Body image is something that, unfortunately, all girls and even many women battle with at some point in their lives. Whether it’s concerns about overall size or the shape of certain parts, girls tend to critique their bodies more than embrace them. And that inner dialogue, coupled with the distorted beauty standards we’re all encouraged to live up to in one way or another, can have far-reaching consequences. In fact, according to the Dove Self-Esteem Project, six in 10 girls believe that to do well in life they have to look a certain way.
For more than 10 years, Dove has been working to undo the damage society has done on young girls concerning self-esteem, and this past weekend that decade of work culminated in the inaugural Girl Collective. The one-day summit held in downtown Los Angeles featured a series of mini-masterclasses, workshops, and talks aimed at helping more than 200 girls from local organizations recognize negative representations concerning gender stereotypes, body image, and more and begin to change their thinking and behavior around those topics.
One such talk was a panel discussion featuring Chief Storyteller Shonda Rhimes, singer Sza, LGBT activist Jazz Jennings, and body-positive advocate Alexandra Airene. For one hour, these powerful women talked about disrupting norms around who they should be, how they should look, and how they should convey their art. During that conversation, Sza talked about her physical transformation since entering the music industry and how the decision to change her signature look was more of a personal evolution than pressure to meet certain standards.
“It’s all about where it starts in your mind,” the 27-year-old said, adding that she was oblivious to any messages that implied she needed to look a certain way. “I think there are a lot of standards that people told me about that I didn’t see. I started, I was 190 pounds, I only wore my dad’s big t-shirts and socks on stage, no shoes, and didn’t even notice; never complained or tripped about my makeup.”
Sza also noted her manager supported her carefree approach to beauty. “Honestly, my manager, Punch, never asked me to ‘get dressed’ once. People would come to him like, ‘we need to clean her up,’ and he would say, ‘It’s fine. She’s fine.’
Since releasing her platinum album in 2017 however, Sza has started to “get dressed” a bit more and evolve her signature look, which has drawn questions and criticisms from some long-time fans. But the singer said the outward change was a reflection of an inner transformation she was undergoing.
“It was just a matter of where I was in my mind, but I did also come out of that space where I was like, I feel like I want to change. I want to be different. I want to grow. I want to learn. I think it’s one thing to be comfortable, but then it’s one thing to not see your full potential and your full picture. The standard should really come [from] within.”
LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 06: Shonda Rhimes speaks onstage during Dove’s Launch of ‘Girl Collective’ – The First Ever Dove Self-Esteem Project Mega-Event on October 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Unilever/Dove)
In her keynote address, showrunner Shonda Rhimes echoed a similar sentiment, reminding the girls in the audience,”If you do not define yourself, I guarantee someone else or something else will do it for you, and that’s not good.”
In speaking about her childhood, Rhimes said she had amazing parents and brothers and sisters, but what she didn’t have very many of were friends. “I was very smart, I was not cute, I was different. And no one is crueler than a pack of humans faced with someone who is different.”
Because kids were mean to her, Rhimes dove headfirst into reading and began creating her own fantasies. “I lived deep inside the worlds I built in my imagination,” the 48-year-old mother of three shared. “My imagination and the stories I told myself and the characters I created really saved me. They protected me, they helped me be me.”
While Rhimes pointed out that “creating these characters didn’t mean I wasn’t lonely or I didn’t wish I looked like someone else,” she said something began to shift when she embraced writing and eventually found her voice. Again, like Sza, Rhimes said developing a healthy sense of self-esteem all starts in your mind. “What you believe about yourself is true. Period.”
For more on Dove’s Girl Collective or to get the young girls in your life to join in on the conversation, visit Facebook.com/groups/DoveGirlCollective.