Roadside Beauty Redefined

A new billboard campaign wants to take back beauty for girls and women everywhere

Whenever I explain that I write about body image, it's not long before someone lists Body Image Public Enemy #1: Advertising. "What about advertising?" they say. "All those skinny, airbrushed models, it's so unrealistic!" 

Amen, sisters. I do like to point out that advertising isn't the only body image bad guy out there (hiring managers, healthcare professionals and our own internal crazy can all play a role!). But when Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington are airbrushed beyond recognition in ads for anti-aging foundation, it's safe to say we've lost the plot in terms of media representations of women. Are they not already the very prettiest of women? (And a follow-up question to L'Oreal: How does it convince me of the wonders of said anti-aging foundation if you've airbrushed out all the parts of their faces where you'd put the product?) 

This is why I'm excited about a new ad campaign happening on billboards all over northern Utah right now, called Beauty Redefined. Creators, Lindsay and Lexie Kite are 25-year-old identical twin sisters currently getting their PhDs in Communications at the University of Utah, where they're studying "representations of female bodies in popular media." And while academic research is all well and good, the Kite sisters decided they also needed to "take Beauty Redefined to the streets," to get some body positive messages up on the billboards surrounding Salt Lake City, once named the "vainest city in the nation" by Forbes Magazine, in part because its highways are littered with billboards promoting breast enhancement, liposuction, laser hair removel and other "beauty enhancers," along with plenty o' airbrushed, idealized women's bodies.

As they explain: "We are using for-profit media to advertise powerfully uplifting messages to remind women they are worth more than their parts. And unlike similar messages from for-profit companies, we’re not making any money off this."

The new billboards feature four body positive slogans: 

*You are capable of much more than being looked at.

*There is more to be than eye candy.

*Your reflection does not define your worth.

*When beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong.

I think number four is my favorite -- because how often have you heard that "beauty is suffering?" from a friend, your mom, an esthetician getting ready to rip out your eyebrow hair?

While I'm a little disappointed by the lack of diversity in the women pictured on the billboards, I have to give the project major props for effort and execution -- especially the decision to show their models only from the nose up. "We decided to take bodies out of the equation," the Kite sisters explain. "We need to expand the conversation about women, about beauty, about health and about happiness away from sizes, weights, shapes and looks." And while other media representations of women often leave them headless, the Kite sisters say, "We're making eye contact, asking for attention to the truthfulness of these messages -- not the looks of the girls/women holding the signs." 

Lindsay Kite says that Utah is just the beginning -- plans are being made to roll out similar billboards in neighboring states and even as far away as Sydney, Australia. So next time you see a beauty advertisement that troubles you, think about how you'd redefine it.


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