Last week, About-Face hosted the Embody Awards. Our founder, Ravneet Vohra, attended along with many other influencers in the Bay Area body-positive community. Nominees included Thúy Nguyen of THÚY Custom Clothier, Taylor Jay of Taylor Jay Collection, Mary Going of Saint Harridan and Susan Gregg Koger of ModCloth.
Marisa Kim, a student at Lowell High School in San Francisco, was the Young Activist Award honoree and truly the guest of honor that evening.
Anita Coulter, founder and Evil Overlord of TR!CKSTER comics and graphic arts, served as emcee of the event, showcasing the brilliant work of local designers during a fashion show featuring their designs. The event also served as a fundraiser for About-Face, a local nonprofit committed to erasing the negative effects of advertising on the self-esteem of young people, particularly young women. The ever-talented Chloe Jackman provided gorgeous images of the award and fashion shows.
The incredibly talented Chloe Jackman was there to photograph the entire event, capturing all of the excitement of the evening. See Chloe’s work here.
About-Face, the organization responsible for the evening award ceremony and fundraising event, equips women and girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media that affects their self-esteem and body image. The organization began with a simple poster rebelling against Calvin Klein’s ’90s campaigns featuring emaciated models in denim and underwear. In 1995, the founder Kathy Bruin was frustrated by the incredibly thin bodies used in advertising, not knowing it was the start of something much larger.
With just a photo of model Kate Moss from a Calvin Klein ad for the Obsession fragrance, Kathy created posters that said “Emaciation Stinks” and “Stop Starvation Imagery.” Friends and family helped her hang the images all over construction sites across San Francisco, and the movement began.
Susan Gregg Koger is the co-founder and chief creative officer at ModCloth. ModCloth started as an outlet for Susan’s love of thrift shopping. We love ModCloth because they sell a variety of clothing, with fabulous vintage-inspired fit-and-flare dresses and more. And we love its dedication to diversity in sizing (up to 4X and 30) and marketing, where plus-size and standard-size models are regularly pictured together. They have a strong online community of customers who post their own photos wearing ModCloth clothing. And they did a great, body-positive swimsuit campaign last year with employees as models.
We love Mary and Saint Harridan because of their dedication to dressing women and transmen in beautiful, classic clothes. From the Saint Harridan web site: “Dress is a very personal form of activism. Sometimes it’s risky. Sometimes it’s very risky. Often it requires courage and conviction. At Saint Harridan, we want to make clothes that support this form of self-expression, this form of personal dignity, personal reverence and, yes — this form of activism.”
Taylor Jay is the founder and owner of the Taylor Jay Collection. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Taylor Jay has been in the fashion industry for over 12 years, running her own boutique and designing her own line. She was a young mother, and wants to share her story about how she was able to make something out of her life and fulfill her dreams while raising a child. Taylor’s clothes are flowing, well-made, feminine and, above all, comfortable.
The main clients of Thúy Custom Collection are people who were born female-bodied and who identify as queer, butch, androgynous, trans or masculine of center. After finding that it was difficult to find men’s clothes that fit her correctly, she drew on the influence of her mother, who was a master tailor and dressmaker. Her clothes are completely custom, creative and even edgy.
During last week’s event, we spoke with About-Face Executive Director Jennifer Berger regarding the awards and where About-Face is going in the next few years.
WYV: How did you select each nominee? What makes each one of them special and important to the About-Face cause?
Jennifer Berger: The About-Face Embody Award is given to people who personify our mission to improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and body image. We want girls and women to be free, and we want them to think for themselves and dress as themselves, not as someone else. And so we honored those four people, who identify in all different ways and who are all transforming fashion.
WYV: How do you see the Embody Awards raising awareness of your cause? Why is it important to recognize those in the community?
JB: The Embody Awards tie us to our community more closely and give the honorees a platform to be heard by supporters they may not usually be heard by. Our young activist award also started this year, The young activist award will be given to young people who are emerging leaders and participants in activism in order to make change for girls and others. Our first award was presented to Marisa Kim. Marisa, a student at Lowell High School here in San Francisco, has been on the About-Face Associate Board for 18 months and before that was a volunteer with us.
WYV: How can media outlets make positive changes? Which questions can they ask when critiquing an image or ad campaign?
JB: Media outlets have much of the power, and social media is gaining on them. They have a lot of power to make our nation more healthy, physically mentally, and emotionally.
They can consider social and health implications of their messages more heavily and prioritize them more strongly while balancing the drive toward profitability and profits. A lot of companies are doing better, bottom-line-wise, because their messages are more positive or empowering.
And they can make announcements, taking a stand that they will no longer show women in an objectifying manner, for example, or use a variety of body types in their modeling, or vow to stop using Photoshopping.
They can ask questions that we use to educate young people in our community, which is a reverse-engineering of the ad-creation process:
- What product is this piece of media selling?
