When you look in the mirror, what do you see? The ladies of Women Empowering Society Together (WEST) and Helping Youth Prepare to Excel (HYPE) attempted to answer this question along with several others at their co-sponsored program on November 12, 2008, entitled,” Female Body Perception.” The goal of the program was to help women on campus find the “true definition of beauty and self-esteem within [them]selves,” and to teach women the tools to prevent them from feeling the need to conform to our society’s standard of beauty.
They began with an activity in which all guests were asked to walk around the classroom and choose an image taped on the wall of a woman they believe is beautiful. The pictures consisted of magazine cutouts of fashion models and celebrities of various ethnicities and sizes. When asked to explain why they chose their picture, the majority of women admitted to picking celebrities they either wanted to look like, as in body type, facial features, clothing style, or overall confidence exuded, or images of women they saw a piece of themselves in. Guests were asked to describe the positive characteristics of the women in the pictures followed by the negative. In a matter of seconds, hands shot up into the air with women eager to point out the poor outfit choices, odd facial expressions, and in one case “crooked toe,” of the women within the pictures, once again showing how meticulous women can to details when it comes to both their image and the images of other women. One of the women in the audience said she was unable to spot out a flaw in her model, leading to a discussion about the unrealistic images of women we see in the media and how these images create impractical standards for regular women.
Attendees talked about how the portrayal of beauty staring back at them through print media, television and movie screens is typically a young, fair skinned, skinny woman. However, this standard image fails to recognize that our differences are what make us beautiful. “What’s put in ads is an expectation of what beauty should be, not what it is. We have the power to change the media by not accepting what they give us to define true beauty,” said April Daley, a senior in political science and communication. Through discussion, true beauty was defined as “an inner spirit more than anything.” People spoke about how they can feel beautiful from the simple things in their lives, such as making an A on an exam, accomplishing all of their goals set for the week, or even being as comfortable and confident in sweatpants as if wearing a three-piece suit.
According to Wende Nichols, a senior in history and Africana studies, “We try so hard to distinguish between regular people and the super stars. No! They are regular people too. Don’t hold them on a pedestal.” The overall viewpoint of the audience was that women should stop allowing themselves to be persuaded by the images of beauty they are given, and take an active role in defining their individual beauty.
WEST and HYPE members stressed the need for high self-esteem in order to combat the images of the “ideal woman” seen on television daily. They said in order to gain self-esteem women must accept themselves for who they are and stop comparing themselves to others. The activity ended with a “declaration” of freedom from the beauty standards we have long known, with every woman tearing the picture she chose into pieces and throwing it in the trashcan.
The program concluded with audience members getting into groups in which everyone passed index cards with their name on it around a circle to group member, having each person write one thing they think is beautiful about individuals in the group. Eventually everyone’s card was returned to them, and they were able to read all of the compliments their group members gave them. The final words displaying on the projector screen as the program concluded read: “You’re beautiful.” It was evident that everyone left this event truly feeling good in their own skin.