According to statistics put out in August 2008 by the YWCA, the amount of cosmetic procedures (both surgical and non-surgical) has increased by 500%. The numbers are pretty staggering: 11.7 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2007. While the media is not 100% to blame, the media does have a HUGE impact on the way that beauty is perceived and defined. For example, one study done by the YWCA found that after watching only 30 minutes of TV, a young woman can be impacted by the way that she perceives her body and her appearance as she compares herself to the 'ideal' she sees on TV. Thirty minutes! That is astounding. While these statistics are probably more sad than shocking, the question that I keep asking is- what can we do and where do we even start?? How do we begin to attempt to deal with the beauty crisis that we are facing? (And by beauty crisis, I mean the pervasive belief that beauty looks one way, which inspires the persistent quest to achieve this ideal..)
While I have not come up with an answer to this million dollar question (i'm still working on it! ha ha), I did stumble across an awesome clothing company recently called The Monument of our Hearts (TMOOH) that is pursuing and impacting change in this arena. The mission of their clothing company is to 'design apparel that creates conversations and empowers people to feel beautiful.' How cool is that? I had an opportunity to speak with founders Brett Clouser and Courtney Schreiber, and would love to share with you a little bit about what they are doing to promote positive body image and awareness in an industry that is obsessed with 'beauty' at any cost.
Me: I noticed on your website that you all are pursuing a goal of expanding the definition of beauty [so cool] and that you want to create more positive advocates for body image. What sparked your interest in creating clothes to inspire body confidence and positive body image?
Courtney: I had friends in high school that were concerned with body image, but it wasn't an issue for me until I went to college. When I went to Pepperdine-after growing up in New York- I was surrounded by people consumed by body image on a different level. I fell into that myself, and let body image related stuff consume my thoughts in college. My own experience led me to become passionate about helping others to find confidence, and to help figure out what is healthy for each person. My own confidence was affected- eating disorders and negative body image lead to low self-esteem. I want to encourage people to find confidence, to know that they are not alone. I want to help people begin the conversations about what a healthy body image could look like.
Brett: I went to college with Courtney. And I come from a lifestyle that wasn't as focused on appearance. In high school, we all care about our image, but people in my high school wore sweatpants. Going to school in Malibu was different- the general pursuit of image issues and the pursuit of ideals that were unattainable and superficial in their manner- that was the spark to the flame for me.
There were two specific incidences though that really impacted me. I was in a literature class with a driven, type A girl who would sit up near the front of the class. She was physically very frail and unhealthy looking. Over the course of the term, I noticed that she would have different supermodels on the backdrop image of her laptop. Supermodels that were extremely skinny and clearly at an unhealthy weight. This was this girl's ideal. I didn't have excessive interactions with her, but could see how these ideals could negatively impact her.
Another friend of mine had suffered from an eating disorder- not while I was friends with her; that was before we met. But I was able to see the psychological effects that the eating disorder had on her, and the convoluted idea of what she thought was beautiful. To see the pursuit of such ideals and how they affected human beings across all different levels was significant to me in that life was not being lived to the fullest.
The psychological impact of eating disorders and body image issues, and seeing people pursue unhealthy ideals is what led to designs being created for this company.
Me: What is it like to be part of an industry that promotes such different values than your vision? Have you all had to intersect with this at all?
Courtney: On a small scale, there have been comments about sizes of shirts offered, or the types of models that we use. We have to be strategic in how to promote the clothes. This is a great reminder to be thoughtful about what we put on our site and the messages that we communicate. Because of our goals and our mission, people are looking to us to set a standard.
Brett: Buyers for retail distribution channels are concerned with branding. A brand of stores is developed as a collaboration of all of the brands that are represented. So for example, if one brand is anti-fur, and they happen to sell a product with animal skin, there is an inconsistency. You have to be consistent. We haven't pushed our line into the marketplace yet. We want to navigate the waters differently and act in a way that is consistent with our goals and mission as a company.
Me: Your website is such a great resource, as it provides a community of sorts for people to engage in conversation about your clothing and other issues related to beauty and body image (which is part of your mission!). I love the section of your site that allows people to share how they have been impacted by your clothing- can you share any anecdotes or stories that stand out to you?
Courtney: It is unbelievable to read things that people submit, especially considering the fact that when others respond and comment they are anonymous and don't know each other. It's not one person's story that stands out to me, but all of the comments and responses that these stories elicit. I read Luke's story and others were inspired to send in their own stories because of what he shared. Another example is Amanda's story. People responded to her story, leaving comments to encourage her, which ultimately led to her posting again on her own story to share how she had been inspired. [follow this link to read Amanda's story]
After speaking with Brett and Courtney, I am an even bigger fan of their company. Their tees and sweat-shirts are great- check them out here: http://www.tmooh.com/wear-it/. A portion of the proceeds are donated to non-profit organizations that work to promote healthy body image, treat eating disorders, and educate people about real beauty! I would encourage everyone to check out their site- follow this link for more information about TMOOH. More importantly, in solidarity with their mission, I would encourage you all to start talking about beauty. Start engaging in conversations about what you see in the media, and what you believe is beautiful. I think we all long to be beautiful, and to be able to view beauty as more than appearance, as more than our bodies, and as more than our size or shape is a great start!