LetMeBME Project: An Outsider Perspective

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by JL Field (Canada)

I can vividly remember the first time an image in the media truly impacted my self-image; it was back around the turn of the millennium, when I was enduring that awkward, spotty, slightly pudgy preteen experience so many of us go through. I desperately wanted to emerge from that chrysalis, to find my adult being, to establish a sense of personal power over myself and surroundings.

I opened a fashion magazine, and I saw her: Incredibly thin—I can still remember the bone-white elegance of her frail wrists to this day—immaculately airbrushed skin, face with barely a hint of visible makeup (as was popular at the time), and simple, millennium-sleek powder-blue jacket and plain white tank. She had brown hair and eyes, just like me. I wanted to be her; I don’t know why. Something in her cold grace called to me, became my personal idea of perfect, the measure against which I compared myself for years to come.

“Perfect” is a word you’ll hear echoed a lot by the various participants in the LetMeBMe project, a revolutionary new initiative launched by Media Savvy Girls. This worldwide video project has gotten underway by asking women from many diverse backgrounds to share—in 45 seconds or less—what they would like to see changed in the media’s portrayal of women. This question is to be the first in a series of three, aimed at shedding light on the unique needs, values, and voices of women around the world. LetMeBme was initially developed for girls and women alone, but after receiving many comments from men and boys, the creator of the project realized how important it was to include their voices too. As the recent UN “He4She” campaign so aptly put it, “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue.”

The format of the LetMeBMe project will be, I feel, a large part of its success; it is brilliant in its brevity and simplicity, easily digestible by the social media generation while remaining personal, poignant, and powerful.

The answers to the main question really struck a chord with me. So many different women and men — over 100 have already contributed to the video project by posting their video with the hashtag #letmeBME, which shows strong signs of going viral — from so many different countries are echoing similar statements: a sad comment on how obviously flawed the media’s current portrayal of women really is. The majority of contributors speaking cited the need for a rapid and thorough end to the unrealistic expectations of physical perfection and the limiting, idealized stereotypes regarding female roles and behaviour. Instead – say these people- we need more realistic, multifaceted depictions of women as complex, flawed people whose beauty is found in the inner strength that allows them to carry on despite adversity, not in their superficial blessings and the unrealistically perfect lives that are always shown to accompany them.

I couldn’t agree more. Nobody has ever given me an “opt out” choice for any of the tragedies or hardships in my life because I look a certain way or because my body is a certain shape, and I think when I realized that—when I realized how irrelevant many of these superficial qualities the media so wholly focusses on in women are to the actual story of life—I realized the phenomenal lie we as women are told by the media on a daily basis.

How we look is not who we are. You are not actually likely to be any more successful or happy because you are a size 4, a certain height, or look younger than you actually are— trust me! No such qualities, no matter how much they match my old concept of “perfect”, have helped me overcome a single struggle that I have faced; instead, my brain, my tenacity, and above all, my positive and enduringly generous attitude, have carried me through.

By telling young women anything else, we are rendering them ill-equipped to deal with the struggles their lives will actually present them with, giving them the wrong tools to deal with the challenges that the world will, almost certainly, throw at them.

A message countering that lie in this medium has, if you ask me, been a long time coming. While the occasional video project empowering women has made quite a splash on mainstream media during the last decade or so, too many of those have been the buzz-grabbing brain-children of corporations (think Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign). While such campaign’s as Dove’s are not entirely without merit, they not only inherently involve a certain level of hypocrisy (“You’re beautiful the way you are—but buy this product to make your flat hair look more radiant”), they verge on being all-out patronizing to women, such as the by-now infamous “Patches” series, in which Dove evidently went out of its way to find women insecure and naive enough to believe that wearing an empty patch would “make them look more beautiful.” When the women were told the patches were fakes, Dove was on hand to film their reactions, as if making a fool out of “real women” on national television would help the self-esteems of women everywhere.

