#StopTheBeautyMadness (Another Hashtag Aimed at Change) Misses the Mark

It’s provocative. But will it make you actually do anything the second you’re done looking at it?

When Shonda Rhimes addressed Dartmouth College’s class of 2014 at their June 8 commencement ceremony, she warned that “a hashtag is not a movement.”

“Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter,” the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator said of such recent social media phenomenons as #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls. “I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing into your computer, and then going back to binge watching your favorite show. For me, it’s ‘Game of Thrones.'”

There’s a new hashtag, #StopTheBeautyMadness, that would like to join the list of top-of-mind social media trends, although in a bit of a loftier way. According to Bustle.com, this one is the brainchild of teacher, author, and “leader in social thought,” Robin Rice, who is also the the founder of Be Who You Are, which is an organization that dedicates itself to social change.

The #StopTheBeautyMadness campaign is aimed at no specific audience, other than “basically . . . all women,” writes Bustle’s Marie Southard Ospina. Or, more specifically, all women “who have ever felt judged, mocked, over-sexualized or preyed upon for being different.” (So, yeah, pretty much all women. And non-caucasian males, too, for that matter.)

In addition to the hashtag, there’s a print component with 25 ads that state in simple and stark terms how women can be made to feel inferior/less than/different in a bad/racist/unflattering/ugly/fat/over the hill/misogynistic/I-don’t-have-a-thigh-gap kind of way. And, there’s soon to be an accompanying 10-week audio series available (for free) through Frontline Voices that’s meant to “inform and encourage their listeners to question their relationships with body image, beauty standards and the way these things manifest themselves in our culture.”

Just as with the Michelle Obama posing with a #BringBackOurGirls sign and Sophia Bush agreeing with #YesAllWomen, #StopTheBeautyMadness has some celebrity supporters, too, including supermodel Emme, who voices one of the podcasts. And of course there’s a requisite Facebook page for women “who want to share their ‘as-is’ selfies, where they celebrate their natural beauty and uniqueness.”

“At the end of the day,” writes Marie Southard Ospina, “it’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of people and a lot of work to truly combat the way humans treat other humans. But it’s campaigns like these that make change seem feasible. And not just feasible, but within our reach.”

To which I say, really? Campaigns like this make broad, sweeping, major change seem feasible? To me, it makes them seem less likely to happen. If a hashtag is what we’re hanging our hopes on, we’re all in serious trouble.

Just like when wearing a yellow Livestrong bracelet was the thing to do when Lance was riding high in the Tour de France a decade ago while fighting equally hard in the cancer community — the people wearing the bracelet weren’t doing much other than giving a $1 to charity, which wasn’t even researching a cure, but promoting awareness. The mission of the Livestrong Foundation (which you’ll remember as being wildly beloved until Lance’s popularity took a nosedive) is to “empower the cancer community to address the unmet needs of cancer survivors” by encouraging “collaboration, knowledge-sharing and partnership.” Basically, a big ol’ support group.

That sounds lovely, moving, and profoundly kind. But as someone who recently went through a bout with cancer, I’d much rather the over $500 million that the Livestrong Foundation has raised went towards actual research for a cure so there are fewer survivors to support because more people aren’t actually getting cancer in the first place. Less talking, more doing.

For what it would cost to run just one of the #StopTheBeautyMadness ads in a magazine or on a billboard (and how, as an advertising media buyer do you even choose where to place them since they’re aimed at “all women?”) — or even a TV ad, where, according to one advertising agency, you might be spending on average a neat six-figure sum for just :30 of time — you could easily hire an educator to teach a semester-long class for high school girls that actually talks to them about these issues. Multiply that by 25 ads in lots of publications and imagine how many girls you can actually talk to. If you’re like most people — Shonda Rhimes, included — you look at a hashtag or ad and move on pretty quickly. This might make you feel good and girl power-y, but what have you really done in the end?

You might re-tweet the hashtag or rip the ad out of the magazine and hang it in your locker or cubicle, but what else are you doing? Are you really going home and talking to your daughter about it, or if you’re the daughter, asking your mom about it? Are you asking a teacher or preacher or friend? Are you confiding in anyone based on this hashtag or ad? The podcast series seems great, but how many teachers will take the time to listen to it and fight with their school board about whether these are conversations worthy of an entire course of study?

If Robin Rice put her efforts toward any of that — and made herself or a team of people like her available for the cause in cities and towns across the country, that would be something worthy of a conversation. And I guarantee you she wouldn’t have to hashtag it or spend money taking out an ad because media outlets would be clamoring to let people know the positive change she was attempting to affect. (Can’t you just see Robin Roberts talking to Robin Rice? Can you feel yourself tearing up at their heart-to-heart?)

Make a difference by getting your hands dirty and having the hard talks with the girls and women affected by all the things the #StopTheBeautyMadness campaign purports to be against. But say it in real life, not in 140 characters or between the page for curling mascara and the article about how to meet the man of your dreams by wearing this fall’s trend in the best way for your body type in a glossy magazine.

Stop the beauty madness, by all means. But stop the madness of thinking the popularity of a hashtag will do it for you.

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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