“I love my body, and I would never change anything about it,” tennis pro Serena Williams told Self magazine this fall. “I’m not asking you to like my body. I’m just asking you to let me be me. Because I’m going to influence a girl who does look like me, and I want her to feel good about herself.”
I had a strong urge to rush over to Kinko’s to blow up Serena’s quote on huge banners and plaster them all over the city. Maybe things would be different if the wise words of strong and powerful women like Serena were publicly displayed as frequently as their bodies are.
While most of us regular folks don’t live in a spotlight as intense as Serena’s, we can relate to her words. Sure, we hear woman-power messages about how society will not define how we look and how we feel, but women are still bombarded every day by messages that tell us that our bodies are to be observed and rated—that limited and ridiculous notions of our physical appearance define our worth. If you identify as a woman, you’ve probably been told to “smile” by men on the street who you’ve never met, and you’ve flipped through a mainstream beauty magazine in a waiting room telling you the 20 Best Ways to Look Perfect For Someone Else.
There has been some recent movement toward celebrating more diverse standards of beauty—both in body image and diversity in ethnicity—but it sure is taking a long time. There is still a ton of work to do as we help each other embrace a new definition of beauty that supports all women, not just white women, not just thin women, not just hetero women.
And part of that work is changing those messages we encounter every day in magazines, on television and in movies. There are local and national organizations that address how women are portrayed on the screen and behind the camera—and more importantly, give us the ability to tell our own stories.
In Portland, the Bluestocking Film Series is an international film festival that takes place every year (scheduled for July 13-15, 2017). It features filmmakers who “take the creative risk of placing female protagonists front and center, and serves as a showcase to amplify female voices and stories.” Nationally, organizations like Oakland, California-based Camp Reel Stories teach teenage girls the skills to make their own media, to view current media critically and thoughtfully and to aspire to leadership.
Because beauty is about creating spaces for ourselves and other women to be themselves. It’s telling our own stories and exploring our full potential. And it’s making sure we’re out there, confidently un-Photoshopped and standing center stage, so one girl or a thousand girls can see what beauty looks like.
It looks like her.
Caroline Losneck is a Maine-based documentarian, radio producer and experimental installation artist. Her work is featured on Maine Public Radio, NPR, Marketplace and WMPG Community Radio. Her documentary film work has appeared in the New York Times and at film festivals around the country.