- How is it selling it? (the story the media is telling: what are the words? what is the image?)
- What emotion does the media-maker want you to feel (in order to buy the product or buy into the message)?
WYV: Where do you see About-Face going in the future? In which ways do you hope to improve?
JB: In the future, we will be doing more activism, which is at our roots. We will be teaching teen girls to do speaking engagements for media makers (ad agencies, content creators, writers, etc.) about body image and self-esteem related to media messages, as well as speaking engagements for their parents and teachers to help them understand their experiences as young women and ask for what they need as far as support goes.
We operate from a perspective of the intersectionality of race/ethnicity, gender and gender expression, sexual orientation, class, body size, ability, and other issues of identity and social categories. We serve young people from all the diverse communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and discuss more than body image/gender/self-esteem in the classroom. Of course, we all can always be more inclusive, so we’re constantly striving toward full inclusivity.
We were also able to catch up with Taylor Jay for a bit to pick her brain about the fashion industry.
WYV: How are you dedicated to erasing negative body messages to youth?
TJ: It is so tough for the youth today, due to social media and the pressure of fitting in. What I try to teach is confidence and embracing who you are. Pressure among peers is real, but self-love is powerful. As a mother to a young adult, I constantly remind her she is loved and beautiful. My message is to own exactly who you are and be proud. We are all made perfectly different.”
WYV: Your designs are gorgeous, but I couldn’t help but notice they only go to “mid-size” bodies of 2x. That is bounds beyond what quite a few others are doing, but it excludes other, larger bodies. Do you plan on extending your sizes further?
TJ: We are currently working on a Kickstarter to help us expand and launch all sizes for all styles, so we are actively working on it. However, our styles & fabric work for many sizes. For example, our XL can fit up to a size 18 depending on the individual. Because of this, we have many plus-size clients.
WYV: What experiences have you had with body shaming or lack of representation within the media?
TJ: I am very curvy and I am saddened by the way the way women and their backsides are objectified. Women are having injections added to their rears, yet squeezing their waist to fit a size 0. This is not real and it makes me sad that women feel the need to go to the extremes.”
WYV: What is the most important message that you can convey to youth in regards to overcoming negative messages? What can we do to shield young people from toxic media messages about beauty and self-worth?
TJ: Again, I truly feel self-worth, confidence and love prevent youth from becoming victims to the social media platform. Many people are lost and searching for a place to belong. If we could be more hands-on and come together to mentor, teach and truly connect with our youths, they would have more positive outlets rather than living their lives in a digital world. I feel if we take the time to love and nourish our youth, they would be much more confident and with that confidence comes strength.”
WYV: As a business, how do you engage with the community around you?
TJ: I am all about community, so I mentor and recently signed up to volunteer with Girls, Inc. I was a teen mom, so my presence to inspire and encourage a young adult is very real. I plan on using my platform to change lives and it must begin in our community.
Lastly, we were able to speak with Thúy Nguyen about their experiences within the fashion industry and what informs their work.
WYV: What is one of the more memorable experiences that you have had which reinforces the importance of working with youth and being supportive in their fashion choices?
Thúy Nguyen: Last year, a mother reached out to me in a desperate search for a prom suit for her, and I quote, “gender-fluid child.” When I received her email, it just melted my heart. It was everything. Here was a mother who was so supportive of her queer child and knew how important it was to have the right outfit that represented their gender expression to go to prom. Her email touched me and I was so happy to help out. Though we did not have enough time to get her teen a custom suit in time for prom, I made a suggestion. First, I had to make sure that they would fit into one of my already made suits. I drove over to their home in Albany and brought a few suits that, hopefully, would fit. Once they put on the second suit, it was like the prince had found their missing shoe. It was perfect. So I lent them my suit. And they had a great time at prom.
WYV: Do you include larger sizes within your scope of work?
TN: Because my business is in custom clothing, I work with all body shapes. I hope that some of my plus-size clients will not shy away from modeling in the future.
WYV: How can we continue to support youth and help build a safe community for them?
TN: One of the most important things that we can do to protect our children is to keep telling them that we love them, that we support them, that we are always thinking of them even when we are not there. I think telling a child that you love and support them can give them a lot of strength. It is nearly impossible these days to shield children from toxic media messages. Kids have access to the internet, they have their favorite YouTube stars, etc. The best thing we can do is to keep communication with them open, to keep a dialogue with them, so that we can understand what they’re thinking and what they are absorbing and then tell them, “no, that stuff is bullshit” (no, don’t say bullshit to a child!). There is a special child in my life whom I’ve known since she was born. She is five now, and she’s a big part of my life. She’s got a quirky personality, and I will often tell her, “I love that about you.”
To become part of the revolution, check out About-Face’s workshops and events or sign up for the About-Face email list through their website. Its next event event is #dontneedphotoshop on March 20.
All photos were provided by the talented Chloe Jackman. To see her beautiful body of work, please visit ChloeJackman.com.