6 Ways to Make the Web an Empowering Place for Girls and Women

No matter how we engage online, we send a message to ourselves and others. What does your social media mirror reflect?

Empower hashtag mirror

I’ve just returned from the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference where I mingled with and learned from brilliant feminists from around the world, presented on a topic very dear to my heart, explored Puerto Rico for the first time and, oh yes, had my first empanada. *swoon* By far, the biggest highlight was the people, who’ve inspired me to carry this conversation on.

In no time throughout history have we been so photographed and seen or had such intense exposure to damaging messages about our bodies and sexuality. All of this raises the risk for self-criticism, disordered eating thoughts and behaviors, resultant health problems, such as depression and obesity, relationship tumult and poor self-esteem. Positive alternatives are available, thankfully, but less readily so. We can all take steps to change that—and trust me, it’s worth it!

I’ll be sharing more takeaways and highlights from #NWSA2014 in upcoming posts and on my show. In the meantime, here are just some of the ways we can make the virtual world a brighter, more empowering place.

6 Ways to Make Your Web an Empowering Place for Girls and Women

  • Choose who and what you follow, like and share carefully. We’re so bombarded by negative imagery and ideas online, it can be easy to grow blind to it. Take an inventory of what you’re exposed to. When you spot damaging online media, such as a demeaning ad campaign, report it by tweeting the link with the hashtag #NotBuyingIt or through The Representation Project’s free app. If you’re a parent, discuss it with your kids. And support the heck out of positive alternatives.
  • Share your passions and personality—not just your looks. I love sharing my life and photos online, but there’s a big difference between sharing our selves and sharing our looks. Research shows that females with low body image and self-esteem tend to post more appearance-centric photos, as though seeking validation. They also tend to fixate on how people respond, energy that could be invested elsewhere. Set a healthier example, one that doesn’t imply that our looks matter more than who we are.
  • Kick perfectionism to the curb. We’ve all had photos appear of us online we’re not particularly thrilled with, and there’s something to be said about putting our best foot forward. Part of that, though, in my opinion, is sharing our authentic selves, including how we really look—sans Photoshop or waiting until we have the “perfect” shot before sharing. Embrace flattering photos, but embrace what society deems “imperfections,” too.
  • Don’t discuss your weight or weight-loss plan. Focusing on weight or following a restrictive diet or harmful “lifestyle plan” brings loads of risks, but that’s another topic. If you want to feel and become healthier and inspire the same in others, don’t talk about your weight or efforts to change it online—or anywhere. Similarly, don’t give power to negative self-talk about your body or sexuality, by vocalizing them around others (unless it’s a therapist helping you overcome it).
  • Don’t support demeaning humor. It’s incredible how much demeaning “humor” is available online, particularly about appearance, age, gender and sexuality. Don’t support it. If you’re inclined and deem it appropriate, respond by pointing out the falseness or negativity. In many cases, people simply don’t realize how damaging such “humor” is, either because it’s so commonplace or because it reflects their personal negative (typically false) beliefs.
  • Override shame. I’ve heard many women say that they love reading sex-positive and feminist posts and articles, but are afraid to support them publicly for fear of what others might think. That kind of fear is paralyzing and only perpetuates hurtful myths. Hopefully we’re all in process, on a perpetual journey of personal growth. If you’re not yet comfortable supporting empowering messages publicly, take smaller steps, such as sharing them with close friends or posting an anonymous comment. You’ll soon find that the fear is far larger than any adverse potential consequence.
graphics NWSA draft 1

Graphics from my presentation at #NWSA2014, Broken Mirrors: Technology, Taboos and Body Image

How does social media influence your body image and self-esteem? What steps have you taken, or will you take, to make your social media mirror more empowering? I love hearing from you. ♥

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8 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on 1EarthUnited and commented:
    Very informative!

    Reply
  2. You need empowerment when you lack something, we are all perfect, it’s the mind that makes it blurry.

    Enviado desde mi iPad

    Reply
  3. Wonderful post, August! I love the idea that my little girlie could grow up in a world where who she IS is celebrated more than what she looks like. Our media in particular is horrendous about this…I mean look at all the hubbub over Renee Zelwegger’s face. Hello? She’s 45!

    I have to admit it though, I DO have a difficult time on the perfectionist front when it comes to photos. I’ll work on it. 🙂

    Reply
    • I’ve struggled with that one, too, Jenny–particularly when I started seeing myself on web cams/Skype, after working with professional lighting, makeup, etc. I was all, “what’s happened to me?!?” LOL But it gets easier!

      I still don’t love posed pics (ironic, perhaps, but modeling and posing are very different). They feel, and often, look so unnatural. Happy and engaged, we’re all lovelier. 🙂 So glad you dug the post!

      Reply
  4. Raani York

     /  November 17, 2014

    There’s another wonderful post about our self esteem and how it’s influenced by media. I guess you know what I would say to this – and that’s why I’m not going to post 3 feet of comment.
    I’m just going to say: no matter how low my self confidence is: I’m not going to gossip about someone’s looks (even though I love to criticize someone’s behavior. *chuckle* I guess you figured that)… I am who I am – and I do respect the same thing in other personalities as well. This doesn’t mean I cannot admire a beautiful person or amazing figure.
    I’m sure you had a great time!!

    Reply
  5. Strong and thoughtful post, August, and I am looking forward to hearing more on your show (I’m a bit behind in my listening but I will catch up!). Your six suggestions go to the core of the feminist movement as I have known it. I can say there has been progress–Girl Boner Radio is an excellent example of “how far we have come”–yet, the work you do shows us how far we still have to go when it comes to our appearance, in particular our faces and body shape.

    For me, I am fairly comfortable with my body shape and weight–at 62, I have made my peace with both–but I have not aged well, and it really shows in my face. Also, I have never photographed well. Just recently, I put up some photos in my work area. Mostly, they are recent photos with family so I am getting more used to looking at myself as I am. As always, your post gives me the boost I need. Thanks so much, August.

    Karen

    Reply
  6. karenmcfarland

     /  November 25, 2014

    August, I’m sorry I’m late to the party but last week hubby was in the hospital. I’m just now catching up. Whew! Anyway, so glad you enjoyed Puerto Rico! So much beauty and culture. And it sounds like you gleaned quite a few great things from your conference. What steps have I taken to more empowerment? Hmm. I would have to say putting myself out there period. My blog, Facebook and Twitter, is a first for me. So I’m making headway. 🙂

    Reply

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