Personally, I feel that treating women as though they need a corporation to enlighten them, to enable them to see themselves as they really are or to measure their own potential, is an inherently flawed approach anyway—and that’s why the LetMeBMe project is so inspirational. LetMeBMe puts all of the power in the hands of women themselves, with a complete and truly refreshing absence of agenda. It simply lets us speak. More importantly, I find the inclusive nature of the project – the fact that men and boys are not excluded from the conversation – absolutely crucial in these days and time. As a contribution to the empowerment of women and girls everywhere, this raw, individual emphasis on the female voice is long overdue and truly invaluable.

30 thoughts on “LetMeBME Project: An Outsider Perspective

  1. Wow! I came across your video on social media and feel compelled to chime in. I wasn’t aware how many women were unhappy with how they are portrayed in media. For a man this is very interesting. It seems very unbalanced as I have no problem with how men are portrayed. I’ve never heard of men making many comments on this either. We see sports stars, action heros, and successful business men. I think they are good role models for us.

    • Good points, Daragh. I mean, as a male, I see lots of powerful, significant male roles on TV. And certainly there are a lot of significant female roles on TV, but there are certainly still a large volume of submissive and insignificant female roles, too.

      • Hi Brent and Daragh. I have a young daughter who I am primarily concerned with when it comes to media impact – which is what has drawn me to this site. So, I admit that I have not paid as much attention to how men are portrayed in the media.

        However, I wanted to share something that I think gets overlooked when it comes to how men are portrayed on television. This is actually something that my young daughter brought up one night while we were watching a TV show.

        While watching one of our shows, my daughter turned to my husband and I and asked, “why are all of the TV dads so dumb?”. We laughed at this, but it made me think… There ARE a lot of shows (and commercials) that portray men in a negative light, and it gets overlooked because it’s meant to be humorous.

        Anyway, even though it’s slightly off-topic, I just thought I’d share that little nugget. Even though boys aren’t bombarded or pressured to be supermodel clones, maybe they’re being impacted by the media’s (and society’s) image of them as “dumber” than girls?

        I know it’s something I would address with my son if I had one. Just a thought 🙂

        • Yes, Ann, my family has noticed the same thing–the dumbing down of American men–the Homer Simpson persona. I don’t believe this does anything to the equalization of the genders. It does, however, plant a seed of disrespect in people toward the men in their lives. When I saw a few of the comments and behaviors from these shows echoed by my younger children, the TV went off and stayed that way until we found something where people were respected, regardless of their gender.

          • TV definitely portrays men as being, dumb or clueless at least in my eyes. Not saying this for all shows, but I can see how a young child can receive this information in a negative light. That is why I think its important to explain to our children the difference between how television and movies portrays people as apposed to real life. Great article and comments!

    • Interesting point, Daragh, but not all men feel the same. I have a family member who feels he’s too skinny and too much of a weakling. I have another who feels he’s too fat and flabby. Both are well within the range of healthy normal, but the image they think they should be affects how content they are with what they really are, and that affects their relationships

      Maybe it’s just that men don’t make as many comments as women do. 😉

  2. I think this campaign is entirely necessary in this day and age although this makes me incredibly sad that this is still the case. I can identify so closely with the story you tell about the girl in the magazines only my version is a little different. Instead of wanting to be the girl in the pictures I couldn’t understand why none of the girls in magazines looked like me – if they were the beautiful ones and none of them resembled me then I must not be beautiful. Being a woman of colour is tough and being mixed race I struggled with not fitting in on either side in my physical appearance. I have started to see improvements slightly with the range of ethnicities portrayed in campaigns and magazines but it is still completely unrepresentative of the real world population!!

    As far as men are concerned I’m glad they are speaking up because their voice needs to be heard to – about their own gender issues and women’s issues. The images of men used nowadays are a far cry from images of men in 70s who were classed as “beautiful”. Men are bombarded with images of muscle-clad guys without a single hair on their chests, who have the tell tale orange glow of fake tan mixed with baby oil covering their rippling abs as they pose. I worry for men that this is their version of unattainable beauty because just like not every woman is supposed to be a size zero, every man is not free of body hair and able to gain muscle in this way.

