The Body Beautiful

The girls of Automotive High don't just fix cars—they fix themselves

5. They can be friendly sometimes.

Katrina doesn't concern herself with Automotive boys anymore—she's dated five during her four years. Now she's dating a boy she met from church. He makes her promise that if he ever gets a car, that when it breaks down, she will fix it up.

Sixty-six girls attend Automotive High School in Brooklyn, outnumbered by 1,000 boys. Here are five: from left, Katrina Green, Greidenix Maria, Juana Abreu, Lynely Ruiz, and Analise Rivera.
photo: David Yellen
Sixty-six girls attend Automotive High School in Brooklyn, outnumbered by 1,000 boys. Here are five: from left, Katrina Green, Greidenix Maria, Juana Abreu, Lynely Ruiz, and Analise Rivera.


Katrina Green knows how to turn on the heat when necessary.
photo: David Yellen
Juana Abreu sits in front of a computer. She's in her virtual-enterprise course; business students take it instead of studying mechanics. Most girls opt for this route. They're running a virtual company called Cruisin' With Class and sell automotive accessories over the Internet. Boys and girls type away on their keyboards, developing a business plan and exploring marketing options. They compete with other high schools around the country to create the most successful virtual company. They will sell car parts and earn virtual money, but have to spend their earnings on the services of other companies, such as ones to help them market their brand.

Juana, the CEO of Cruisin' With Class, calls her board members to the conference table. Her hair is dyed blond, but it's more of a gold and blends in with her skin tone. She flat-irons each segment, because if she didn't, her head would turn into the jump-off point for a million little anti-gravity springs. She's got on tight jeans, a white blouse, and a string of doubled-up pearls falling over her chest. She's curvy and full-lipped and always has a small motorcade of boys revving their engines near her desk. Three boys and two girls pull up seats around the table; a small display of headlights is in the middle. Juana holds up their business plan and points to the graphic of a hubcap. "We need to freshen this up; this has to be changed," she demands. "It sucks."

The boys slouch in their chairs and pout. Juana hears someone curse. "Watch your mouth, Sean," she warns, reminding the boys that girls may not run the car companies, but they do rule the world.

When Juana first arrived at Automotive, she wasn't so assertive. The first time she dated someone, she remembers being treated like turf. "I was Ray's girl," she says. "Even after we broke up."

She'd enter the hall with her friend Melissa, and they'd find bestowed upon them the power of Moses. The sea of boys would part. It converged only after the girls' swaying behinds were out of sight. The girls didn't know what to do but accept they'd be watched.

The girls discovered a tactic so they could walk more covertly. They use a similar book bag—rectangular with a long strap. They hang the bag diagonally over their bodies and swing the bag to the back until it covers their butts—no boy can say or pinch anything with a big black bag hiding their cheeks. At least that was the original plan, back in 2003. But hiding behind some black bag wasn't going to do for four years of school. Soon they changed their ways; they learned that being the minority means that to be heard, they've got to brew up a louder voice. The girls at Automotive are pressed to question their upbringing and stand up for themselves.

Juana lives in what she calls the dark side of Bushwick, starting at the Wilson stop and heading east. Juana says it's safer now than it used to be. She walks by dozens of church facades, drug dealers standing out front hawking their goods, on the way to her house every day after school. She's known the dealers since she was little and they would never give her any trouble. She grew up in a household with five sisters and her parents. Her mother dropped out of school to take care of her children; she cooked, cleaned, and even scrubbed her husband's feet each evening. A couple years ago, Juana's father left the family and went back to the Dominican Republic, never officially divorcing her mother. Now Juana watches her mother unable to forget her father and move on. "He eats her head up," she says.

"That's not gonna be me," says Juana. The learning goes beyond school; here at home she's taking notes too. She doesn't want to end up in her mother's shoes, and by forging a strong role for herself in the classroom—managing multiple boys in school projects—she's seen firsthand that she doesn't have to settle.

Juana and her friends have been able to use the school as a laboratory, experimenting with, honing, and understanding the extent of their womanly powers. Juana and Grey are both 17 years old. Grey is Juana's niece, the daughter of her oldest sister. As they blossomed, they tested the influence that piggybacked with their maturing bodies. Knowing that the boys of Automotive were desperate for female contact, during lunchtime, they would ply them for money. They'd dole out subtle nods, softly spoken words, and a slight tug on the sleeve. Their line was simple: Can you give me a dollar? It was a rare day when they couldn't earn more than 20. They never use the tactic anymore, but it helped them realize untapped potential. "We all got played at the beginning," she says. She won't take less than perfect for a partner anymore. "I need someone who's here 24-7 kissing my ass."

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