About-Face began as a small volunteer group of passionate women, continued that way for 13 years, and in 2008, evolved into a nonprofit organization with paid staff.
It all began with a poster. Back in 1995, Kathy Bruin acted on her frustration with the unrealistic and limited images of women in advertising, not knowing that she was starting a movement and an organization. Using a photo of model Kate Moss from a Calvin Klein ad for Obsession fragrance, Kathy created a poster that stated “Emaciation Stinks” and “Stop Starvation Imagery”. Her friends and family helped her use wheat paste to hang the poster on construction sites across San Francisco, and her personal rebellion received national media coverage.
Fame. This seminal action prompted an influx of supportive mail, unsolicited donations, and requests for information from people all over the country. By 1998, About-Face had 12 members, and Bruin began participating in panel discussions and other public education events about body acceptance, eating disorders, and the link with negative images of women in media. In 1997, she was a guest panelist at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee during a special event called “The Power of the Image.”
Taking it to the streets. Since that first action in 1995, About-Face has plastered three other large, full-color posters all over San Francisco: “Bodies Are Not Fashion Accessories: Question the Motives of the Diet Industry” (1996), “Please Don’t Feed the Models” (1998), and “Fashion Plate” (2002). The posters are as glossy, colorful, and well-designed as the advertising we challenge. This “guerrilla-style” activism and the fun we had became part of the heart of About-Face, which can be seen today in the actions we develop with the girls in our programs.
In 1997, members of About-Face protested at the Diesel clothing store in Union Square and collected 270 signatures on a letter to Diesel objecting to its portrayal of drugged-out and emaciated adolescents in its catalog. That year, About-Face also put signs on Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers centers stating “Sorry – Closed Today for National No Diet Day”. In 1995 and 1996, we started letter-writing campaigns against Calvin Klein (400 letters sent), Guess Inc. (750 postcards sent), and in support of Nike for its “If You Let Me Play” advertisements. In November 2001, About-Face launched an e-mail campaign to boycott the movie Shallow Hal for its use of unrealistic stereotypes and cruel jokes about fat people. [See more of our actions here]
About-Face’s media-literacy program began in 1996 as speaking engagements at local schools, colleges, and women’s organizations. Our first presentations were at New York University (1999), Syracuse University (2000), the California NOW Statewide Conference (1998), Mills College (1996- 1999), and St. Mary’s College (1997-2000).
Our greatest accomplishment is the sheer number of women and girls who have told us that About-Face has inspired them to accept their bodies the way they are, question ads they see, or take action against media and advertisers that offend or affect them negatively.
To the web! In February 1997, About-Face launched its web site. The site was the first of its kind in the area of women and body image, providing valuable resources, statistics, links, and the infamous Gallery of Offenders, a “who’s who” of the biggest offenders in advertising. Throughout the next year, the site would receive several awards and, by 2001, an average of 3,600 page views per day. And About-Face gathered momentum: about 12 volunteers showed up at each bi-weekly meeting.
Into the future. In September 2001, Kathy Bruin passed the baton to About-Face to Jennifer Berger, who had been a member of About-Face since 1998. Coming from a background in women’s studies and mass communication at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and with a career in magazine publishing, Jennifer is uniquely qualified to lead About-Face. During her leadership, she has created a new infrastructure for About-Face, refined its mission and programs, and acted as a motivating force for members.