    • Hi Linda, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to actually ask men about their own representation in the media. Perhaps this would be an interesting direction to take at a later stage of the project. I agree with you and if you watched “The mask you live in” by Miss Representation, there is not doubt that boys and men are starting to feel similar pressures in terms of expected behaviour and appearance. The more we are allowed to talk about these issues, the more we can expect the stereotypes promoted by media to lose their grip on our mind (and I believe not just gender-related, but racial /religiious/cultural stereotypes as well). 😉

  3. This is a very powerful project and I believe it will go viral. So many women of all ages can identify to this feeling of needing to look a certain way to be accepted in certain areas in their life. It is a form of a modern day suffrage that women are going through and the LetMeBMe project is right at the core. The difference with this project is it also involves men and they too have a right not to having to fall into stereotypes.
    It is a powerful project and one I hope to see become very successful. It is already on the right track and has proven this with the feedback it has received.

  4. “I couldn’t agree more. Nobody has ever given me an “opt out” choice for any of the tragedies or hardships in my life because I look a certain way or because my body is a certain shape, and I think when I realized that—when I realized how irrelevant many of these superficial qualities the media so wholly focusses on in women are to the actual story of life—I realized the phenomenal lie we as women are told by the media on a daily basis.”

    This spoke to me. I can’t wait to see how this project manifests itself over time. I think the initiative is long overdue.

    Francesca, would you say that this initiative is a feminist initiative? How do you feel about the term feminism?

    • “I can’t wait to see how this project manifests itself over time. I think the initiative is long overdue.”

      Can’t wait too!!! 😉

      Anjelee, LetmeBME is first of all a social awareness project. As such it has no particular agenda except empowering individuals and letting people speak about an issue which is often at the centre of public debate.
      The project simply respects the plurality of opinions and acknowledge them, it is a channel for these voice to come together. The people invited to answer the question comes really from all walk of life, involving a wide spectrum of age, socio-economic background, race and religion in many different countries. They are contacted at random from publicly available databases so the chance of them being “feminist” is all down to probability, but of course, typically the people who feel strongly about the issue of women representation would be the ones more willing to contribute. Is this a feminist project? I would not like to label the project in any way as this would endanger its free speech/no agenda and all-inclusive nature.

      Speaking for myself, being a feminist means believing in the cause of gender equality, and for me it should have at its core bringing the sexes together, highlighting our similarities as human beings in the recognition and celebration of our differences! I dream of a world where there’s are no more double standards in terms of social expectations/ judgements/ retributions /evaluation of skills…I dream EQUALITY! 😉

      • I hate calling it a “feminist initiative”. With that term, many people will automatically discredit the severity of this issue. I believe the way women are portrayed in the media completely devalues women. This issue is an issue that affects EVERYONE! Every person has a woman in their life that they care about. Every person has a mother, wife, sister, aunt, grandmother, friend, or daughter that is affected in a massive way. Labeling it “feminist” will not do it justice. This is not a feminist issue, but an equality issue.

  5. I really love the posts on this project – it’s such an important message to get across, and one that I only wish I had heard years ago when I was in high school. I was one of those girls who was very insecure with how she looked, and if I’m being honest I really disliked myself because of it. I was always afraid to even speak up in class because it meant that people would hear me, and therefore look at me, and see the mess that I thought I was. And that way of thinking honestly continued all the way through college.

    Then something happened: I was looking through old picture a few years ago, when I was 22 or so, and I came across a whole bunch of them from high school – from the time when I was so against myself. And I was taken aback by it, because I realized that my perception of myself back then wasn’t all that accurate. I wasn’t as terrible as I had thought. In fact, in some pictures I even looked pretty.

    And I thought to myself, “God, if I had just seen myself back then the way I see myself at that age now, I could have been so much happier. Things could have been a lot different for me.” It’s sad to think of all those years that I wasted hating myself because I didn’t think that I could compare looks-wise to others.

    This is an important project for all women but I especially hope that it resonates with those young girls who are far harder on themselves than they ever should be.

