At the heart of HomeWorks Trenton’s mission lies the goal of woman empowerment - teaching young girls that they can do and be anything they set their minds to. That mission has been at the center of all of the work we’ve done so far this summer, including the programming session a fellow intern and I organized for the scholars a few weeks ago. We chose the topic of body confidence and self-image in the age of social media because we knew we wanted the girls to be able to join in the conversation, using their voices and experiences to help enrich and propel the discussion. As college students not much older than the scholars, Temi and I know what it’s like to grow up in the age of Facetune and Instagram models, of fillers and cosmetic procedures and ever-shifting beauty standards. Self-confidence is a constant, lifelong battle with yourself. We are by no means experts, but we wanted to begin a conversation that might draw insight to the importance of self love and self care. After all, we are our own worst critics, but we are also each our own most dependable friends. Yet the more research I conducted in preparation for our discussion, and the more mind-numbing facts and statistics I read, the more I realized I didn't have the answers myself. To boil such an important topic down to a few sets of numbers didn’t feel right. What is body positivity, really? In recent years it’s become a social movement focused on empowering bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders, while also challenging traditional beauty standards and societal norms. To a teenage girl, however, this is often easier said than done.
Body positivity has its roots in the fat acceptance movement of the late 1960s, which strove to end fatphobic culture and discrimination based on size. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance was first established in 1969 and continues to do the important work of changing the way people think about the intersection between beauty and weight. The body positivity movement in its current form first began to emerge around 2012 with an initial focus on challenging unrealistic beauty standards thrust upon women by various industries and instead championing the message that all bodies are beautiful. Now the movement has expanded to become even more inclusive, uplifting individuals of all races, backgrounds, genders, and sizes, and has become grounded in spreading awareness about mental health. A healthy body image plays an important role in shaping how people feel about themselves and their own self worth, especially for young girls who are constantly bombarded by perfect, seemingly unattainable images in the media and online. Poor body image has been linked to underlying diseases including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
In recent years, a number of companies such as Dove and Aerie have begun to incorporate efforts to be more inclusive and body positive in their advertisements. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. During our discussion, the girls mentioned that their struggles with body image extend beyond the surface, that many of the issues they face have to do with accepting all parts of themselves, beyond the physical. Through our discussion we decided that what we really need is not a movement towards body positivity but rather towards body neutrality, which focuses on what our bodies can do for us rather than what they look like on the outside. Our bodies are merely the shells that house who we truly are, and our value as people should extend beyond the superficial. Moving forward, each of us pledged to keep this mantra in mind in our daily interactions with others, as well as our constant inner dialogue with ourselves. Unrealistic social pressures, whether intentional or subconscious, are harmful and have far-reaching effects. But as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Though I wish we could have met in person, I’m happy to have gotten the chance to bring awareness to such an important topic through the programming session and to learn from the unique experiences and perspectives of our scholars. These young girls are at such a pivotal point in their lives, and with the right support and guidance they can truly be whatever and whoever they want to be. I hope they never lose sight of the lessons and values they learn during their time at HomeWorks - and continue to carry these ideas into the next horizon of their lives.