Thinking different, changing the culture

In 1997, Apple created a successful advertising campaign featuring posters of 35 people from all walks of life who embodied the slogan “Think Different.” Save for six – Martha Graham, Amelia Earhardt, Maria Callas, Joan Baez, Jane Goodall and Eleanor Roosevelt – the posters all showed men who’d broken the mold in some fashion or other.

Fifteen years later, the ratio of men to women might be more balanced. (Lady Gaga, Hillary Clinton, Tina Fey, Martha Stewart and Oprah immediately spring to mind as worthy candidates). Yet, even in 2012, it takes a special woman to break the mold and think differently. For some women, it takes a crisis.

Ingrid LeVasseur, who owns and operates Inner Image Clinical Thermography in Falmouth, went through a divorce in 2006. Rather than return to the workforce as a meditation teacher, which she’d been before her marriage, she decided to explore an alternative technology that provides women with radiation-free, infrared breast scans. She traveled from Maine to Duke University to be trained in how to use this new technology, and then she proceeded to figure out how to make a business out of it – from scratch.

“The unique thing was, there wasn’t a client/customer base for thermography,” says LeVasseur. “It wasn’t like opening a pizza shop and waiting for the customers to come to you. There was a tremendous amount of education that had to be done. I gave lots of talks to let people know this technology existed.”

According to the U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners, LeVasseur is part of a trend among women business owners. In 2007, there were 7.8 million women in the United States who operated their own business, a 20 percent increase over 2002. The number of men owning a small business only increased 5 percent. Another study in 2010 by the National Women’s Business Council suggested that the number of women entrepreneurs had doubled since 1990.

Thinking differently may also lead a woman to conduct her business in an innovative way. Wendy Pollock of Portland had a thriving chiropractic and homeopathic business when she came to the realization that a growing number of her patients were either uninsured or underinsured and finding it financially untenable to pursue alternative solutions – either because they’d lost jobs or health insurance, or because their insurance did not cover alternative treatment.

Pollock got together about two dozen alternative caregivers in such fields as naturopathy, acupuncture, yoga, physical therapy and psychotherapy, and began having monthly meetings about how they might address the situation. Those meetings led to the Turn the Tide network of alternative practitioners, who donate one to two hours a month to uninsured patients. In return, the patients are asked to “pay it forward,” by donating time to a community organization or some other charitable undertaking.

“Any physician would create a payment plan for a patient,” Pollock says. “That’s not a new idea. But none have a payment plan of paying it forward. We don’t want people to have to grovel for health care.”

Thinking different isn’t always about business; it often is about starting a social revolution. That’s what Colby College Professor Lynn Mikel Brown of Waterville hoped to do when she created Hardy Girls, Healthy Women. The organization’s mission – to teach girls how to gain and keep their individual power – was the result of Brown’s book, “Meeting at the Crossroads,” which explored the way girls give up their independent voices and become less certain about their individual identities as they move through adolescence.

More recently, Brown has gone beyond research-based endeavors to help develop the Spark network, a watchdog group of teen activists concerned about the media’s sexualization of girls in advertising, on television, and in other forms of media, such as in video games and films.

Brown says the Spark network is the perfect outgrowth of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women because it empowers girls to use their voices to enact change. In addition, it relies on media innovations, such as online petitions, blogs and Facebook, to get the message out.

“It’s a girl-fueled movement of teens 13-22 who are blogging and doing activism about sexualized media,” says Brown.

Spark bloggers have gotten the attention of some influential media outlets. After organizing a petition of more than 50,000 signatures, Spark recently was successful in getting Seventeen Magazine to run a spread each month featuring women whose photos are not airbrushed or Photoshopped first. This followed on the heels of a meeting with Lego executives, during which Spark bloggers voiced concerns about a new line of Lego people that sexualized the previously gender-neutral figures.

“We want to hold their feet to the fire,” says Brown. “We want to create culture change.”

That’s a sentiment all women who think “different” can embrace.

Maine Women: Breaking the mold

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