  6. This is such a great article and what this blog possess is more than what I have experienced in other blogs. I love to read inspirational and experiences of other people. People that are in the same generation as me. I am in the generation called “millennial.” I do admit that I have a tendency of comparing myself with others, not just women but people within the same generation as me. I was very sheltered throughout high school and immediately moved out my parents’ house and went off to college the minute I graduated. Of course, my sole purpose was education and to better myself. However, I had another objective in mind; freedom. During high school I was the “good” child an didn’t do anything wrong. As soon as I went off to college, I changed. I joined a sorority and partied a lot. I thought a sorority will help my self-confidence and create new friendships. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make friend the old fashion way. Being part of the Greek community is a lot of fun, but it also a lot of “fitting in.” I would always compare myself with other girls. I was very hard and too critical at times on myself. It wasn’t until I turned 25 years old that I stopped caring what others think. This is not to make you think that I still didn’t compare myself with others. Being in a workforce predominantly male was tough. I was the youngest in my company. It is true that it is easier for men to move up the ladder than most women, despite your education. I’ve always believed in social and gender equality. But sometimes, I use my gender as a tool to empower my own self. I don’t let it hinder from what I want to attain in the future. I hope all of the girls or teens realizes that sentiment.

  7. I remember when I was first influenced by the superficial message of the media. I was 16, and I wanted to be a valued member of my class. I made a mistake by thinking that the only way to achieve that is by being what the television portrayed as successful: having the latest line of clothing, spending a lot of money at hip places, all the wrong things… If only I had someone to tell me that these things don’t make me a valuable member of society, being my best self, and contribution does.

    By the time I went to college I felt very unhappy, I felt an emptyness even though I could not put into words what was causing it. Then I got really lucky. I was at the cinema, and three commercials went on before the film. All were advertising a different kind of parfume, but the commercials were essentially the same. A famous singer/actress looking fabulous, and seducing a good looking actor, all thanks to the parfume of course. And it suddenly clicked in my head! Since then I am able to distance myself from this message, and I know that I don’t need consumer goods to feel valuable. Unfortunately the media likes to paint a picture of either/or. Either you are this perfect looking, non-existent godess of perfection, or you are worthless. The only way to become great is by buying this or that product. Of course not many people think that they are perfect godesses, so this message sells well.

    I think it is predatory, and harmful. Especially for young people, who are searching for their path in life, and are influenced easily. I was there, and I got sidetracked. The LetMeBMe project is great, I hope it can be a counterbalance to the harmful message of the media!

  8. What a great project, I am so glad that I was introduced to this blog! I am a mom (in my early 30’s) of a nine year old girl and we live in BC Canada. Just a few days ago my daughter was telling me that she thought that girls were supposed to be small, pretty and should wear make-up so that boys will like them. She also said that boys should be strong and have muscles. This is a stereo type that she gets from the media. As parents we try to monitor what she watches because my husband believes that all of the commercials that play every five minutes during youth programming are like brainwashing. Many of the commercials that she sees during youth programs are geared towards toys but as soon as she sees them she says “I want that” and then will repeat to us the selling line of the commercial. Makes me worry about her future viewing and what sort of messages she will take away. Our daughter is really into monster high dolls which are extremely thin dolls with a tiny waist line, lots of hair and over exaggerated make-up. We have gotten her a few of those dolls and I try to remind her that their appearance is supposed to be ghoulish. Yet these dolls have outfits that are very sexualized. So as much as you can monitor what your kids are watching these messages are creeping into younger and younger audiences through cartoons and toys like these. Yet it’s not just the cartoons that are sending out these messages, because of today’s culture there are youth celeb’s that dress provocatively. My daughter is already under the impression that people who are chunky or over weight are not beautiful. I just wish that the media would portray more realistic figures so that young girls everywhere have someone that they can identify with and look up to regardless of their appearance

    I was much like Christine who commented that she hated herself so much through high school due to extremely thin models that seemed to be oh so popular with the boys. I wished so much that I could be just like them and look just like them. They seemed to be so glamorous. Yet looking back on some old photos I can now say the same as her, I did look pretty in some pictures and now I do wish that I realized it then because I may have been a more confident youth for it and not have worried so much about the glamorization. The thing is that you grow up and realize that the glamour that you saw in these models isn’t so glamorous when you figure out that some of them (I realize not all of them fall into this stereo type) eat nothing other than drugs and alcohol. This project gives me new inspiration to show my daughter real women and youth who are doing great things in life not just because of their appearance and to show her that beauty is not just skin deep, you can be a beautiful person on the inside and outside when you treat people equally and with respect.

