For women, empowerment has been a struggle. Most women and girls are socially conditioned by their families, the media and advertising to look and feel a certain way, putting on added pressure to be perfect and falsely promising them them this is the route to empowerment.
This perfection we’re told to aim for is unreachable, yet we still try through countless diets, products, enhancements, surgery. We place our blinkers on and ignore the fact that Photoshop, make up and non surgical enhancements can mask something that wasn’t there to start with. I hate to say it but I’m a victim of this, like most women. I flick through female-targeted magazines and, despite knowing some of these models are airbrushed or Photoshopped, I still take it in and think – why is it I can’t reach this?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to boost your self confidence or to feel beautiful and empowered by that beauty, but it becomes a problem when you you can’t reach the perception of beauty you’re aiming for, because it’s something that can’t be achieved. If we’re constantly being fed this unrealistic idea of beauty, we start to believe that we have to aim for this, to please ourselves and those around us. We feel powerless to achieve this goal and powerless to reject the idea of a woman’s worth as being defined by her beauty and how physically desirable she is.
For my documentary project, The Sexualisation of Women Through the Media and Advertising, I interviewed Cassandra A. Campbell, co-director of Self Empowerment for Life’s Foundation (SELF) with Donna Solomon and creator of the Pandora’s Box programme, on what makes her feel empowered as a woman, what she feels we as women can do to stop the exploitation and sexualisation of our bodies and what projects such as Pandora’s Box can do for female empowerment.
Pandora’s Box is a programme designed for women aged 12-25 from all walks of life, including those who are vulnerable and in care. The programme addresses negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours, providing all who attend with the opportunity to turn those negatives into positives thus boosting self confidence and self worth, and pointing young women in the direction of obtaining empowerment.
On their website, Pandora’s Box encourages “all beings to open their Pandora’s Box, let out all the negative things and replace them with positives”. The message speaks for itself, giving young women the feeling that any negative situation can be turned into a positive through time and understanding.
Reannon Licorish: Do you feel that we as women do enough to overcome society’s desire for female perfection?
Cassandra A. Campbell: I think we’d have to make more of an impact in the media. I think really the ones that will make the most impact are the celebrities, are the singers, and if they change their behaviour it would then trickle down onto society in general and females in general. Because people tend to, young women and boys, they tend to look at celebrities for guidance as to who they should be and how they should be, and what makes you successful and what does it mean to be successful. It means gyrating in a video half-naked and that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with showing off your body but I think there are different contexts, different situations.
And if you look at certain artists, singers for example, their videos – maybe mix it up a little bit and think about the message you’re putting out to young women. So yes, it is okay to love your body, yes, it is okay to show certain parts your body, but it’s about how you do it, maybe do it with a little bit of taste as well. I think on the whole, women could have an impact but I think the real impact will come from people who are in the spotlight.
Do you believe projects and blogs such as your own help promote a healthy balance of female empowerment?
Yes, I think we can. I think it’s not any easy job but I think that with all the young women that we work with, even if we only touch a few, it will have an impact on their friends, their families and also on boys. What we try to do is support them in loving themselves, in creating a positive self concept, increasing their self worth, self awareness and self love. As you go through that process, you then start to think about, what am I expecting from other people? And what am expecting in relationships? How am I portraying myself, who actually am I, who do I want to be, am I being who I want to be, am I being who I truly am?
So it’s really about not telling them how to behave but giving them that forum to start to think about these things; giving them the tools to, if they do want to make changes. Supporting them in making those changes is never about dictating who they should be, it’s about supporting them in loving whoever they are.
I think we can make a real impact, depending on who you’re working with. It’s going to be a different process with each person and some people are ready and some people aren’t. So you may catch a young lady who is at that point of questioning who am I, who do I want to be and that’s the ideal time to be working with them. And there may be another young lady who’s isn’t in that space, so working with her could take a little bit more and a little bit longer, but I definitely think starting with young people will have a real impact.
If you think about it, as a teenager in a relationship with teenage boys, teenage boys will do what a young lady allows them to do but if a young lady knows who she is and what she expects, then she won’t put up with certain things from the opposite sex or from the same sex, and she won’t allow herself to be treated in a certain way. I think if more and more young women were doing that, more and more young men would be treating young women with more respect.
What makes you feel empowered or powerful as a woman?
What makes me feel powerful… Fulfilling my life purpose, which is what I’m doing, which is why I started the work that I do. What makes me feel powerful or empowered is helping a young woman change her life. It could just be in very small way or in a major way but when I’ve done a workshop or I’ve mentored a young women, and at the end I get really positive feedback and their journey – being a part of that process is the best feeling in the world. I love that.
That makes me feel empowered because I’m doing something and I’m working with people that maybe don’t have that support as well, and I’m doing something to help them empower themselves. So that makes me feel great. And I’m using my life experiences as a young woman, when I was a young woman, to help other young woman. So that’s what empowers me.
Pandora’s Box takes place every Friday from 17th July – 4th September, 5-7pm at Myatts Field Community Centre, 24 Crawshay Road, SW9 6FZ.
To find out more and sign up, go to the same address on Friday 10th July at 4.30pm. You can also find out more information about Pandora’s Box or enquire about future events by contacting them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their telephone number is 0208 772 9938 and their website is S-E-L-F.org.uk.
You can also Like them on Facebook via – https://www.facebook.com/pandoras.box.7758
– Reannon Licorish is a 20 year old Journalism student and amateur photographer. She writes for Conversations About Her and 55Factory. Follow her on Twitter at @re_latoya.