
Fortunately for Jones and Greener, they’re not alone in fighting to change the perception and culture of women with over 100 chapter leaders like Belgiorno spreading the founders’ ideas across the country.
Three years ago, after Belgiorno moved away from New York and from the male best friends she grew up with, she realized her own perspective of women needed to change.
“I was always really afraid of girls because I didn’t think they were very nice,” said Belgiorno. “I had to realize that these women in my community are going to change the world with me.”
Her freshman year roommate, Christina Scholz, recalls Belgiorno’s supportive yet fierce spirit.
“Graceann has always been a go-getter and someone that strives to help people, especially girls,” said Scholz. “She wants to bring out the full potential that she sees in others.”
I Am That Girl changes girl culture one person at a time right now, and with a over 150,000 female members across the country, these women will someday be raising the next generation of girls, too.
“It’s like, it’s kind of up to me,” said Belgiorno. “I think it’s more of, do I feel secure enough in myself to bring another woman into this world that I have to influence?”
But for now, with children and married life far in the future, Belgiorno has time to focus on just the next year of her life.
Preparing for her senior year in college and for whatever may come after, Belgiorno hopes to see the chapter expand and continue to impact the lives of
women in the Nashville community. After her time in college ends, she hopes to pass the chapter on to another college-age badass looking to bring change to women.
“I don’t have a set destination on where I want to be in five years,” says Belgiorno. “But I never want to lose what got me here.”