    I hope this project makes a really big impact and goes viral. We should be promoting this and not glamorization.

  9. I’m intrigued about the project on a number of levels. I am a mother of two teenage daughters who has battled with my weight my entire life – I want to weigh less, I tell myself, so that I am more healthy (which is certainly true), but also so that I have more options about what to wear (currently lusting after a nice pair of boots), and in the farthest reaches of my psyche, I admit that it is also so that others will perceive me in a more positive light.

    One challenge here is that body image is embedded within broader cultural norms, which are both influenced by and influencing of the media. When my oldest daughter was in junior high, I was so grateful to see that she was not struggling with her weight as I had that I failed to see that she had become stick thin. She had undiagnosed Crone’s disease, keeping her from absorbing the nutrients in what she ate. The summer between 8th and 9th grade involved 3 months in the hospital, multiple surgeries, and days of tears, and she will be on medication to control the disease for the rest of her life. I have never forgiven myself for not truly seeing what was right in front of me.

    I hope that the campaign can make a dent in the broader problem.

    Is there a research component to the project?

  10. I really like how this project focuses on women themselves – what they want, how they feel about themselves, and what WE can do! I think so many women’s organizations, despite their good intentions, make the mistake of making it about what others can do FOR us. I’m a strong empowered woman, and I love seeing initiatives that celebrate that. We all influence the media. If we love ourselves, it’s going to affect how the media shows women. If we continue to punish our bodies the media is going to keep selling some twisted idea of ‘perfect’. I think a lot of things start in our own hearts and move out from there!

  11. First and foremost, I extend my deepest gratitude for your work on this project to find a more equal and fair balance of how women are portrayed in the media. Recently, a modeling company released the standards as to what they deemed a “plus size” model which, in our reality, is still a petite female. The agency’s “plus size” model is in fact what the Southern United States considers to be a healthy woman by physical appearance. Similarly, another agency released a spoof on the ridiculous nature of women in sexy poses and how the same ads would look if men replaced the women. Talk about comical!

    Our society is wrapped up in the mentality that unless I can see your rib cage when you’re wearing a string bikini, then you aren’t beautiful. Don’t forget that spray tans are required and heaven forbid someone catch you enjoying a milkshake. Calories, calories.

    I’m 28 years old and I’ve always bounced between healthy weights. I am considerably normal and not obese; however, I still have the mindset that my life would be better if I could shed some weight. The truth of the matter is that I need to become emotionally and mentally in shape so that I can love myself and then, the rest will follow.

    As a society we need to remind and encourage our peers and future generations that who we are right now is beautiful and exquisite. All we have is this moment and by always attempting to portray a facade, we are never fully living to our true potential. It’s time that our daughters and granddaughters stop looking in the mirror wishing that they were a little thinner or a little more wide-eyed, blonde haired, or brown-eyed. No, it’s time we teach others to be happy in their own skin. It’s up to us because as much as the media needs to change, the real difference is made in our inner circles and by paying it forward.

  12. One important thing to point out is that this is an image issue, not just a weight issue. Many people point to the fact that the media portrays beauty as too thin, while beauty comes in all sizes. However, many other aspects of the images in the media get lost. The image issue involves all aspects of image, from hair color, eye color, skin color, height, etc, not just body weight.

    I have faced many hurtful judgments in my life for my fair skin color because of how the media portrays “tanned beauties”. This is SO much more than just a weight issue. Overall, this is an issue of how the media defines “beauty”.

