After the incident where Mrs. Hall wrote an open letter to teenage girls about their bodies, the internet reacted. I even reacted. It was yet another example of boys and girls being held to different standards. Boys need to worry about being good men, earning good grades, and being good at extracurriculars. Girls need to do that, and more. They also need to worry about being thin enough, pretty enough, and just the right amount of sexy.
No wonder girls have self-esteem issues!
It was around that time that I found out about Beauty Redefined, a non-profit that was started by a pair of twins that works to improve the self esteem of girls, and goes beyond that to trying to reframe the conversation about women. They explore the differences, for example, between headlines on young men’s and young women’s magazines. Even magazines aimed toward the young crowd focus on “looking great” for girls and “finding cool hobbies” for boys.
I got a chance to talk to the founders of Beauty Redefined, Lindsay and Lexie Kite. Read on for more details!
10 Questions with Beauty Redefined 1 of 11
Image by Beauty Redefined
1. Can you tell us a little about Beauty Redefined? 2 of 11
We are Lindsay and Lexie Kite, 28-year-old identical twins with PhDs in the study of media and body image from the University of Utah ('13). We have a passion for helping girls and women recognize and reject harmful messages about their bodies and what "beauty" means and looks like. Beauty Redefined started in 2009 as a way to share our research on media and body image with the general public while we were doing our graduate work. Today, it is a (501(c)(3) nonprofit, still run by the two of us, that works through regular speaking engagements across the country, social media (Facebook.com/beautyredefined, Twitter: @TakeBackBeauty), and our website at beautyredefined.net, to continuously share our research and continue the discussion of body image, women's potential, and media influence. Our co-authored master's thesis and complementary doctoral work forms the basis for a one-hour visual presentation on recognizing and rejecting harmful media ideals about beauty and health, which we have presented to tens of thousands across the country since March 2009. Beauty Redefined is all about rethinking our ideas of "beautiful" and "healthy" that we've likely learned from for-profit media that thrives off female insecurity. Girls and women who feel OK about their bodies — meaning they aren't "disgusted" with them like more than half of women today take better care of themselves. With obesity and eating disorders both at epidemic levels, this point is crucial!
Image by Matt Clayton Photography
2. You are two gorgeous twins. From your website, you’re the textbook definition of lovely. Why this cause? 3 of 11
First, thank you very much! Just like the majority of other girls and women in this appearance-centered culture, Lexie and I grew up spending lots of time and energy worrying about and being fixated on our looks. I know I wasted lots of tears and time being held back by self-consciousness and feeling abnormal or sub-par compared to beauty ideals. Once we both realized (through a media criticism class freshman year of college) how affected we were by media representation of women's bodies, we knew this was a crucially important cause for us to dedicate our education and time to. Still, regardless of how research-backed, profound, truthful or crucially needed our messages are, there are — almost without fail — people who will dismiss us entirely as "just jealous of beautiful women" or "too pretty to know what body shame feels like." Though those might sound like two radically different statements, they're the exact same thing. Any comment or discussion that turns attention to our looks instead of our words minimizes us to just bodies. Nothing more than an object to look at, pick apart, judge and dismiss as never quite right. Once Lexie and I became aware of the ways women were continuously minimized to just bodies, both of our hearts raced at the thought of learning how to teach others to recognize and reject those harmful messages. Ten years of school later, our hearts are still racing while we do just that!
Image by anitapeppers
3. How would you define beautiful? 4 of 11
We believe the definition of beauty must be expanded from its artificial, controlling place as an unattainable ideal used to drive major profit. To us, beauty is all-encompassing, it's hopeful, it's giving, it's happy, it's selfless, it's so much more than the very narrow ideals we see in media. Beauty should be a happy thing that we can recognize in ourselves and others, but instead, thinking about beauty incites a lot of anxiety in women today -- thinking of all the ways they don't measure up and what they can do to fix it. We work to redefine beauty as something happy, attainable, and more holistic than the narrowly defined appearance ideals we've been taught.
Image by JulesInKY
4. Who is the most beautiful woman you know? 5 of 11
Cliche coming: our mom, Gina Kite. She is the most loving, selfless woman we know. We've always been amazed at how service-oriented and giving she is, even when it is exhausting and inconvenient and not fun. She has a radiance and a light that can't be achieved with any amount of skin care or cosmetic enhancement, though she is conventionally beautiful too. She's an excellent example of beauty!
Image by Frugal Portland
5. How can we live a more beautiful life? 6 of 11
We could write (and are writing) a book on this subject! It's the focus of everything we do! We promote positive body image in order to help women feel good about themselves, regardless of what beauty ideals the do or do not fit at the moment, and then get on to bigger and better things like contributing to the world around them and living full, healthy lives. Here are a few ways we and supporters of Beauty Redefined work to redefine beauty in their own lives and circles of influence:
- They speak openly with their friends, kids, students, and colleagues about the ways media objectifies women and contributes to body fixation, disordered eating, sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits, and other problems that stem from body shame.
- They fight messages that hurt their body image with resilience, and come out stronger and more awesome than they could have ever imagined. Seriously.
- They never, ever shame anyone for the look of their body or the choices they make with their bodies. They know shame is THE WORST thing they can do to a person's sense of self worth, health, and happiness.
- They calmly and eloquently respond to body bashing online and in person in ways that promote understanding and empowerment rather than anger and continued objectification.
- They value themselves as well as all girls and women for much more than what they look like, through both words and actions.
