There is a statement that I hear all too often. As an arts-educator, I hear it in my classes from girls as young as 6. It is a thought that seems to exist in each girl, no matter what her background, experiences and interests. I also hear this phrase within my own personal networks, particularly from those that identify as women. Family members, colleagues, friends, strangers. Truthfully, it is a phrase that I, myself, still carry around in my head from time to time.
It seems like no matter whether you are tall, small, thin, curvy, athletic, or delicate, women have a shared insecurity that affects some once in a while and others every moment of every day. The statement is simple and yet powerfully destructive and so completely false.
“My body is not beautiful”
And to think, with all of the steps forward we have taken as a society in embracing diversity and in celebrating and valuing women, most women are still burdened by this thought. And by messages that insist that beauty is especially important if you are a woman, while also projecting limited and mostly unrealistic versions of beauty.
It’s no wonder so many girls and women still feel like they fall short and have a hard time loving their bodies.
Creating change, one school at a time
For 4 years now, our Company members have been working together to change girls’ and women’s negative relationships with their bodies. We do this because we truly see the beauty in each other and we believe that everyone has the RIGHT to feel GOOD about their looks and shape.
This is why we have integrated the “Best Part of Me” workshop into every stop along our Girls Leading Girls Tour! At each school we visit, we spend 75 minutes with a group of 30 to 40 girls. The incredible members of our Performance Company join me in leading workshops with these girls. Together, we unpack statements like “my body is not beautiful,” with the help of the Unapologetic Beauty Toolkit (to learn more about the Unapologetic Beauty Toolkit, you can check out this previous blog post). This workshop component helps girls across Ottawa actively reflect on and say no to the idea that they are not enough – not pretty enough, skinny enough, curvy enough, strong enough.
Our workshop not only helps girls think critically, but we are actually helping girls to reshape their ideas about themselves and others. We do this by inviting them into a space where – over and over – their assumptions are challenged.
For example, one important part of the workshop is a viewing of the 2015 Unapologetic Beauty documentary. The viewing, coupled with seeing the current members of our Performance Company share their work on stage and then co-lead the workshop with me, gives participants an opportunity to see girls with different body shapes, different faces, different strengths as beautiful. They see how no two people are the same and yet all people have beauty.
One 13 year old recently reflected to me, “I can’t believe the girls in the documentary don’t think they are beautiful. They are so beautiful! Maybe that means I don’t look as bad as I thought.” A 14 year old student also shared this: “Before I looked at myself and saw myself as a fat girl. Sometimes when I look at my friends I feel like crying. But after the Dandelion Dance™ Performance Company came I felt different, like it doesn’t matter what people think about you.”
Seeing ourselves in new ways
Perhaps most exciting, the workshop provides a space for girls to experience moments of self love. It feels good to get up and use your body as a storytelling tool. It also feels good – albeit vulnerable – to explore “the best part of me” and then to use photography and art to highlight your body’s uniqueness, its strength, its capacities. After our workshop at Joan of Arc Academy, a grade 7 student reflected, “I feel like I appreciate my body more and see it in many more beautiful ways.”
I am so excited to share some of the striking images that girls have created during our “Best Part of Me” workshops this fall. They are examples of a beauty that is not about conventions, but about strength, playfulness, softness, curiosity.