  13. You made an excellent point with the Dove example! Companies like that use women’s insecurities to increase their sales, and it’s disgusting. They think that if they tell us we are beautiful as we are and then quietly follow it up with “buy our products”, they can get away with seeming as if they care about women’s feelings and the pressure they endure. I had never thought about it that way until now. The point in women empowerment campaigns shouldn’t be that women are physically perfect the way that they are, but that they are perfect regardless of how they look. Actually, “perfect” shouldn’t even be used, because it will continue the cycle of girls wanting to be perfect, and it’s not attainable.

    Women and young girls should be taught that they are beautiful for things beyond shiny hair and long eyelashes. We should be teaching that beauty isn’t an outside thing, and it’s a personal thing. We don’t need other people to think we are beautiful to be beautiful. Beauty is being happy, for whatever reason that may be. Beauty is being smart and successful. Beauty is being kind or funny. Beauty isn’t about looks at all, it’s about WHO you are on the inside and how you feel about who you are.

    • Maddie, I had never really given much thought to how the Dove campaign presented women as being perfect just the way they are then saying basically “Hey, you’re perfect but here’s some of our stuff so you can be even better”… doesn’t make much sense, does it?

      There is absolutely no such thing as perfection and beauty isn’t something that can be measured with the eyes alone. It truly is a completely personal thing. Someone can appear to be the “perfect” image of beauty that the media so loves to bombard us with, yet they’re a torn and shattered mess on the inside. I think you said it best when you said, “Beauty isn’t about looks at all, it’s about WHO you are on the inside and how you feel about who you are.”

  14. The letmebme project sounds great! 🙂 it’s a brilliant start to promote a change in the media! very interesting blog post. Your point about the current message being given to young girls is that being beautiful is the most important thing to strive for and then these young girls grow into women and realise that looks have got nothing to do with it and that being beautiful will not help you pay your rent or feed yourself or get out of a difficult situation. We are sending young women out into a harsh world ill-equipped. This is a brilliant point!

    Personally when i have children the most important message i will give to them, whether they are boys or girls is that they are beautiful in their mind body and soul and that how they behave towards other people with love and compassion and understanding are much more valuable traits to cherish than the aesthetics of their outer bodies. This is a message i believe every parent should try to embed in our childrens minds instead of the media’s warped messages and ideals…

  15. I think if feminism is to have a future, we need to have men on board. Not just men who understand when we don’t wake up with a full face of makeup, but men who don’t expect us to perform like xxx stars and see a more realistic view of women. I’m not 100% anti-porn, but in terms of men’s expectations of non-porn performers… well, yeah.

  16. I think the danger is situational. Look at the problem on a timeline, I was more susceptible to media influence when I was a middle-schooler than when I taught middle school. I do not worry about the grown ups, I worry about the students.

    How can students understand bias present in the advertising messages of the media? Our indifference as adults might even seem to endorse those messages. The only way to address the issue is to vigilantly identify and condemn unrealistic images of women in the media. Our challenge is to do so in a manner which invites students into a dialogue about the media bias and does not turn them off completely from our guidance.

    I love the added facet that men are not immune to these biased messages because that makes it an issue for all people, not just one gender. Twice the reason to work toward acknowledgement and resolution.

  17. I completely agree with you Allie, Men and Women needs to work alongside to remove the barriers between genders and move forward toward equality. Which does not mean woman should be consider as man or vice-versa, but that we are individuals, not defined by our gender! Everyone is beautiful and unique, so lets stop generalization and move on to a future were people are treated the same way and have the same chance and opportunity, despite their gender!

  18. I love it when you realize that those superficial qualities the media focuses on women are irrelevant. It’s true! I’m a grown up woman now and I don’t care about that anymore because I can think for myself. What I’m truly concerned about are the teens who are still struggling to make a voice in the world and keeps on following the trend in the media that they fail to see what’s really important and irrelevant on being a woman.

  19. This project is an important one. And is time human right and civil organization’s take up and promote it. Your little story about the image in the magazines is the same thing facing girls worldwide. An image that is not the way you look makes you feel downsized and you start to try to fit in. Girls and ladies have to know they are beautiful even if nobody tell them.
    You’re beautiful the way you are. Don’t let the media drag you down with its stereotypical blonder. Don’t allow the make up, creams and all those things which are unimportant to define you!

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