I started writing this blog yesterday (Day 18) and I really wanted to post something but I just couldn't fit it in around my other work. So I managed to respect my self-imposed boundaries around using the computer at night and leave it until today. That's good progress.
So firstly an addendum to Day 17's post on following your gut. I like to think that when I'm following my gut, instinct, intuition or heart I'm also listening to God's voice and doing God's will. But I was reminded that God doesn't speak through a windstorm, an earthquake or fire but as "a gentle whisper" or "a still small voice", depending on which Bible translation you use. I guess that's true of my intuition, it's like a little tap on the shoulder or a gentle nudge. Sometimes I really wish it was a loud clap of thunder or a massive signpost saying 'Go This Way' but it never is!
Moving back to the topic of body image, I wanted to introduce a project I came across at the Endangered Species: Preserving the Female Body women's summit in London on March 4th. The Stephanie Heart Project works with young women in London to help them see their true value, worth and beauty. Stephanie Ifill, who's just 23 or was when I met her earlier this month, founded the project after hearing a 14-year-old girl say she felt ugly without make-up. She was shocked and set out to challenge the beliefs that seem to be robbing so many young women of their youth and joy. She started working with 10 girls and has since expanded to about 100. Several of Stephanie's girls spoke at the London summit. You can hear them on this Elena Rossini video of summit highlights. The Stephanie Heart presentation begins at 4:33 on the video. For the purposes of the summit, she asked some of her girls what they liked about their natural appearance - it seems most of them really struggled to come up with an answer. Below is a powerful video put together by Stephanie ahead of the summit which reveals the insecurities so many girls, women - and men, of course - carry around. It's called "They're surely judging me!" and the accompanying text to the video reads: "Either we break the mold or young girls will mold themselves to fit".
I was particularly moved by one girl who spoke at the summit who's name, if I wrote it down correctly, is Kesia, who appears at 5:08 on Elena Rossini's video. She talked about how she'd struggled with acne and felt she couldn't leave the house without layers of foundation, but then went on to say: "Steph's project has helped me to see that it's so much better being comfortable being yourself than uncomfortable trying to be someone else." I couldn't have put it better myself. She said she'd made a conscious decision - after doing a photo shoot as part of the Stephanie Heart project - to stop wearing foundation and her skin had really improved. The following video, called Freedom, Friendship and Joy, gives a flavour of the kind of work Stephanie does with her girls. The bin bags, in case you're wondering, are to encourage the girls to be more creative with fashion.
The other good thing about this project and these videos are that they seem to show these issues affect women of varying ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. It's been pointed out to me recently and it was noted in this blog on the New York Endangered Species summit that far too often, the body image debate is monopolised by white, affluent women (and I put my hands up to being white and middle-class). It's good to hear some different voices. As an aside, I was really pleased to see the Endangered Species website now has a link to my blog. Thank you!
One of the props Stephanie uses - featured in the above video and in the photo below - is a rectangular pane of glass with the words "One size does not fit all" written on it in red letters. The measurements written on the pane are bust: 34", waist 24", hips 34". Stephanie's point is that 95 percent of women and girls are left out of the images we see in the media and on the catwalk. She encourages women to stand behind the glass and celebrate the fact that their bodies and curves don't fit into that mold.
So how are we doing in challenging our negative thoughts about our bodies and appearance?