Two University of Utah students are redefining what it means to be beautiful.
Lindsay Kite and Lexie Kite are identical twin sisters who are both PhD students in the communication department at the U of U, studying media messages and the unrealistic images of female bodies portrayed in the media.
On Wednesday, Sept. 19 they held their first public presentation in Salt Lake City at Hillside Middle School. Their hope was to educate and promote a healthier body image and encourage activism through their non-profit company Beauty Redefined.
From stick figure, photoshopped images on the cover of magazines to the sexualized depiction of women on television, the Kite sisters’ goals are to educate and change how women and men see and internalize beauty in the media.
“I’m actually recovering from an eating disorder so this stuff really interests me,” said Megan Gardner, who attended the event. “Eating disorders and negative body image is a huge problem that doesn’t get addressed enough. I think it needs to be talked about more.”
The media impact
This one hour presentation gave valuable information and research-driven strategies to help a person navigate the world of media literacy.
According to the Kites, people spend an average of 7.5 hours daily viewing media messages through magazines, internet and television. They shared that many of the images that portrayed the female body are unhealthy and represented unrealistic ideals.
According to the Kite sisters, as women and girls view these media messages of beauty they often feel like they don’t measure up to the world’s view of beauty. This is how advertising works, when women feel like they need to buy the products in order to look and feel beautiful.
The Kites said that the vast majority of women today feel poorly about their bodies. Six out of ten girls believe their bodies to be “disgusting” and often go to extremes to conform. This has led to eating disorders, extreme forms of fitness and surgical procedures, which are at an all-time high in Utah.
“I’ve studied self-objectification which has become an epidemic among young girls growing up today,” said Lexie Kite during the presentation. “Girls give up on sports, they give up on academics, because they are so focused on what they look like that they perform worse in all sorts of activities.”
“Photoshopping ourselves out of reality”
They expressed during the presentation that this message was not only for young girls, but women and men of different ages and ethnicities. Magazines and advertisers often whitewash the media, where women of color are made to look whiter through photoshopping. The Kites called this “Photoshopping ourselves out of reality.”
Many fitness and health magazine send the message through their altered imagery that women and men have to look a certain way to be noticed. Most of these types of magazine or advertisements are focused on appearances.
“You can see that instead of fitness they’re usually just saying, ‘Shrink your belly bulge’ or ‘Look hotter from behind’, said Lindsay Kite. “It teaches us that health and fitness cannot be separated from what we look like, through images and words combined with sex appeal. Unfortunately, they just want us to ‘Look hotter from behind’ and we don’t even get to see ourselves from behind. Who does that benefit? Just the people walking behind us.”
One issue they discussed was about being active and focusing on fitness goals rather than appearance goals. Many health and fitness magazines, they said, are some of the worst culprits. Most, if not all, of these magazines are selling products and not health and fitness.
Women should be talking with their doctors and healthcare providers about what is healthy but, according to the Kites, many get their information from magazines.
“I thought [the presentation] was great,” said event attendee Rick Henriksen, family physician and faculty member at the University of Utah. “One of the biggest issues I have for my patients [who are] women are self-esteem and body image issues. It’s a major issue. It leads to depression, anxiety, unhappy women, unrealistic goals, confusing image and health. I think their message of looking for performance and activity is a very awesome message.”
A beautiful message
Last summer, Beauty Redefined sponsored a billboard campaign which they had displayed across the country with slogans such as “There’s more to be than eye candy,” and “Your reflection does not define your worth.” These billboards have had a powerful effect on communities that many people called and wrote in about how the messages impacted them.
The sisters expressed the importance that women are more than just objects to be looked at. Their message was about being active and not worrying about body weight or size, which is often the dominating message in the media. They said that their program is effective because they teach people skills and strategies to deconstruct the media’s messages by asking certain questions.
The Kites challenged the audience members to do a media fast, reject the media’s messages and write to companies that reflect poorly the representation of women.
“If you can love yourself, if you can stop thinking about yourself as just something to be looked at, it will reflect on the outside, in health and beauty and confidence,” Lindsay Kite said.