My definition of “beautiful” tends to stray far from the media’s limiting idea of beauty. Yet, when I think of the word “beauty,” too often the same harmful images the media feeds women come to mind. Day after day, women are bombarded with one narrow definition of beauty, limited to physical appearance, and further narrowed by a mostly white or fair-skinned, long-haired, tall, and exceedingly thin beauty ideal.
Redefining what beauty means to me has been a large part of my personal journey toward body-positivity, and an optimistic part of me wonders what would happen if we could all turn the decidedly messed-up cultural definition of beauty on its head. What would beauty look like redefined?
These are the questions Lindsay and Lexi Kite, twenty-six-year-old identical twins and PhD students at the University of Utah, have been asking with their new billboard campaign: Beauty Redefined. In July and August of 2011, the Kite sisters debuted twelve non-profit body-positive billboards (the first in the nation) across northern Utah.
Each billboard shows a woman holding a sign in front of her body, thereby taking the body of the woman out of the equation. The signs read, “You are capable of much more than being looked at,” “There is more to be than eye candy,” “Your reflection does not define your worth,” and “If beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong.” These messages are a blunt, effective counter to the messages girls and women receive from popular entertainment media and advertising.
Beauty Redefined plans to expand the body-positive billboards to the rest of the country. Lindsay and Lexi Kite have also been spreading the word through an impressive tour of speaking engagements, which will resume in June 2012, after they finish their PhD exams. One needs to look no further than the creators of Beauty Redefined to see how much women can accomplish. Launching a major non-profit campaign and working on a PhD are incredible accomplishments at any age, but especially at just twenty-six years old.
This brings up the question: What do those perpetuating negative messages about beauty stand to gain? Body-negative messages keep the bar for women unreachably high, ensuring profits for the beauty industry. These messages also keep women struggling financially (with women spending about $210,000 over their lifetimes to maintain their appearance), and ensure a certain amount of women’s time is spent on trying to achieve something not only trivial, but impossible.
If we come together to redefine beauty, we stand to gain everything. We could spend our money and time on things that make us feel happy rather than things that make us feel ashamed. We could recognize our accomplishments as beautiful. We could proudly declare that our minds and bodies lived up to our own standard of beauty, knowing that standard is the one that truly matters. We can start by asking ourselves the question: What is beauty, redefined?