about-face: a reversal of direction, attitude, behavior, or point of view
– Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition
Who we are
About-Face equips women and girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image. We are a 501(c)(3) non-for-profit organization (federal tax ID number 26-276-8240). Our official name is About-Face Media Literacy, Inc., and we’re incorporated in the state of California.
About-Face was founded by Kathy Bruin in 1995 in San Francisco, California (United States), and our main office is in the Financial District of San Francisco.
How we do it
To accomplish our mission, we have the following programs for young women:
- Education Into Action media-literacy workshops in schools, organizations, and communities.
- In-depth, multi-session media-literacy and body-image programs that deepen students’ understanding of media messages and encourage action-taking.
- The About-Face online presence, including this web site, About-Face.org, and key social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube).
- Speaking engagements for parents, teachers, and other adult advocates to help them understand the pressures facing girls today and how to bolster their self-esteem.
Our workshops and workshop leader trainings take place throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and our online presence reaches across the United States in all directions.
Why we do it
All the major studies point to the problem: Western culture’s emphasis on stereotypes of women and girls, and thinness as the beauty ideal, is a risk factor for depression, negative mood, and binge eating. In turn, dieting is linked with eating disorders. In addition,
- 95 percent of girls want to lose weight.
- Teenage girls who read articles about dieting are five times more likely to take extreme weight-loss measures five years later than girls who do not read such articles.
- Body image and eating disturbances contribute to higher levels of depression in adolescent girls.
- Women of color and Caucasian (white) women are equally likely to present symptoms of eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder.
Girls and women are suffering every day from ills like low self-worth, depression, persistent anxiety over weight and appearance, extremely unhealthy diets and exercise regimens, and eating disorders. All of these problems interfere with a woman’s ability to function to the best of her abilities or seize opportunities, including finding the confidence to run for political office or achieve in a corporate career. This limits not only their potential but also their earning power and chances of equality.
In nearly every published research study on media effects on young women, including from the American Psychological Association (APA), the researchers recommend two major strategies for addressing harmful effects of media: media-literacy education and advocacy training for young women. About-Face uniquely meets this need by empowering and educating young women to put up their own psychological barriers against harmful media messages so they can thrive and overcome the internal and external obstacles to their own success.
Who we reach
- Young women and girls
- Ages 13 through 18 (approximately 7th-12th grade)
- From every background, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status
- In the San Francisco Bay Area (workshops)
- United States and beyond (web site/online presence)
What about boys and men?
We support young men as potential allies to their female counterparts as well as encouraging boys’ positive body image and sense of self-worth. Thirty-five percent of our workshop participants are young men. Young men also feel pressure to conform to a media ideal, but a different one: lean, muscular, and hairless. Generally they are portrayed as being in the “position of power” in mainstream media, often dominant over the women in the ads. While this stereotype is no less harmful to society than that of thin, toned (not too muscular), light-skinned women as the ideal, women and girls suffer, on the whole, more from profound mental disturbance and lower self-esteem than do boys and men. (We would like to see a similar group tackle male body issues as we do!)
- Girls and young women are sophisticated users of media, but not necessarily productive critics of that media. We meet girls where they are on this issue and instill critical-thinking skills — in a fun way — to truly understand the messages they’re consuming.
- Young women don’t need to be “fixed” to feel good about themselves: They already know what to do, but they need role models and some tools. So we never talk down to them, and we always listen hard.
- To reinforce learning about culture and society, taking positive, productive action is the next step. Young women in our programs learn to take action by resisting harmful media in their own lives, in their communities, and they regularly speak out to the media-makers themselves.
- Activism and advocacy doesn’t have to be LOUD or confrontational. It can take the form of self-talk while looking in the mirror and being more kind to oneself.
- Health comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. People CAN be healthy while they are “overweight,” as well as unhealthy while they are thin. Our work strongly encourages healthy eating and exercising behaviors in addition to self-acceptance.
- Teens won’t learn if they’re not having fun. We use our trademark sass, humor, and wit to bring the message home.
Real, measurable outcomes
About-Face is gathering evidence that our media-literacy programs are making the intended impact on students. In a study of 1,267 About-Face workshop participants in workshops January 2011 through May 2012:
- Participants showed an increase in self-esteem one month after the workshop.
- Participants (especially girls) reported stronger critical thinking about media after the workshop.
- Most students were not as influenced by celebrities, sports figures, and people on TV after the workshop
Our evaluation process was developed by Kjerstin Gruys, Program Evaluation Consultant, and a PhD candidate at University of California, Los Angeles. [Click here for more on Kjerstin]