A Few Good Women
October 15th, 1997
A few years ago, a friend asked me what I was impassioned about. It was an intriguing question and one that completely stumped me.
I began to think about this question in earnest, searching my memory for times when I was really interested in things I was doing and examining why I had stopped doing them. I remembered swim team as a tiny kid, doing plays and making quilts in Junior high, writing as a teenager, learning about politics and Mexican culture in college, doing a one-woman exhibit in my late 20’s, drawing cartoons for friends and coworkers. But a good long while had passed since I was really driven to do something creative or important.
This is not actually a column about passion, but rather about what doing something that you’re excited about can do to your life, and the unexpected and amazing ways that it happens. Oddly, as I was walking around asking myself if taking dance classes would trigger a dormant passion in me, the campaign was born. (I call About-Face “the campaign,” because of its first name: the Stop Starvation Imagery Campaign.) I didn’t recognize that while I was consciously looking for my passion, subconsciously my passion was building the campaign. It was much later that I remembered, “gee, Jackie asked me what I was impassioned about in April 1995, and in May I had the idea for the Kate Moss poster.” And that poster idea literally propelled me through the summer.
Once I saw the growing momentum in response to the poster, and acknowledged nervously to myself that I had done it (in all the initial interviews I referred to myself as Us and We and Our, so embarrassed was I to have given birth to this big thing,) I knew that all good things were going to happen. It was so clear to me that because About-Face came from my gut and utilized most of my best skills, that doors would open, that I would find love, that the renewed confidence I felt because of the campaign was about to change my life.
That all did actually happen. I met an awesome, supportive man, strangers sent good wishes and offered services, I found a calmness with friends and family. But what I want to share here is the big bonus that I never anticipated.
I have met the most extraordinary women.
Many women come to mind, but first I’ll acknowledge the six women and a twelve year old girl who now form the core of About-Face. Together we are building a viable organization.
Liz Dittrich saw me speak during Eating Disorders Awareness Week in February 1996 and became the first official “member” of About-Face. Liz is getting her PhD in clinical psychology with an emphasis in Eating Disorders. She has been the ideal complement to me and to the organization. I am good at the creative, pop culture stuff; Liz is clearheaded and abreast of the facts. Where I am frantic and opinionated, Liz is calm and wise. I cannot overstate that if Liz hadn’t come to my house almost every Monday that first year offering support and positive energy – and a forum for me to vent, About-Face would not have continued. Liz and I answered over four hundred inquiries from my kitchen table in the summer of 1996.
KT Handler arrived at my house one winter evening early in 1996 for an ad hoc brainstorming meeting. KT is the only person in the present group who has helped on a “poster night” and her team ended up being stopped by the police that night and harassed. They abandoned the effort after that, but KT was still interested in helping About-Face. A young, energetic kid with a pierced tongue, she was learning html programming at the time and embarked on the early version of our website. Now employed full time as a web designer, our site benefits from her growing skill and has been highlighted in the internet magazines, Wired and The Net. All of her work on the website has been done in her free time for zero money.
Miftah Leath loves to tell the tale of tracking me down. We were destined to meet. Miftah is the only mother among us (her daughter Marcella is our 12 year old member) and brings the perspective of the generation before mine to the effort. She loves to laugh and tell us stories of things she’s seen and read. Miftah is an eloquent speaker and a terrific networker. Little Marcella has been coming through the summer and working diligently to create a database for us. She is observant and conscientious and totallyreminds me of myself at that age. I love this kid and am delighted that she chooses to do her homework early so that she can continue to come to meetings.
Our other Marcella (Raimondo) first contacted me from the University of Michigan where she was finishing her Masters in Psychology also focusing on Eating Disorders. She requested several Kate posters to hang around campus. After graduating and moving to the Bay Area she looked us up. Looking for a full time job in the area of public health, Marcella makes contacts wherever she goes. She appeared in an MTV special and was made an instant celebrity at an Eating Disorders Awareness seminar when she mentioned she was from About-Face.
We received a much needed shot of energy from Margaret Banda. She arrived after the article about our website appeared in Wired Magazine. “I’m friends with the guy who wrote that,” she told us. “I heard about you a long time ago and have been meaning to get in touch. I want to be involved.” She came with ideas, dedication and a hip sense of style, often wearing silver polish on her fingers and toes.
Many other women have made an impression worth mentioning. Emmy Rallapalli and Sumi Das are two 25 year olds who produced and hosted their own radio show called Escencia at San Jose State for three years. I was on the show twice as a guest and was so impressed with their presence, competence and resourcefulness. Both times, Sumi interviewed me on the air while Emmy was behind the controls running the radio show, interspersing the taped news clips and music with the live interview. I continue to be blown away by these two! What faith they give me for the future!
Barbara Barnes called me after seeing one of the Kate Moss posters on a construction site. Working as a health fitness coordinator at the YMCA, she had started giving classes about how to be fit and healthy without necessarily losing weight. Quite the radical concept for a health club! I’ve seen Barbara speak on several occasions and always learn something new about the versatility of our bodies while enjoying her wonderful raspy voice.
I met Lynn Gordon when I was on a date with an acquaintance of hers. I didn’t see the man again, but Lynn and I found an allegiance. She has been such an inspiration to me because she is my age and so confident, professional and successful in her own business. And she loans About-Face her most awesome work space for our meetings. This has been an immeasurable gift to us.
Connie Sobczak and I were both guests on Escencia. We didn’t meet in person until after we had exchanged several emails and many personal stories. We found connections with each other all over the place. We would write to talk about her project The Body Positive and About-Face and suddenly the notes would have all these shared stories and thoughts. We have a remarkable amount in common both in our life experiences and in our approach and dedication to the issues of young women and body image.
Barbara Hanscome and I have been coworkers for several years, but it was at a coworker’s birthday gathering that she, her boyfriend Matt Mumper and I brainstormed over Martinis about all the ways the issues of body image and teen girls’ self-esteem can be addressed. “We should make a video!” we decided and ordered another round. I adore my new alliance with them. They are encouraging, supportive, creative and smart. And fun too!
Other fabulous gals include Katie Cooney, the photographer who I met as we waited eagerly to hear Gloria Steinem speak; Helen Grieco and Joslyn Grieve who honored me by including me in their video for N.O.W., Elizabeth Scott of Beyond Hunger, Marilyn Wann, editor of Fat?so!, Lisa Jervis, editor of Bitch, Jane Bogart at NYU Health Services, Janice at minxmag.com, Julia Ross of Recovery Systems, Kathy DeMaggio, Shannon Brueckner, Hanna Hurley, Jill Dupont, Theresa O’Neil, Donna Raskin, Mary Madden, Garine and Nayiree Roubinian and Juliette Page.
This is a thank you to all of them for their help, their support and for being positive role models to me. If About-Face were to never take another step forward, this would still have been worth doing; to have affected the number of parents and teachers and young women that we have – and more selfishly and unexpectedly, for the ways all these tremendous women have affected me.
Kathy Bruin is the founder of About-Face.