Redefining Beauty, Reclaiming Yourself: Backtalking Billboards!

July 29, 2011 Do you feel the rumble of the “I’m mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” massive mindshifting among young women talking back to the ad industry and media machine?

The “Take Back Beauty” and ‘reclaim yourself’ pushback of multiple generations of females throwing open the windows for their Howard Beale Network shoutout moment to end the nonsense of pore-less porcelain skin, diet ‘til you disappear cues and flash-n-trash objectification?

Look around. It’s gaining momentum. L’Oreal ads are being banned in Britain (for overly airbrushing Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington) In Paris, The Illusionists film documentary deconstructing beauty myths just got funded 10 days AHEAD of schedule. In Australia, a fierce TV tussle to ban exploitive beauty pageants for children in ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ backlash.

Today in Utah? 25-year old twins Lexie and Lindsay Kite should be flying high for unveiling a DOZEN massive counter-marketing billboards to pushback against the unrealistic media messages bombarding women seeding insecurities and wreaking havoc on psyches of increasingly younger children…AND getting TV coverage for their efforts. (video after the jump)

The Kite sisters are University of Utah PhD candidates who decided to take action using the same billboard medium as the ambient ads landing on us sideways daily that ‘can’t be turned off’…definitely a Shaping Youth tactic: fighting fire with fire to champion change.

Their positive billboard backtalk takes a page out of the wildly popular Dove Evolution time-lapsed beauty  deconstruction, adding a straightforward directive to remind people of all ages that women are “worth more than the sum of their parts.”

On this Body Positive site, the Kite sisters explain,

“We’re using for-profit media that SO often focuses on improving women’s bodies, and featuring parts of their bodies, instead using it to promote simple, uplifting messages that do NOT drive a profit – they remind women their worth in a world that often confuses them about that.”

What do their billboards SAY?

The four in rotation throughout the state showing up beginning today and throughout the month of August (specific locations here) include:

“Women are capable of much more than being looked at.”

“There is more to be than eye candy.”

“If beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong.”

“Your reflection does NOT define your worth…”

Not Madison Avenue glitz by any means, more like grassroots activism hoping to ignite an ongoing inferno to ‘SPARK Change’ and reclaim the marketing madness. YAY!

I’m going to send this over to the newly formed Healthy Media Commission for Positive Images of Women & Girls (h/t Jess Weiner) to see if they can add their voice to this national discussion.

The rebel yell toward healthier media to reclaim beauty seems to be surging towards a sea change throughout the USA…

Teens in Northampton New Jersey from Rachel Simmons’ Girls Leadership Institute teamed with the shopkeeper of Ode to plaster positive messaging all over their dressing rooms and store to reclaim beauty and end negative self-talk….

In Minnesota, tweens at New Moon Girls  are piloting a ‘Girl Caught’ sticker to ‘stick it to brands’ when they see ads sexualizing and commodifying kids with ‘so sexy so soon’ objectification.

In Maine, the Powered by Girl global Facebook group is culture jamming offensive ads to yak bak.

In S.F., About  is recruiting street teams for media literacy workshops on portrayal of women and rejection of the media circus…

Yet on the streets I often hear dismissive, “So what’s the big deal? -’twas ever thus” and “Sex sells, no surprise” and “Why are women so sensitive?” Or the most common of all:

“C’mon, the beauty industry’s always peddled this message…”

Er…not so fast. Before I proceed to link lob the ‘difference’ with umpteen examples of appearance-based self-worth dominating the pop culture platform with shallow perceptions of what’s valued in our society, I’ll toss out a few data tidbits  to show and tell “what’s changed” through the eyes of the media and marketing machines generating the pop slop.

For starters, the scientific evidence presented in this 8pp NEDA pdf  “The Impact of Media Messages on Body Image and Behaviors” is an eye-brow raiser for an entire generation of young girls growing up in this toxic sludge.

Now check out this piece on how tots as young as 3 are starting to be impacted by the proliferation of appearance-based values…

…And peruse the full body of work (no pun intended) in Dr Robyn Silverman’s book Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.

