(This multimedia feature article was published on August 30th, 2013 as my thesis capstone project at Full Sail University).
Fashion Line La Physique and Photographer Mickey Armstrong of The Curves Ahead Project are partnering on a book project that they hope will spread their message of female empowerment and combat body image stereotypes. In an effort to combat negative self-esteem brought about by body image issues, known clinically as body image disturbance, these two groups are approaching a prevalent problem from their own unique, and very personal angle.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM
Body image disturbance is defined as a distortion of perception, behavior, or cognition related to weight or shape. Body image disturbance is strongly related to common eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, but can also be related to risky behaviors that are often the precursor to more severe disorders. In a survey published in 2010, it was found that teens participate in seven different behaviors relating to their weight- behaviors that have been deemed risky to their health and well-being.
In addition to the behaviors outlined in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey relating to eating, research conducted and supervised by Dr. Chrysalis Wright at the UCF Media and Migration Undergraduate Research Lab has shown that the dangerous behaviors of emerging adults relating to their self-image also include hyper-sexualized views of self and subsequent behaviors. “Our research focuses on how media influences development and health compromising behaviors among emerging adults.”
According to Dr. Wright, many teen girls only value themselves based on their physical appearance and how attractive they believe they are to males, thus leading to engaging in risky sexual behavior and exposing themselves to dangers such as sexually transmitted diseases. “Over half of all new sexually transmitted diseases each year are from those in adolescence and early adulthood (approximately 16-24 years old),” shared Dr. Wright. While the effects of these distorted self-perceptions manifest themselves in adolescence and emerging adulthood, Dr. Wright believes the foundation for a negative body image is often laid very early on- she hypothesizes as early as five years old.
This hypothesis is similar to one discussed by Licensed Mental Health Counselor Susan Raskin of the Howard Phillips Center’s Teen Xpress Program.
Most importantly, Raskin emphasized the importance of educating teens. “In my opinion, the most important piece would be to increase education in the form of empowerment to those in a position to educate (teens) – specifically parents, educators, and coaches. I believe it would be very beneficial for parents to learn how to instill a healthy body image and good self-esteem in their kids, who will in turn, hopefully, grow up and do the same for their own kids. It also would probably be good for them, too. Not every family will be willing or able to do this; so I also think that there is a lot of value in schools sending messages of value and acceptance to their students so that students will feel safe and secure in themselves -whatever they choose to do.”
Raskin added, “Should the media change the way it portrays women (and men)? Yes, the portrayals are unrealistic and can lead to feelings of inadequacy for all kinds of reasons. However, I don’t think it’s helpful to just wait and hope for the media to take a different approach, when we could all be doing things at home right now. If we set ourselves and kids up to believe that we don’t need to buy into all that garbage, then we are taking positive steps to build ourselves up instead of buying into wanting those unattainable images. I would also love to see a shift with the media to increase messages of health, wellness, and acceptance, rather than just sexualized ones.”
The message of health and wellness is one also echoed by Teen Xpress Registered Dietitian Corissa Schroeder. According to Schroeder, “a well-rounded understanding of health and appropriate eating habits begins with mindfulness. This is the advice I always discuss. It’s important to develop a positive relationship with food. To encourage positive body image, it is necessary for the students to develop an awareness of their natural hunger and fullness cues and to listen to what their body is telling them. Eating is not ‘one size fits all.’ We are well aware of the negative/unrealistic media messages, but ignorant regarding our internal messages. Our busy lifestyles, the availability of fast food/convenience items, and the decrease in family meals coupled with the increase in screen time (television, texting, computer) while eating has undermined mindful eating. Calling attention to this is important in the education process towards wellness.
As professionals call for empowerment and education, two movements that focus on spreading a message of health, self-acceptance, and uniqueness have seen exponential growth over the last six months. The two organizations, The Curves Ahead Project and La Physique, have also teamed up in order to further their common goal of empowerment and self-acceptance.
The original intention of D.C. area photographer Mickey Leon Armstrong was simply to create a coffee table book of local plus sized models in an effort to, as he shared, “show his daughter that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.” According to Mickey, he would have never imagined that it would have evolved in so much more. Within two months, The Curves Ahead Project Facebook page had received over 400 likes. Models from across the country, were inquiring on how to they could be a part of the project. It was at that point that Armstrong realized that his simple idea of a book had become so much more.
Since then, Armstrong has embraced the idea of using his book as a conversation piece in order to “reach young children, both boys and girls, with the message that they don’t have to be a certain size or shape to be beautiful.” While the current project is set to feature women, Armstrong is determined to include men and boys in future projects- a determination that comes from a very personal place.
As a man who admittedly has created two personas for himself, Armstrong has found that overseeing this project has been empowering even for himself. Armstrong shared, “Over the years, I have created two personas for myself. The one that the world sees is a strong, confident, outgoing businessman. Those who know me at home, such as my family and friends, see someone very different. They see the man who gets up at 5:30am to work out and if, he doesn’t get to work out for a certain amount of time, he feels guilty. The real Mickey is more insecure but through this project, I am learning to be more self-accepting.”
Armstrong has also found that the message he intended his daughter to learn from The Curves Ahead Project book actually starts with him. “With my daughter, I have to watch what I say about myself, I have to be mindful, because she is watching and listening. If she sees that I am not happy with the way that I look, she may start to question how she looks. I want her to not even be concerned with how she looks. Yes, we teach her about grooming and things like that. But, she is genetically predisposed to being a bigger girl. While we make sure her diet is right so she is healthy, the genes are still there. Although she is only going into the fifth grade right now, when her body starts to change and she is in high school, I don’t want her to be concerned with her looks and her size. As a teenage girl, she will have more than enough to worry about. The last thing I want her to be concerned with is ‘I’m ugly.’ “
The mutual goal of reaching young people with that same message is one of many that brought together The Curves Ahead Project and the La Physique fashion house founded by Lake County Resident Rheba Turnbull. As profiled previously on meiguogirl.net, Turnbull’s fashion designs are inspired from her own upbringing and history. Recently though, Turnbull’s message of empowerment has reached a wider audience through her partnership with The Curves Ahead Project. The bright-colored, figure flattering, plus-sized fashions of La Physique will be featured in the upcoming book from The Curves Ahead Project- in an effort to show that curvy fashion lovers don’t have to sacrifice chic just because they may not wear a size two.
Just as the book is only one way Armstrong intends to spread the empowering message of The Curves Ahead the Project, Turnbull and the ladies of La Physique are on constant alert for new ways to spread their message as well. Recently, the fashion line has seen the addition of La Physique to sears.com, and La Physique models participated in the National Black Chamber of Commerce conference in West Palm Beach. However, beyond any of these accomplishments is the pride that Turnbull and her La Physique models have in their message of self-acceptance and their hope of empowering young women in the years to come.