About-Face has been honored to serve girls for more than 20 years, helping them turn awareness into action.
Our story is unusual — and truly grassroots. About-Face started with a poster that protested advertising that portrayed unhealthy and destructive images of women, in magazines, TV, movies, and billboards.
Social media has completely changed the media landscape — and About-Face evolved with it. We expanded our mission — and our approach — beyond body image to make sure girls can navigate our cultural landscape and develop the mental health and self-worth they need to reach their full potential.
It All Began with a Poster of Protest
About-Face began with activism — a poster, actually — and a lot of passion. We took on the media for their constant barraging of women with images of unrealistic body ideals before the ideas of “body image” or “body positivity” were on most peoples’ radars.
In 1995, San Franciscan Kathy Bruin acted on her frustration with the unrealistic and limited images of women in advertising by creating a provocative poster parodying a Calvin Klein ad for Obsession perfume that stated “Emaciation Stinks.”
This seminal act garnered national media attention, and About-Face was born — harnessing the power of community activists to fight back against the homogenous, limiting versions of women in mass media that were destroying girls’ and women’s body image and self-esteem.
1996 – 2006
About-Face was a dedicated group of activists for many years. Our “guerrilla-style” activism and the fun we had creating it became the roots of About-Face, evident today in the direct action by the girls in our programs.
During this time, we gave talks about body image in the San Francisco Bay Area, and also plastering posters like “Bodies Are Not Fashion Accessories: Question the Motives of the Diet Industry” (1996), “Please Don’t Feed the Models” (1998), and “Fashion Plate” (2002) in San Francisco; writing letters and postcards to advertisers like Guess, Calvin Klein, and Nike; and staging protests throughout San Francisco against media and ads created by Fox, Victoria’s Secret, and more.
We launched the About-Face website in 1997, long before the web turned into the vast universe it is now. The site was the first of its kind to shine a far-reaching light on the media-driven body images women faced.
Passing the Torch
In 2001, Kathy Bruin passed the About-Face torch to passionate volunteer Jennifer Berger, who became the organization’s Executive Director. Jennifer transformed About-Face from an activist group into a full-fledged nonprofit organization.
Jennifer had been deeply influenced by the pioneering work of Dr. Jean Kilbourne, and over the ensuing years worked with PhD-level experts to develop and deliver media-literacy programs, action groups, and an even more expanded website that has since taught thousands of young women how to navigate their media environment, while giving them the tools and opportunity to fight back through direct action.
Going Beyond Body Image, Toward Social Justice
Inspired by a shifting media landscape and the awesome, galvanizing force of the Women’s March in January 2017, the staff and board of About-Face engaged in a strategic planning process that re-energized About-Face around its activist roots and underscored the importance of our core media-literacy work.
We announced a slate of new programs, a new mission, a new staffing/infrastructure plan, a new fundraising approach, and a new look — all of which helped us meet girls where they are and exponentially increased the impact we made for them.