It’s even gotten more prevalent since the landmark APA Task Force findings on the harm of objectification and early sexualization which essentially shows the hijacking of childhood plopped into an adult sphere of commodification and profiteering…

The Kite sisters shared a nice summary from their own site Beauty that adds to the “what’s changed” then/now conversation quite nicely:

“…Studies show the women we see in media these days are thinner than ever and very often severely underweight.

On top of that, surgical and digital enhancement has become an unquestioned standard. And in a world where a constant  flow of media images far outnumbers women we could ever see face to face, this unrealistic ideal has become the norm in our minds…A counterfeit, dangerous, unattainable norm.

When we only see a certain type of woman presented positively in media, from fitness magazines to TV dramas, it’s no wonder media is consistently linked to body hatred, disordered eating and an unhealthy focus on appearance.

Profit-driven media, hand in hand with the multi-billion-dollar beauty and weight loss industries, rely on us believing a lie. The lie tells us beauty comes in one form that anyone can attain with enough money, time and effort. It tells us that women who don’t fit the ideal are doomed to be undesirable and unhappy…” —Beauty

Their billboard campaign is a perfect example of using the power of media for positive change…flipping the media message using the very same distribution channel to jam the mainstream media messaging frequency.

Why billboards  as their media of choice?

” … Here in Salt Lake City, we have lots of billboards promoting breast enhancement, liposuction, eye lifts, laser hair removal … every “beauty enhancer” you can imagine paired with up-close images of idealized, digitally altered bodies at every turn. In fact, our home turf was very unfortunately named the “vainest city in the nation” by Forbes magazine. That sucks.

…”So one day, with the help of an off-handed Facebook status complaining about the prevalent beauty billboards on I-15 and encouraging FB friends who offered to donate $ to support our purchase of a POSITIVE billboard for women, we decided to do it!

As a creative director, my critical eye went to the execution of the billboards though, wondering why they chose to show human beings at all instead of a bold graphic approach…

After all, if the billboards are meant to ‘represent’ then they’ll now need to layer in different ages/stages/diversity etc along with their primary message to “Take Back Beauty.” And they’re only showing ‘part’ of the human being as well…Their post explains,

“We’re making EYE contact, asking for attention to the truthfulness of these messages — not the looks of the girls/women holding the signs.”

As for the pink and purple colors of the Beauty Redefined logo flagging the ubiquitous gender stereotypes seemingly plucked out of Peggy Orenstein’s blog and best-selling book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the frontlines of the new girlie-girl culture or Shaping Youth advisory board member Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown’s renowned Packaging Girlhood…it’s much like the purpose of the Spark Summit colors, reframing the conversation using the very hues and imagery ‘sold’ as ‘girlish’ in order to redefine girly.

Perhaps they’re using the colors that appeal to a critical marketing segment of young girls being impacted early and often by the ‘you are what you look like’ misguided media messaging of the masses, in a culture jamming “Wait, WHAT did that billboard just say?” deployment of a drive-by double-take.

And since a further lift of the digital curtain reveals someone in the family runs “Kite Media” and produced their site…(mom? dad? who’s the webmaster in the family?) it explains how they could really go to town leveraging media contacts beyond outdoor and transit ads to make some social media waves using marketing and branding prowess. (woohoo!)

Seems similar to the tactic Peggy Orenstein’s publisher used deploying glitter and pink-think all over the hardback edition of her stellar anti-princess book…marketing ‘baybay!’

Power to ‘em whatever works.

I’ll even take it a step further and do some dreamcasting, wishing we could do what this augmented reality project in Times Square did by replacing the billboards altogether and maybe even use the beauty of ART to paint over the landscape of the mind’s eye with a fresh palette of positive media messaging.

