Story and slideshow by SHANNON O’CONNOR
Learn more about how people are impacting lives through positive body image.
Lexie Kite, 29, created the nonprofit organization, Beauty Redefined, with her twin sister Lindsay Kite. The idea to start the motivational program was sparked in their media literacy class at Utah State University.
The class opened their eyes to how women are negatively represented in the media. The Kite sisters were angry at how the media transform the public’s idea of what makes a woman beautiful.
“One day my heart started pounding faster and I wanted to spread the word,” Lexie said. Lindsay felt the same way.
They decided to continue their research on body image and the media at the University of Utah and earned PhDs in 2013.
Their doctoral dissertations formed the basis of an empowering visual presentation they have given to “tens of thousands of people across the U.S. since 2009,” according to the website.
“We started through a dinky website, and based on the reviews we realized people were starving for this information,” Lexie said.
Their presentations are a compilation of their research, studies and experiences. “Beauty Redefined teaches audiences to recognize and reject harmful messages about bodies and continuously resist those limiting ideals through the power of body image resilience” according to the website.
Body image resilience is their main promoted message. It is “the ability to combat harmful ideas and bring to light the lies women are told,” Lexie said. The lies that women are just objects and have to look a certain way to be beautiful.
Lexie and Lindsay are passionate and driven to empower women and remind them they are “more than just bodies, more than just something to decorate the world,” Lexie said.
The portrayal of women in the media makes them feel pressured to look a certain way. If women don’t look that way, they may feel negatively about their appearance or get negative critiques from others.
“You’re just fat and ugly and jealous of all the beautiful women,” wrote a woman in an email to the Kite sisters.
“We can use painful experiences as stepping stones and not stumbling blocks,” Lexie said. “We can help provide the skills, resources, and tools to do that.”
Lexie and Lindsay Kite will not stand for women being objectified. They are influencing people around the world to have a positive outlook on body image through their blog, website and presentations.
Another program that promotes positive body image is a University of Utah club called SPEAK (Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge). SPEAK chapters are spreading to other universities, including George Washington University and the University of Minnesota. Each chapter has about 100 members.
Some of the 110 members at the U are people who have experienced an eating disorder or a body image issue. Other members, like Jon Junejo, financial director for SPEAK, have not experienced such issues. But they have a passion to educate and help people through their body image struggles.
Members of the U’s SPEAK chapter regularly engage in outreach to elementary schools, high schools, teams and clubs throughout Utah. “The more outreaches we do, the more it becomes evident that our program, and other positive body image programs are worth it,” Junejo said.
Junejo, 21, has been a part of SPEAK since 2013. At first, he joined the club so he could gain public speaking experience. Junejo wasn’t expecting to gain a passion for the importance of positive body image.
“Honestly, after the first outreach I did at Dilworth Elementary, SPEAK became something much more,” Junejo said. “As I began hearing stories about people’s experiences with the eating disorder epidemic, it became clear to me that I could have a real positive effect on these people.”
SPEAK’s mission is to educate people about the effects from negative body image, body dysmorphia and provide ways to help people struggling with body image.
Body dysmorphia is a “conflict between what you see as an ideal body, compared to what you actually look like,” Junejo said. The disorder can affect people of all ages and may be caused be peer pressure, genes, or culture – including images in the media.
Junejo learned about one result from negative body image, eating disorders. He has not experienced it himself but he has friends who have suffered from anorexia and bulimia.
“Our [SPEAK] goal is to prevent eating disorders in the first place,” Junejo said. “We refer people to treatment centers on an individual case basis.” He added that eating disorders are predominantly emotional issues, but each person has a unique situation. It’s a multidimensional problem that the members of SPEAK are trying to help.
“Who you surround yourself with can dictate how you feel about yourself,” Junejo said. It’s important to have positive people around to overcome negative thoughts. Junejo has been a part of helping people through a struggle that people are scared to talk about.
When people compare themselves to the media, Junejo and the team want them to re-evaluate the source and “think differently about what source is making you feel like you should look a certain way.”
A main source to promote positive body image is through social media.
“They’re [social media sites] great places to get a conversation started with girls and women. We struggle wanting to be a certain way and look like this person, or that person,” said Nicea DeGering, host for “Good Things Utah.” “So when someone says, out loud, ‘just be you, you is good enough’ and it’s said on social media, which is the primary language spoken by young women today, it’s even more of a positive impact.”
DeGering has been a host for “Good Things Utah” for 12 years and graduated in 1995 with her communication, broadcasting degree from Brigham Young University. DeGering is a successful woman, wife and mother to two daughters.
She sees her daughters influenced by the pressure the media have put on women to look a specific way. “It’s something that we talk about in my house on a daily basis,” she said. “When is it OK to just be yourself? The answer should be, every day.”
DeGering didn’t have the same social media issues as her daughters, but she did struggle with her body image growing up. Her peers called her “big” because she was 5 feet 10 inches tall by the time she was in seventh grade.
“Now I’m mad I wasted one minute worrying that I was different,” she said. “Thank heavens there is only one of me, and I want to do me the best I can. Unique needs to be celebrated.”
Beauty Redefined promotes this notion, too: “Reflect on what impact narrow beauty ideals have had on your life and take inventory of the time, money and energy you dedicate to appearance concerns.”
DeGering added, “Looks are the first thing we all see. That’s a fact. And that’s actually OK, as long as you keep looking, as long as you continue to dig deeper beyond that, there is more to everyone. Everyone has their hard times, everyone struggles.”
The media disseminate many unrealistic messages about beauty to women.
“Conversation and awareness are key in making change,” DeGering said. That conversation begins with help from programs like Beauty Redefined and SPEAK, and by influential people like Nicea DeGering.
“Just be you, you is good enough,” DeGering said.