Sun 10 Feb 2008
As promised, I’m turning this space over to a Q&A with Woody Winfree, creator of the I Am Beautiful Project and editor of the new book We Are More Than Beautiful 46 Real Teens Speak Out about Beauty, Happiness, Love and Life. I’m doing this because I think that Woody is doing work that matters and is making a difference in the lives of woman and girls. The book is beautiful and touching and empowering – and something every girl should have.
The new book, We Are More Than Beautiful for teen girls is the latest addition to the work of the I Am Beautiful Project, an initiative committed to producing creative and educational works that encourage personal growth and discovery for women and girls of all ages.
Author, Woody Winfree says the project’s mission is simple: to create a world in which every woman and girl can proudly proclaim, “I AM BEAUTIFUL!”
What is the I Am Beautiful Project all about? It is about changing the definition of beauty in our culture – one girl at a time, one woman at a time. Quite dramatically, the mass media has chipped away at our sense of beauty and well-being by presenting a singular, narrow and distorted image of female beauty: super-thin bodies, topped by large, perky breasts, with flawless youthful faces surrounded by shiny bouncy hair –and of course, sparkly white, perfectly straight teeth! This suggestion of beauty is not only wrong, it is a LIE. In truth, only three percent of the U.S. female population has the genetic makeup to look like this ideal. That means 97% of us are spending billions of dollars, untold hours of our lives and huge amounts of happiness in an attempt to pursue this distorted ideal.
In sum, the I Am Beautiful Project is about books and films, and workshops and seminars — and anything else I might think to create along the way – that help guide women and girls to change their perspective about the definition of beauty. Beauty is NOT the size of our waists, or the cascade of our hair. Rather, beauty is the sum of our talents, accomplishments, intellect, contribution to our families and communities, and every other measure of living a life that deeply matters.
Where did the idea of this project come from? With the creation of my first book for women, I Am Beautiful – A Celebration of Women, the hope was to give our daughters – mine and yours and every other American girl — a tangible work that they could hold onto. To expose them to images of women that are as real, interesting, diverse and beautiful as real women are. The success of this first book (that is now available in a gift edition), naturally led to creating a book just for girls: We Are More Than Beautiful.
The seed for this work, however, was planted some years before book ideas ever came into my head. When my now 23-year-old daughter was five someone asked me if she could model for a photo-shoot for a leather goods product ad. I thought this would be a fun experience, so off we went. At the time we were living in rural Connecticut. My daughter was a frog-chasing, tree-climbing nature girl almost completely free from the mass media – billboards, magazines, TV, etc. But the second the photographer bent down to take a few test shots, my little nature-girl struck a provocative pose of hip out, lips pouting and a come-hither stance, while her dumb-struck mother looked on! Where could she possibly have learned to do this? Why did she think that this is the natural relationship that a woman has with the camera? I came to believe that her weekly journey through the gauntlet of fashion magazines on the grocery check-out aisle is where she learned this “un-truth.”
Tell me about the new teen book. Who is in it? Where are they from? What stories do they tell – and how is this important to other girls who read the book? The girls in the book are ages 12 to 19, from all walks of American life, facing and exploring all types of issues with self-acceptance and self-esteem. Each girl responded to my query – “Tell me why you are beautiful.” At once, every story is unique to the individual girl’s experience, but universal to the experience of American girls everywhere. Each girl is presented with her picture in an artistically graphic and colorful layout over two pages. This presentation is, not only contemporary and exciting to girls raised in the most visually stimulating culture ever but, affords the reader to enter fully into each girls’ “world” and experience her journey of claiming her beauty.
Bottom line, experiencing other girls’ stories is important because it supports, helps and guides the reader to learn how to ask and answer that question for herself. The book creates a classical “peer” environment for sharing information, even trading secrets in a safe, supportive way. It also teaches girls to learn that they have a “right” to their sense of beauty and how to formulate conversations with their own friends on the subject.
Can the book be used by mothers with their daughters? Absolutely! My hope is that mothers and daughters will read it together and use its stories as a springboard for ongoing conversations. Conversations about:
- The true definition of beauty
- How the culture distorts that definition – and why
- Why a narrow, distorted definition is harmful
- Who are the women and girls in our lives that we find most beautiful – and do they embody the cultural ideal of beauty – or a deeper, more meaningful definition?
- How we can enjoy the fun and frivolity, even the consumerism, of American life without buying into notion that we must alter our natural features in order to feel beautiful, make friends, get good grades, get ahead and on and on.
I encourage mothers and daughters to write their own essays together, to deeply contemplate what makes them beautiful, then write it down. Share it with one another. Put their written answer in a place where they see it every day – maybe next to their toothbrush, or on their nightstand. Read it again and again. Slowly, over time it is my promise that this simple act can have powerful results.
Proof positive of this is seen in my own two daughters. Because I have been working on projects related to this subject for more than 10 years, my daughters have been raised on a nutritious and bountiful “diet” of ways to define their beauty. Like any belief or idea that one is exposed to, affirmative ideas of who they are have shaped how they see themselves. Further, 1,000 “teaching moments” over dinner conversation or watching TV or looking at magazines, have raised their awareness of how and why the media diminishes women. And, knowledge is power. Oh sure, they have “bad hair” days and times when they are knocked off their stride – just like we all do. But at their core, they have a deeper sense of self and an expansive measure of their worth to draw on. This is the gift I work to share – one girl at a time, one woman at a time.
Why do you believe that naming our beauty is so essential? When we give “voice” to anything, ascribe literal words to a thought or idea, a major shift begins to take place. It might be ever so subtle in the beginning, but in time the act evolves into a concrete declaration of fact. I also believe that we deserve to know and feel our beauty. I believe it is our right, our spiritual right. Can we reach our full potential in this one precious life we have been honored with if we are chasing an artificial ideal of our self-worth? This is the ultimate question that we must ask ourselves – and guide our young daughters looking up to us to do the same.
What else are you up to with the I Am Beautiful Project? I speak frequently to various audiences of women and girls on this subject. From colleges and universities around the country to high schools, at companies and more. These seminars and workshops are designed to dig deeper into the issues we have explored in this interview. These events are listed on my website: www.iambeautiful.com
My website also recommends other books and web links on this subject, as well as tips on building better self-esteem. Please visit! Please write with any questions.