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Text of Jennifer Berger’s Remarks at 2013 About-Face Embody Awards

So today, I’d like to break a myth: The myth that About-Face is solely about healing girls’ body image in the face of a media culture that’s destroying their self-esteem.

It’s a crucial part of what we do. It’s true that we reach about a thousand students – both boys and girls – per year by teaching media literacy in their classrooms, and that our web site receives about 75,000 visitors per month.

But we’re not only a direct-service organization, helping one girl at a time to help her feel good about herself. The girl is part of the culture, and we are helping heal the culture.

In fact, About-Face is – and has been for a long time – a force for social change. We are contributing significantly to a major shift around the way our entertainment and advertising industries, fashion and beauty companies think about and represent girls and women, boys and men, people of all races and socioeconomic statuses. We – all of us in this room — are stronger than media culture.

I know that may sound improbable. It could sound intractable, insurmountable. But we have already seen incremental change since I started doing this work sixteen years ago: The Dove Real Beauty Campaign. The Body Shop campaigns. Jennifer Lawrence. Gabbie Sidibey. Charlize Theron. Amy Poehler. Kerry Washington on “Scandal”. Thick Dumpling Skin! And those of you who lived in the U.S. in the 1960s have seen major changes in the way women and people of color are shown and treated in mainstream media.

But we’re not there yet, and there’s also a very frightening backslide happening. We have epic sexualization in media: Miley Cyrus’ twerking, the Kardashians, the Bad Girls’ Club, a bikini-clad thin white woman everywhere as a reminder of what we’re supposed to be, and what most of us are not. Girls aren’t entering science/technology/engineering/math – STEM fields – at high enough rates because our culture is just not OK with smart girls or science girls if they’re not also hot, and girls internalize that idea. Girls are committing suicide due to bullying, and eating disorders and self-mutilation and depression are killing them too. If that’s not a sign that something is severely wrong here, I don’t know what is. We – everyone in this room — can stop it. We are stopping it! And we can expect more from our media and the harmful parts of our culture that surround it.

We want to cut off gender inequity, racism, classism, ageism, at the trunk. Then dig up the roots. And have fun doing it. As activist Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.” It’s what this party’s all about. We need to dance through it all and celebrate every victory.

Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath — about the advantages of disadvantages, and the disadvantages of seeming advantages — cites an interesting fact about battles: Even when the underdog, the “little guy” fights the monolithic, seemingly unbeatable foe, the underdog wins the fight a large percentage of the time by attacking in a non-traditional way the big guy isn’t expecting. David took on Goliath with his slingshot. We are taking on the nasty parts of media culture using the power of individual teenagers, parents, communities, media-makers themselves, and eventually, policymakers and lawmakers.

When Kathy started About-Face in 1995, she was among the first and the few to speak out on media and its effect on girls’ self-esteem. We all were really on the fringes then. We’re still the longest running organization to tackle this issue in the Bay Area. But there are so many more voices speaking out now to media, which only amplifies us all.

And to tell you the truth, we’re at a tipping point. Isn’t that a great place to be?

How will we get to the other side? How will we create the shift in the U.S. that youth and all of us really need?

Considering that mainstream media is a driving part of American culture, it’s imperative that we put constant pressure on our media institutions until we change them, and the thinking of the many people who make it up.

And how will we do that?

We are starting with groups of teen girls and their male counterparts and their parents as allies. They need to know how to identify and name problematic media and attitudes. Next, they will change their communities.

We are teaching classrooms of students media literacy and personal resilience, then also showing them how to take action. You’ll hear from two of the girls in our program in a moment.

Every minute of your time or dollar of your hard-earned money you give to About-Face means we are closer to making the shift more widely, and maybe faster, too.

It’s time to change our media culture, be stronger than our media culture. Let’s do it together. “Onward!”