What is the definition of attractive? The media consistently paints the same picture: young, tall, thin with flawless features and perfect skin. Plastic surgery and Photoshop have made it even easier to create false standards for both men and women. The roles we see played out on television, in movies, and even through social media only seem to reinforce a uniformity – being a woman looks like this and being a man looks like that.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, TEDx San Antonio will host “Transcending Negative Body Image and Gender Stereotypes,” a day filled with seminars, conversations and interactivity geared toward spreading the word: “beautiful” is whatever you want it to be – so take those NFL SuperBowl XLVIII commercials with a huge grain of salt.
Win two tickets to Saturday’s workshop, by sharing in the comment section below what your favorite part of your “self” is – spiritually, intellectually, physically – we’ll leave that up to your own interpretation. The winner will be contacted via email or Facebook (depending on where you left your comment, our Facebook comments are imported to our website) and selected at random on Friday at noon.
“This topic is a universal one. In a media-driven society like ours, everyone can identify with having to deal with gender stereotypes and unrealistic, and often unattainable beauty expectations,” said lead organizer, local mom and freelance writer Kim McDonald. “And San Antonio is also in a really unique position. As a ‘City on the Rise,’ we have this rare opportunity to help define the health of our city of tomorrow.
“Educating ourselves in media literacy and creating ways to actively offset the negative effects of these unrealistic images can help ensure success for future generations.”
While universal, the topic of beauty is also a very personal one – there are as many different perspectives and experiences in the realm of body image as there are men and women on Earth. McDonald is certainly no exception.
“At a really young age, I accidentally discovered a relative’s stash of Playboy magazines. Unknowingly, I internalized the message that boys look at girls and value their beauty and sexiness,” she said. “So growing up I self-objectified myself – found my worthiness in my looks. And because I was an average student, my looks were all I ever got positive reinforcement for – which didn’t help matters.”
Becoming a mother was also a driving force behind her decision to help others “recognize how important it is when we raise our children – daughters and sons alike – to always be cognizant of not only the direct messages, but also, and probably more importantly, the indirect messages that our children unknowingly internalize.”
These messages can come in all forms, McDonald said. “It doesn’t even have to be a supermodel in a magazine, it can be as benign as a Facebook friend who has posted pictures of a trip … Studies have shown that constantly consuming all of these images – that are now so easily retouched and filtered – causes depression and negative body image.”
To kick off Saturday’s event, there will be a screening of the award-winning film “Miss Representation” (2011) tonight (Thrusday, Jan. 30) at 7 p.m. in the Library Auditorium at The University of the Incarnate Word (a $5 donation is requested if you do not attend Saturday’s workshop). McDonald credits the film as one of many inspirations for her current research into media and social change. “Miss Representation” pulls back the curtain on the mainstream media’s powerful influence over women. The film features stories from teenage girls and interviews with public figures such as Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi and Gloria Steinem.
Saturday’s offerings will be divided into various parts and is described on its Facebook event page as an “intimate, participatory workshop – the very first of its kind in the TEDx San Antonio Salon series.”
Part 1: Recognize
Featuring two pre-recorded TED talks that will raise awareness of the media’s portrayal of a negative body image and its implications.
Part 2: Redefine
The main speaker, Karen Walrond, is a bestselling author, speaker and photographer. Her book, “The Beauty of Different,” focuses on how our differences can actually make us powerful.
She has appeared on various national programs such as CNN.com, USA Today, PBS and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Walrond’s writing has been included in exhibits around the country and featured in national magazines. Walrond is also a member of the ONE Moms advisory board, a grassroots advocacy that fights poverty and preventable diseases in Africa. She currently lives in Houston and has recently recieved UpWorthy.com fame:
“When I was asked to participate in this Salon, I didn’t even hesitate to say yes. The issues of body image and gender stereotyping is one that persists, morphing and transforming into toxic messages that permeate every form of media, and affect the way our young people perceive themselves and treat each other,” Walrond said. “I’m excited to be a part of this forum that promises not only to address these issues head-on, but also have a hands-on approach in developing ways to counteract these messages, and replace them with ones of self-respect and mutual respect.”
Members of Más Rudas, the local multi-media art collective, will also be speaking. Their recent installation, “Ruda Phat” focuses on women’s body image issues as well as mainstream society’s representation of women’s bodies. Comprised of four tough and inspiring Chicanas, Más Rudas is known for their ability to challenge perceptions of gender and ethnicity while also addressing social, economic and political issues.
Part 3: Resist
San Antonio photographer Sarah Brooke Lyons, creator of the 1005 Faces Project, will be on hand for another special photography project. TEDx San Antonio will also be organizing a “Selfie Project” – the details of which have not been released, but organizers say the intention is to use social media and art as an advantage towards providing a positive outlook on the body. The media obtained from the project will be exhibited during a pop-art show during the kickoff and live TED Talk viewing event in March at Say Sí.
The TEDx Salon begins this Saturday at 9 a.m. with an optional yoga session and check-in at the San Antonio Area Foundation within the historic Pearl Brewery complex. Salon programming begins at 10 a.m. and lunch will be provided. Advanced ticket sales begin at $45 for attendees and $20 for students. Click here for more details.
“A successful event is one that is alive with open, honest conversation. One where the community comes together, talks and every one is positively affected. Then they (go) home to their personal communities and share,” McDonald said. “I hope that because of this conversation, we can help mold our community into a city that has empowered its girls and women, boys and men to reject stereotypes and unrealistic expectations, to define their own beauty and worth, so that they may realize their worthiness rests in their abilities.”
Jackie Calvert is a freelance writer from San Antonio, TX, and a recent graduate from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MademoiselleJC.
Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this article.