We interviewed more than 100 teen girls for the What's Your Brave? project, looking for inspiring stories to share about everyday courage. If there is one topic that generates the most fiery discussions, it is body image and the constant pressure to meet an unattainable image of physical “perfection.” Shocking? Hardly!
Meet Katherine, a young woman I interviewed who provides just one example of how this pressure negatively impacts countless young girls. Now a sophomore in college, she remembers all too well what it was like to believe that her physical appearance defined her success. At just 8 years old in an effort to maintain a size 0, Katherine began keeping a journal with a diet and exercise plan. An ambitious girl, she continued through middle school to work hard to reach what others defined as success, including being popular, having the right boyfriend, and, most importantly, looking a certain way.
The problem was that, no matter how hard she tried, Katherine (who is of Filipino descent) could not be tall and skinny. She even describes herself as a "short and not the skinniest person." When she took a look around and realized that she didn't meet the standard of beauty she felt inundated with in the media and at school, it was extremely painful.
Life might have stayed that way, but Katherine's perspective began to change when, as a high school freshman, she was inspired by a classmate to get involved with Girls For A Change, an organization empowering girls to find their passion and create real social change. She began to connect with what really mattered to her. I stopped letting my weight define my self-worth; developing desirable personality characteristics started to become much more important to me. She used her difficult experiences to launch The Body Image Project. Just think of it as legal graffiti where girls write positive messages about body image on a mural wall in an effort to shift the focus onto what really matters.
She didn’t stop there, though. After learning about the plight of young girls and women who were victims of human sex trafficking, Katherine decided to take a bold (and scary) action. She went right to survivors of this horrendous human rights abuse in her country of ancestry.
She had never been outside of the U.S., did not speak Tagalog (the native language of the Philippines), and was a “shy” person. Despite her fears, she traveled to the Philippines at 17 years old to meet several survivors of modern-day slavery. She hoped to better understand the plight of these victims and how she could help end this human rights atrocity.
“I will never forget when the girls sang a song they composed themselves,” Katherine remembered. “It was really moving to see these girls express themselves and sing a song of hope, when they have suffered through tremendous strife.”
What about those now infamous diaries? Katherine dismisses those recordings with sadness. Looking back recently at her entries, she was shocked that she was so focused on her weight while still developing as a person. Discovering and pursuing what she’s passionate about and challenging herself to step outside of her comfort zone has become a way of life. At Stanford, Katherine is dreaming large and working hard to understand how to empower girls all over the world.
So, what are you passionate about?
Images courtesy of Lopeleonieunique.wordpress.com, Teresa Ferraiolo for Whatsyourbrave.com