- They might even talk directly back to media powerholders that objectify and degrade women for profit. They do this by refusing to shop at or support stores, brands, or media outlets that openly degrade and objectify women for profit.
- They use their own social media influence to post positive, empowering links and images, and lend support to others who do the same. They also unfollow and unsubscribe from people, pages, and groups that promote unreal appearance ideals or depict women as parts of bodies to be judged, fixed, and discussed.
- Most importantly, they go out and live, and do, and be — regardless of what they look like — in order to take their power back and lead happy, healthy lives.
Image by adnandx
6. How can we tell ourselves and our friends that we are beautiful? 7 of 11
Too many girls and women have a constant script of mean thoughts about themselves running through their minds. Recent studies show us that girls who don't like their bodies become more sedentary over time and pay less attention to having a healthy diet. If you think you're gross and worthless, why would you take care of yourself? On the flipside of that, research has found that girls who feel OK about their bodies are more likely to be physically active and eat healthy. They are more active and make healthy lifestyle choices way into the future. Set a goal to stop letting negative things about yourself constantly float through your mind. Start with a day, a week, a month, whatever you can do, and make it a permanent practice!
When it comes to telling others they are beautiful, dig deep next time you want to give a compliment. If you give a looks-based compliment, pair it with a character-based compliment. Don't skip out on the looks-oriented compliment, but don't always stop there, either! Say something nice about who they are, what they do, and how much you care about them outside of how they look. Try to make a resolution to compliment girls and women for more than those easy comments on pretty hair, weight loss, clothing, etc. While those compliments are nice, we can do better. When we minimize other females to just their bodies, we forget to remind them of their beautiful talents, characters, and gifts! Plus, when you get a compliment about your looks, it's SO EASY to brush it off and not let it sink in ("I'm just in good lighting" or "that picture was taken at a great angle" or "today is just an especially good-looking day"). We are more than bodies, so let's make sure to remind each other of that powerful truth. It's a great way to work on taking back beauty every day."
Image by Beauty Redefined
7. What would you say to someone with low self esteem? 8 of 11
For every girl or woman, please you know you are capable of much more than looking hot. It's a message that will change your life and allow you to do and be and live in a world that needs you. Once you believe it, you will radiate that truth to those around you. We stress the message that we are all more powerful than we realize and our influences matter. If you say something negative about your body or your looks, your daughter/sister/friend/niece/student will hear it. It will negatively affect her view of her own body. Negative thoughts and comments about our bodies or others' perpetuate the lie that we are all bodies to be looked at, fixed, and judged. That's it. Sometimes the best we can do is fake confidence for a little bit. Do your very best to live like you feel OK about yourself by refusing to hold yourself back from opportunities or activities or relationships because of self-consciousness, about appearance or otherwise. When we get out there and live and do and be, we allow ourselves to experience new things that can remind us we are more than bodies and more beautiful than we know.
Image by charmaineswart
8. How can we focus less on body image? How can teenage girls? 9 of 11
We believe media literacy needs to be a part of every school's curriculum from elementary school on. Media literacy is the ability to critically deconstruct and understand media messages -- where they're coming from and why they're engineered the way they are. If we're teaching kids about classic literature, we should DEFINITELY be teaching them about current media that is much more ever-present. We need to understand that all media is profit-driven, which means it is driven largely by advertising dollars. This absolutely skews our perceptions of normal and healthy. Further, we believe Beauty Redefined needs to be part of every girl and woman's life. It should be in her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and in her thoughts about her own body. We are a fun, positive reminder of TRUTH and reality that everyone needs to have constantly. We base Beauty Redefined off the idea that this is an individual battle for every one of us every day. We can choose how to fight back against these harmful ideals in very personal ways. No one else can do it for us. All those research-driven strategies we cite all over the place are the ways we can recognize and then REJECT these harmful ideals. It's a lifelong journey, but it is worth it. Here is a list of those strategies (feel free to pick and choose): http://www.beautyredefined.net/resources/
Image by sideshowmom
9. What are the main contributors to unhealthy body image? Media or peers? 10 of 11
The main issue stems from media being an inescapable part of our everyday lives. The girls and women of this generation are exposed to more profit-driven messages and images than anyone else in the history of the world. How crazy is that? Those billions of images and messages SCREAM what it takes to be a "beautiful, successful, loveable" female. Those messages are lies that people make up to make money by selling us unattainable ideals that keep us obsessed with our looks instead of getting on to everything more important. On top of that, friends and peers, as well as loved ones, play a significant role in our perceptions of our own beauty and bodies. They are as influenced by media as we are! We are all surrounded by it. So when they say negative things about their own bodies OR our bodies, it hits us hard. That's why we encourage people to fight against these ideals on an individual level and work to be an example in their own circles of influence with friends and family. It's the only way to really fight how dangerous and harmful these unattainable ideals are. We are capable of SO MUCH more than being looked at and we can teach each other that instead of letting media teach us lies.
Image by phaewilk
10. What’s one thing you would say to the teenage version of yourself? How would you make her listen? 11 of 11
I would tell teenage Lindsay that her reflection does not define her worth. It's too easy to get caught up in the lies that our happiness, health, and desirability are determined by our weight or complexion. I would give her (me) a hug and tell her she's more powerful and beautiful than she knows, and that once she starts to better understand that, she'll be unstoppable at whatever she wants to accomplish. People listen when the information you're trying to communicate resonates with them on a deep level. Messages like this are based in truth, and that speaks to people's hearts on a deeper level than any profit-driven message about superficial beauty ever will.
Image by Beauty Redefined