During my junior year of college, I took a course called “Representations of Women in the Media.” It was such a transformative experience that forever changed the way I interacted with what I watched and listened to daily. Like most twenty-year-olds, I merely consumed media, ingesting it in all of its forms without thinking twice. The problem here is that when we ingest it, we also internalize it, whether we realize it or not. Media plays such a huge role and shapes how we view ourselves, this world, and others. If we’re not careful, we can emerge with a limited and stereotypical worldview, pick up some destructive habits, and develop low self-esteem. Now, today’s post is starting to sound a lot like a sermon on media literacy, but that’s not the point, at least not entirely. Part of the point of this story is that after I learned to be more critical of what I was consuming in print and visual media, I decided to make a documentary as my final project for the course. I got a group of my closest friends together and asked them a series of questions about what they were seeing and how it was affecting them. The biggest point of this all, however, was what I learned in the end…
The most significant impact the media had was on the way I viewed myself. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I hated myself, but I wasn’t very kind to me either. I’d constantly point out my flaws, poke at my flab, and even self-harm* (my self-harm story). I won’t go into too much detail here, but this course and my project forced me to see the ways in which I was mistreating myself, evaluate why, and make a change. This didn’t happen overnight, and it most certainly wasn’t easy. In fact, loving myself and being kind to myself is a daily challenge, but it’s one I welcome with open arms because loving yourself is a revolutionary act! Don’t let the media or society win and tell you you’re ugly, stupid, fat, or worthless. Love yourself.
After interviewing my friends, I chose to write and film a visual letter to myself first apologizing for my mistreatment, forgiving myself for the abuse, and then celebrating what’s uniquely me. Here, I gave myself permission to forego the status quo and fall in love with the woman I became. This was bigger than earning high marks on an assignment. This was empowerment and self-love in a pure, rare, and special form.
I currently look back on this experience with fondness and learned that words sting and cut just as deep as the now faded scars across my thighs and wrists. Instead of speaking words of hurt and shame, I made a choice to cover my body in words of love, and I encourage you to do the same!
*Resource for self-harm treatment.