Girls between the ages of 8 and 12 are known as tweens. They are no longer children, but not yet teenagers. Still, many of them try to look, talk and behave like adults. But they don't have to at Miss O and Friends, a virtual place where tween girls can be their age, express themselves openly and discover who they really are.
Miss O and her friends grew out of Juliette Brindak's imagination. "It started when I was 10. My family was coming back from vacation one summer," the 17-year-old high school student says. "I just started doodling these girls. I called them cool girls, I gave the drawings to my Mom, and she held on to them."
One year, Juliette's mother, an artist and designer, embellished the drawings for her younger sister's birthday party. "My Mom made Miss O-like characters for all of her friends," she says. "She blew them up really big and put them on a poster board. The girls went crazy for them, they absolutely loved them."
Juliette's drawings were inspired by real girls: her sister Olivia -- who is Miss O, herself, and three of her friends.
Earlier this year, the five characters came to virtual life on a web site of their own. "It's really a fun site," she says. "There are games, cooking recipes, an on-line magazine called 'The Scoop,' where girls can read about cool places to go, and movie reviews. There are many polls and quizzes. There is a kid's counselor corner where girls send in questions and they get a response from a school psychologist. And they'll also get a response from me."
Miss O and Friends has also become a place where girls can buy a variety of products. Juliette's mother, Hermine, says the items are appropriate to their age. "I think girls, tweens, love anything that's stationery items. They love clothing, jewelry. They love novelty kinds of items," she says. "These girls are into so many things, and the whole world seems to market to this age group. It's about boyfriends, clothing and make up. I mean this age group is so exposed to so many things. So, just let them be themselves, let them be girls."
That means discovering what's beyond their looks - their real interests, skills and talents. Lauren Garvey, who does publicity for the Miss O company, says one project to help girls explore their potential is a book series. "One of the books that just came out, in June, is actually solely written by girls," she says. "We hosted a writing contest where over 10,000 submissions were sent in. Then the girls on the web site actually voted on the best stories, the stories they liked the most. This was the first book. It's called 'Right On.' It features 15 stories and poems from different girls around the country."
It took six years for Miss O and Friends to develop from drawings on a sketch pad into a real company. Co-founder Juliette Brindak credits her parents for supporting her project. Her mother serves as the Creative Director and her father, Paul, is the company's Executive Director.
"This was never intended to be a business. It was purely a very natural organic response to what did not exist in the market place," Juliette's father, Paul, says. "We're averaging close to 5 million hits a day. We really didn't have a sense of how big or small this was going to be. Frankly, it continues to grow."
"We're also speaking with some entertainment companies that have shown some interest in creating possibly a TV show or a video download or something, where it will be live action and where the girls will be more real," Juliette's mother, Hermine, says. " Girls need positive role models. One of our huge goals is giving that to those girls."
As company chairperson and website editor, Juliette says she has become aware that what tween girls need most is a sense of self and self-esteem. She says thousands of girls keep coming back to their website because when they look at Miss O and her friends, they feel like they're looking in the mirror, they feel free to talk and share and behave like girls who are somewhere between childhood and adult responsibility.