Today’s guest blogger, Amy (A.E.) Irwin, is currently co-facilitating two programs with Girls Inc. Irwin is a writer who has also worked in sales, marketing and social work. She has advocated for girls in previous volunteer roles with the American Association of University Women and Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

Before and After Photoshop

I recently finished co-facilitating our “Redefining Beauty” program for a group of Indianapolis high school girls.  When this six-week odyssey began, I felt a bit uncertain because this was a fairly quiet group.   

I also wondered how our Girls Inc. curriculum would impact our girls at this stage in their social development.  After all, they’d had over a solid decade to internalize the false images and messages about what it means to be female in American culture.

As the weeks progressed, I began to hear more voices.  I remember one of the girls, who usually sat with downcast eyes, responded when I attempted to engage her in the discussion. She looked up, smiled, and answered when I asked her opinion. To say I was delighted by this is a complete understatement. 

Another highlight for me was the girls’ awareness of the impact of visual media on their perceptions of what was “better” when we compared untouched and retouched photographs of women. It was an “a-ha!” moment for the girls to be reminded that each of them is in charge of deciding what makes her beautiful.

We took this concept further when we explored the parts of the personality, delving deeper into what media doesn’t since it’s not easily packaged and sold.  Our girls, however, had no problem describing themselves in terms of their intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and creative abilities.

My program partner followed up and asked the girls what they saw as their strengths and their weaknesses within their personalities.  One of the responses was so powerful that I’ll never forget it.  Though her words were spoken softly, her message about real beauty echoes loudly.

With a self-assured smile, she said, “I want to turn my weaknesses into my strengths.”  I loved her authenticity as much as I love the fact that a statement like this can never become a digitally-altered photograph.