I could see a really fun conceptual campaign of ‘beauty over blight’ to elevate public art, seed a positive media message and counter-market the unhealthy media…Fun mental floss to nosh on…

What about piggybacking on a like-minded event such as Be Body Positive Day slated for Aug 7th worldwide, think about how cool it would be to augment all billboards with an over-arching message to marketers to knock it off and be accountable for the harm…

Picture one unified, electronic message beamed around the world for that one day using social media as the conduit…changing profiles pictures, avatars, Twitter streams etc in a clarion call to reclaim ‘our body, our SELVES’ from the media messaging…

We’re havin’ fun now talking back to the mythmakers!

I always think of Joe Kelly of Dads & Daughters who used poignant prose in a simple ‘relatable’ tidbit to serve up a policy bracer to corporate giants:

“Picture your daughter in this ad (pose/stance/position)…if you wouldn’t want to see her there, don’t produce it.”

What was once a rogue wave or two of ‘over the top’ beauty mythology is now a tsunami doing damage with mass destruction.

Yep, it is way PAST time to reclaim beauty…Our bodies…Our souls. And above all, the hearts and minds of our children. Banzai.

Here’s hoping the Kite sisters’ message soars…

Related Resources/Shaping Youth

 Healthy Media for Youth Act: Pt1

Healthy Youth Media Act:  Pt2

The Illusionists Film: About Media’s Body Blitz: NOW FUNDED!!

Girl Caught: New Moon Girls Slams Sexualization of Kids

Download New Anti-Sexualization Sticker For Culture Jamming!

Solutions? Positive Picks in Media & Marketing:

Vamp Tramp Toys: A Monster Problem (Mattel/Monster High)

SY Adviser Dr Robyn Silverman: Tips on Raising Healthy Kids

Vogue Cadeaux: Children ARE Gifts. NOT to Be Wrapped & Sold

Girls Are Not Candies, Tweens Are Not Teens

Bottom Feeders Like American Apparel Need Whacked in The Assets

Raising Girls Amidst Meat Marketing: Carl’s Jr, Burger King Raunch

Taking Aim at Target: Think That V is a Coinkydink?

When It’s Not Hip to Be Square, Sexist Spongebob & Burger Shots

Sexed Up M&Ms Sell Fashionably Decadent Premium Sleaze

Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag…Er…Face. Nose. Belly.

Body Blitz: APA Shows Harm of Early Sexualization

Body Image: Tips for Teens (Both Genders!) To Survive the Media Morass

What Sells: Infants As Fashion Statements & Joke Props?

So Sexy So Soon, Shaping Youth Talks to Jean Kilbourne

Beyonce’s Dereon Divas: PopTarts and Sesame Streetwalkers?

Sexist Undies: Slimy Santa Innuendo Gets the Heave Ho-Ho-Ho!

Bratz Movie Seeps Bratitude Into Kid Culture

Pussycat Dolls Vamp for Lame TV-the ‘F’ Word is Feminist? Hardly.

Celeb Pop Culture and Media’s Tipping Point of Toxicity

Hollywood Walk of Lame—Victoria’s Secret Models ‘Earn’ Star? For WHAT?

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?


Shaping Youth Is In the L.A. Times

Kids Are A Captive Audience With Ambient Advertising

Commodification of Kids: The Backlash Has Begun

Shaping Youth Through Ambient Advertising

Manga Makeovers And Other Body Image Cartoon Capers

Facelifts for Kiddie Characters?

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

Preteen Tips/How to Say it To Girls

America the Beautiful: See it. Support it.

Childhood Matters Radio Show: Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today

Buffed Boy, Body Image and Tween Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor

Media Literacy Resources for Empowering Girls (Besides Shaping Youth, Dr.Robyn Silverman, AdProofing,,  So Sexy So Soon, Respect Rx, Rachel, Rosalind, The Girl Revolution, TrueChild, & other youth advocate blogs, see the list of resources on our sidebar e.g. aligned orgs like: About-Face,, Packaging Girlhood, Hardy Girls, Healthy Women etc.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: More Recos & Must Reads

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (Packaging Boyhood, Oct 2009;  S.Y. Board Advisors)
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality Jane Brown et al (Eds)

APA Task Force on the Early Sexualization of Children (full 72pp pdf)

