When I consider women who have broken stereotypes throughout history, many powerful and strong women come to mind: women like Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey, and Mary Kay Ash. These women have given something in themselves that changed our culture and country forever. These women had the courage and strength to be the first to stand up for what they believed in. They gave hope and strength to other women who have followed in their steps. They empowered themselves and acted as the change they wanted to see. I am honored to say that I am one of those women who gained strength and courage from them. I worked to break a stereotype I believe in; I was one of the first to model un-airbrushed, un-retouched in a national campaign to break the stereotypes of what our culture sees as beautiful.
Dove had launched their national Campaign for Real Beauty. After interviewing women across the country, they chose six women to represent the brand in a global movement to make more women feel great about themselves. We were flown to New York City, participated in two photo shoots, and prepared to be seen in women’s magazines across the country. Little did we know, we’d soon make a bigger splash than any of us had ever expected.
I can still remember the first time I realized I wasn’t just another face in an advertising campaign. The six Dove girls were launching our leg of the Campaign for Real Beauty in New York City. We were there to unveil our billboard and “meet and greet” fans who wanted to come see what the campaign was all about. Up to this point, I hadn’t felt the full effect of what I was doing. I truly thought I’d be in Cosmopolitan for a month, buy every copy I could find, and continue with my life as is. The unveiling changed my whole perspective; it changed the journey of the campaign. A few minutes into the Dove girls meet and greet, a woman approached us and told us a heart wrenching story. She hugged each of us with tears rolling down her face, and said “thank you.” We were all a bit stunned as she continued telling us her story. She told us of her daughter who was a resident at an eating disorder treatment center. Her establishment did not allow the women to see pictures, magazines, or television shows. The mother took our picture and Xeroxed copies to take with her on her next visit to her daughter. She distributed them through the cafeteria, common areas, and bedrooms. On her next visit a few days later, the girls had taped our images all over the hospital. When the mother asked her daughter why they did this, she responded “if they can do it, so can we.” It hit us; we weren’t going to be in Cosmopolitan for just one month, we were making a mark in pop culture forever.
As the journey of the campaign continued, more and more people wrote to us and spoke with us of their personal struggles with body image and self-esteem. More and more, we heard stories of inspiration, hope, and empowerment. Women were stopping us to thank us and shake our hand for what we had done. There seemed to be a common theme and opinion among the women we spoke with; “it’s about time we saw real women in the media.”
The impact I had started bit me like a bug. I was so proud to be part of a movement that empowered women to feel great about themselves. I hated how the media made women feel about themselves. I hated that women were asked to strive to be something they were not; fake manipulated images. I decided to do something about it. I stood tall and proud and told women everywhere, “you’re beautiful the way you are.” I didn’t want it to stop there. I was crashing through stereotypes left and right. I was a woman who stood in my underwear for the world, flaws and all, to see. I didn’t back down when the media talked about my large thighs or cellulite. I stood my ground; I believed I was good enough too. If I could believe it, I thought I could encourage other women to believe it too. I, like many women, became sick of seeing airbrushed and manipulated pictures everywhere I looked. I didn’t look like them; they weren’t like me; I couldn’t relate to them. More importantly, I didn’t want to relate; I was and still am happy just the way I am. I was ready to say to the media, “Enough is enough. We’re good enough too.”
When I think back on the women in history who have made ground-breaking changes; I think of how they gave something of themselves for women everywhere. They stood firm when people made fun and scorned them. They didn’t back down because they truly believed they were good enough too. I have broken stereotypes and created change and yet at the end of the day, I am just another woman on the incredible list of others who is simply doing something I believe in; being the change I want to see.