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Local girl wins nat'l award focusing on whole person

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

A local girl was chosen as one of 25 girls to be recognized by the national magazine New Moon for their beauty of character.

Megan Irene Behnke, 8, of Thane, flew to New York City 10 days ago to receive her "You are beautiful!" certificate. Her mother, consulting lawyer Larri Spengler, accompanied her.

Megan was nominated by Spengler and her father, Steven Behnke. They described her as "interesting, strong and eccentric, like her favorite characters - Anne of Green Gables, Lucy of Narnia, Captain Nancy (of the 'Swallows and Amazons'), and Orianna (of 'Dinotopia')."

Megan's creativity is reflected in the publishing of a dog newspaper, The Growl. She also has invented a language for the planet Pluto, and is intrigued by undersea creatures, volcanoes, dinosaurs and Shakespeare.

Megan was selected from over 150 children submitted to New Moon for its special May/June issue, "25 Beautiful Girls," which celebrates beauty on the inside. "They are trying to change the culture about the way girls are perceived," Spengler said. The magazine's masthead says it aims "to build resistance to gender inequities."

Spengler began subscribing a year ago. "It covers heavy issues like women's plight in Afghanistan," she said. "Right now Megan and I read it together."

During their trip to New York City, Spengler and Megan met the other winners, publisher Nancy Gruver, and an editorial board 8 to 14 years of age. They also took a side trip to Ellis Island, where Megan's great-grandparents, Lucian and Teofilia Perkowski, entered the United States from Poland around 1912.

Based in Duluth, Minn., New Moon published its first 25 beautiful-girls issue in 2000, timed to coordinate with People magazine's "50 beautiful people."

"Nancy is trying to do a consciousness shift with advertisers. There is nothing wrong with being beautiful, but if that is the only thing our culture focuses on, it's misdirected," Spengler said.

Being selected for a national girls' magazine took Megan by surprise. "It felt like a wonderful, great honor - amazing; I couldn't believe it," she said at her log cabin home Monday.

One of Megan's favorite parts of the magazine is the column, "Howling at the Moon." Girls write to the column to encourage other girls to stick up for themselves and not bow to peer or advertising pressure.

"I think Megan has a sense of incredulity" about what the girls write in about, Spengler said. "She goes to charter school, where girls aren't left out of stuff. The magazine is a good consciousness-raising exercise for her."

Megan enjoys swimming and the outdoors. She's still considering options for the future, but has some definite plans in mind: "I know one thing for sure: I want to run the Iditarod a lot, and be a veterinarian and a naturalist."

"It seems so important for her to know she has choices and isn't put into a box," said Steven Behnke, semi-retired director of the Division of Subsistence for the Department of Fish and Game. "In some ways, Alaska is more open, and we have heroines like Susan Butcher. Her mom's a pretty good example, too."

"All the girls in the world should be able to read New Moon. They should look at in the library because it will make them happier about who they are," Megan said.



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