Local entrepreneur Julia Garcia creates Kya app, a positive social network for girls

 Seven in 10 girls do not feel good enough.

That’s a statistic that has weighed heavily on local entrepreneur Julia Garcia, especially because she felt it herself while growing up.

Her struggles with depression and body image among other challenges led to a self-destructive lifestyle—she almost lost her college athletic scholarship due to reckless partying.

This “rock bottom” moment led to a lot of changes in her life, including the beginning of TRUality and The Rewrite Project. These organizations both focus on motivational speaking and sharing life stories with all demographics through the arts, including skits, music, and slam poetry.

With The Rewrite Project, Garcia started zeroing in on girls’ mental health issues. During her speaking tours across the country, she consistently heard cries for help from girls who were struggling with the same problems she’d had. Garcia also began to see how technology played a role in worsening these issues and led to real-world harm—as the organization’s website states, suicide is the leading cause of death for older teen girls.

Garcia had long had the idea to turn this problem around and find a way to use social media for a good, but when she brought the idea to a developer in 2008 at age 20, she was sexually harassed and had a difficult time returning to the idea.

She refused to let the project die, though. The idea for the app lined up perfectly with her Ph.D. studies at Saybrook University, where she will soon earn a degree in psychology with a concentration in transformative social change.

Garcia said that the Kya app’s mission is to “optimize technology in order to create safe spaces that can positively impact a digital generation of young girls and women to rise up together.”

Right now, she said, the apps that young women are using are developed by people who don’t have girls’ best interests in mind.

“[These apps] are designed by men, and a majority of them are designed as a dating or comparison site to objectify and sexualize women,” Garcia said.

She said while pitching her app, she received a lot of negativity from male developers who said there was no market for a concept like this—essentially, a private, uplifting social network for young women. But her experiences from her speaking tours as well as further research (including walking into coffee shops and testing the idea with ASU students) have proven that this isn’t the case. Many women have told her that they wished they had this app growing up and want their friends, daughters, sisters, etc. to have access to it, she said.

“If it fails, it’s because I didn’t have all my ducks in a row, and it’s not because there’s not a need and there’s not a solution in this model,” Garcia said.

Kya, which is not just the name of the app but also a character, is designed to be a “pick-me-up.” When girls access the app and tap her image, they receive bits of wisdom and inspiration. And, most importantly, Kya is designed to be the support system Garcia wished she had when she was growing up.

Users can also view content contributed by women in different career fields and who have helpful stories to share. There are buttons with different topics including body image, bullying, relationships, self-compassion, goal-setting, and leadership that provide users with advice and helpful tips.

“Imagine Nylon magazine, the style, with Oprah Winfrey interviews,” Garcia said. “That’s kind of like the ground we’re breaking—adding substance to mainstream media messages.”

There are also campaigns to encourage users to share “real” things about themselves rather than just staged photos and misleadingly upbeat statuses. For example, one campaign “What’s your pretty?” encourages girls to share what they like about themselves, focusing on character qualities and skills.

Garcia said she plans to launch the app on October 3 at an event in Virginia with a following launch party. Users must receive an invite code to sign up, and so far 2,000 young women have signed up with codes they received during Garcia’s latest speaking tour.

Garcia won the audience impact award at a Seedspot competition last winter and received funding and office space that kept the project afloat. She has received a lot of additional help and kind words from community members and wants to make sure they can be involved, with one way being contributing content to the app.

More information about content contributions and the app will be available here. At time of publication, the link takes you to Garcia’s homepage, but it will soon lead to Kya’s website.

Jessica Swarner

Author: Jessica Swarner

Jessica is a recent graduate of ASU where she studied political science and journalism. She is currently a researcher at a local cybersecurity company. Her hobbies include reading up on hacker forums on Tor and giving unsolicited podcast recommendations.

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