I have spent many years volunteering with a variety of youth development-based organizations.
When I have asked the youth I have worked with what their top concerns or issues in their lives are, negative self-image has always been on the list.
We are constantly inundated in our everyday lives with media messages about how we should look, how we should act and what we “need” in order to be happy and successful in our lives.
Media consumption undoubtedly affects how we view ourselves. In a study that exposed college girls to 40 full-page photographs from Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Glamor magazines, girls who viewed images of idealized models reported more eating disorder symptoms, more negative mood states and lower self-esteem compared to girls in the control group (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006).
Furthermore, while we tend to associate body image issues with girls and women, it is estimated that 45 percent of Western boys and men also suffer from negative self-image.
The National Eating Disorders Association published a list of 10 steps to positive body image (2005). Items on this list include remembering your favorite things about yourself, reminding yourself that beauty is a state of mind and not a state of your body and looking at yourself as a whole person.
Throughout my time working with youth, I have come to appreciate the creative arts as a tool for social change and a method for self-empowerment. Below are three creative activities I came up with that incorporate the N.E.D.A. guidelines. I have done these activities with the youth I have worked with. Their enjoyment of the creative process and their improved self-confidence throughout is always a joy to witness. These activities can help change the conversation around about what it means to be beautiful and can encourage people to see themselves in a more positive light.
Start with a blank piece of paper with only an image of a mirror on it. This can be an image you download off the Internet or one that you draw yourself. Then, draw all of the positive things that you see about yourself when you look in the mirror. You can choose to take a literal approach (i.e., focusing on your physical characteristics) or a metaphorical approach (i.e., focusing on your internal characteristics).
The Mirror, Mirror activity is excellent because it uses the idea of visualization. Visualization is a powerful method for making an abstract concept a reality. By visualizing all the aspects of yourself that you love, the more they become a part of your psyche, and hence the more you develop a more positive image of yourself.
Keep your illustration by your actual mirror at home or any other space that you use frequently so you are constantly reminded of all your wonderful qualities.
I Love Myself Because…
For those who are more inspired by words than by images, you might try this activity.
Come up with a list of 10 ways to complete the sentence I love myself because. Then, write these 10 sentences out and tape it to your desk or any other space you use frequently so that you see this list every day.
Writing is linked to memory. So by actually writing these phrases out, you are essentially etching them into your mind.
This exercise also uses repetition, which, like visualization, helps you internalize and realize your thoughts.
In addition, this activity encourages people to think about themselves beyond their physical characteristics, drawing on the idea that beauty is more than just your body.
Define Your Own Beauty
This activity gives you complete freedom to write your own story and define beauty however you wish. You can also illustrate your story and share it among your friends.
By defining beauty in your own way and sharing your definition with others, you are setting the stage to change the cultural norm of one idealized version of beauty to one that is more holistic and all-encompassing.
The founder of The Guardian Princess Alliance, an organization of which I am proud to be a part, aimed to redefine beauty by creating a book series for kids featuring a diverse set of princesses who model all different kinds of beauty. What started as a personal project became an international social movement that is empowering young people everywhere to expand their definition of beauty.
The creative arts are a stepping stone for us to build whatever new reality we want to see in the world. Using the creative arts to redefine beauty can not only help us see ourselves in a more positive light, but can also encourage those around us to rethink their notions of beauty, thereby creating a healthier and more positive cultural climate for all.
Author: Pavita Singh
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Pedro Ribeiro Simões