Girls Shape the Future: Study/Girls Inc: Early Predictors of Girls’ Adolescent Sexual Activity (summary: 8 pp pdf)

Resource List from So Sexy So Soon

CCFC Fact Sheet on Sexualizing Childhood

CCFC Two-Page pdf of stats & resources on sexualization “Sex on TV4″ Program for the study of media & health

Wellesley Centers for Women: Commentary on So Sexy So Soon



  1. Amy,
    Goosebumps. I couldn’t be more grateful for your coverage of our Beauty Redefined work and this billboard campaign we’re in the works of spreading far and wide. You are a fantastic, powerful woman and Lindsay and I are so thrilled to be fighting the same fight alongside you. You’re 100% correct on all aspects of your analysis of this campaign – we use eyes instead of bodies to take bodies out of the equation they are so often the center of. We use pink and purple to reappropriate a powerful message using the very colors that so often bind females down. We are thrilled to use a for-profit medium to send a message that is desperately needed around the globe. Thank you for such a thorough, thoughtful, inspiring round-up of what’s going on around the world in terms of females reclaiming their worth. We feel the rumblings, and we are ready to welcome in all those willing to fight for females everywhere. We are worth so much more than the sum of our parts. Have a wonderful day and thank you SO MUCH for your words.

  2. And one more thing: Our little brother, a 23-year-old college student and entrepreneur, Garrett Kite, is the face behind Kite Media Works and he offered to help us get our message out in whatever ways he could. It’s astounding to see the young men who are behind this cause 100%. Our own brother is one of those great men!

  3. Thanks for this, Amy – it’s an inspiring way to start the week. So glad you are out there synthesizing and analyzing!!

  4. Love it, Amy! Honored. I adore you and appreciate, so deeply, the work you do.

    As you might have guessed, this is what I’m currently writing about and preparing for my presentation for The Girl Scouts 100 year National Convention in Texas this Fall. I’m speaking about media impact on girls’ body image and self image– and, sticking to my asset-based focus, I won’t just be outlining the problems but also talking about what’s BEING DONE about it. You have hit on a bunch of the people I will be highlighting- The Kite sisters, New Moon, Rachel Simmons’ GLI campers, etc. I want people to see that much is being done so that more will be encouraged to go ahead and do something to help girls thrive despite the negative messages out there. Thank you for including my book in this assessment- I was impressed with the girls and women who were taking action (chapter 7) even on a small scale. Making waves. If one pebble in a stream can change the path of the ocean and one flutter of a butterfly’s wings can change the direction of the air, we can do something amazing here. Don’t you think?

  5. Thank you for this excellent article and for bringing attention to the Kites’ work. I am thrilled about the impact they are having, and thrilled to see them highlighted by others who are working on similar things.

    I LOVE your idea of using social media to spread the message in concentrated ways.

    Keep it up. Great work!

  6. Great to see our Girl-Caught stickers up there! 🙂

  7. Glad to hear your brother is behind it as well Lexie. Great to see you ladies fighting for this. As a guy, I can’t stand it when everything’s been airbrushed and is so fake. We want to see the real woman involved in the campaign not some plastic imposter. I’m from Australia and glad you mentioned the beauty pageant for young kids. I believe it is way too much pressure for young kids, probably the parents more so and the results that they expect. I think little girls definitely shouldn’t have makeup on the way these girls do. Let them get out in the yard and get some real kid makeup on, dirt, sweat and mud face paint. Keep up the fight for this great cause.

  8. A very belated three cheers for the whole Kite crew, and yes, Justin you make a great point about the guys POV…appreciate that.

    It’s a litmus test my own daughter uses sometimes, ‘does he care if I have makeup on or not? If so, meh’…

    She wants to be able to be real…whether it’s slouchin in sweats or dressed to the nines. Thanks, Justin…

  9. Thanks ladies…

  10. I immediate had a smile on my face upon reading your whole post Amy!

    Once and for all, Beauty should be regarded as skin deep and not on just the outside. I’m not saying that because I’m ugly(as the Stereotype goes..), but because women do deserve to be told they’re beautiful.

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