This International Women's Day, Spend an #HourwithHer
For centuries, girls have grown into their own while tethered to singular ideals of beauty. Almost 25 thousand years ago, it was the figurines of Venus portraying round, pear-shaped bodies that dictated the aesthetic ideal. Later, around the 18th century, society was conditioned to favour a cone-shaped silhouette; employing corsets to manipulate, slenderize and restrict the body. Though time and trends have since evolved, one thing which hasn’t - until perhaps now - is the commercialized, singular definition of what it means to possess “ideal beauty.”
In 2004 - perfect timing, considering it was also the year Facebook was founded - Dove launched its Self-Esteem Project, aimed at combating the most prevalent issue facing young women today; their perception of self. Since then, they’ve managed to reach 20 million girls and in the spirit of reaching millions more, I’ve partnered with Dove today to bring you this post.
Growing up with instant access to images of retouched, heavily-made up women makes young girls give up before they’ve even started. Research shows that 8 in 10 girls with low body confidence will opt out of important activities necessary to voice their opinions, such as raising their hands. Scrolling through Instagram has conditioned us to live within a dopamine-driven feedback loop, where we buy into the formula that a certain combination of facial symmetry, lighting and waist-hip ratios will garner us more approval. This does not live neatly in our digital realities, however; 7 in 10 girls believe that women who are beautiful have greater opportunities in life.
I do not ignore that throughout my modelling career, the way I made my living was part of the problem. I stood by as my body was manipulated and smoothed out, skin made softer, hair fuller, darker or lighter, depending on the trend. I listened to my agents when they told me I was fat; at a size four I lost enough weight to make a pair of size zero jeans look baggy and sent a message to young women that success meant “skinny at all costs.” Over time, my understanding of our perpetual unhappiness became more frequent; I realized that in our fruitless strive for perfection, all of us could be united. I retired when my brain and body didn’t know what united them anymore, and when the only flame that still burned in my body was one that shouted, “do better, speak up, don’t allow this to happen to young girls.”
Leading experts believe that one hour of speaking with a girl about beauty, confidence and self-esteem can change the way she sees herself for a lifetime. I believe this, frankly, because it happened to me. Sitting down with someone who could empathize, openly, with all the things I thought I was feeling alone did wonders for my emergence into an empowered womanhood post-modelling. The Dove Self-Esteem Project, thanks to their incredible, publicly available materials, plans to reach 20 million more girls in this way by 2020. If we can impact the lives of this many women, imagine how we could change the world.
I had the profound pleasure of witnessing this in New York City this week, coming together as a Dove ambassador and teaching girls aged 11-13 the importance of re-inventing their own beauty story. We, alongside Orange is the New Black actress & body positive advocate Dascha Polanco, spent an #HourwithHer using the curriculum available for free at Dove.ca. Together, we transformed moments of struggle into moments that reflected powerful acts of pride. The act of reversing the end of a hurtful story created a positive energy in the room that shifted my perspective for the better. I did not believe that a few phrases in a book could manifest in such powerful, emotional ways; but they lifted something out of us that was a true pleasure to witness.
When the foundation we create for ourselves is strong, the future we create can become even stronger. I urge you to - today or going forward - take a moment to send a young woman you love these tools. They’ve changed 20 million lives so far – Let’s Impact another 20 Million lives together.
Happy International Women’s Day!