It has officially become clear that 2013’s word of the year—selfie—is not content limiting its cultural significance to one year. Now, Dove is encouraging young girls in its latest Campaign for Real Beauty project to harness the power of the selfie to redefine what beauty is.
A woman’s selfie habits can give you a glimpse into her self-esteem (yes, there is some psychology behind selfies). Posting to show off a new haircut or your excitement on vacation could mean you’re confident enough to show the world how you look in that moment, even if it’s not “perfect.” On the flipside, taking self-portraits constantly just to gauge feedback and await comments from others to validate your self-worth can be a sign of poor self-esteem.
Appropriately named “Selfie,” the short film that Dove debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival shows how teenagers and their mothers can work together to change their perception of what beauty is. Photographer Michael Crook gives an empowering assignment to a group of high school girls in her photography workshop. After having the students talk about their insecurities—and they’ve all got ’em—she presents them with a challenge. “You have the power to change and redefine what beauty is,” she tells the teens, “because now, more than ever, it’s right at our fingertips. We can take selfies.”
Social media has given us closer access to celebrities than ever before. Now, we don’t have to wait for a monthly magazine to come out to admire Jennifer Aniston or Miranda Kerr—there are hundreds of opportunities daily to compare ourselves to movie stars and models. But Dove’s point is that these powers can be harnessed to change the conversation. Social media can be used for good.
“Oftentimes mothers pass on their insecurities to their children,” Crook continues. And the girls even go so far as to agree that hearing their mothers speak negatively about their appearances makes them question their own beauty. To end this cross-generational negative self-image, the young women head home to teach their moms an important skill: how to take a good selfie.
After getting out of their comfort zones and settling on a snapshot they feel comfortable sharing with the class, each mother-daughter pair ends up with their final shots, which are blown up and displayed in a photo exhibit. Then, like a real-life Instagram feed, everyone walks around the room and leaves comments on each photo. After seeing their peers praise them with comments like “confident smile,” “strong arms,” and “lovely hair,” both the moms and daughters were able to see themselves in a new light and recognize their beauty themselves.
“In the workshop, I was surprised when I heard the girls talking about their insecurities,” one student says. “When they said that they were insecure about things, those were the things that made them different. But the things that made them different made them unique. And that made them beautiful.” By using their creativity and the freedom of social media, women of all ages were able to recognize this truth. It’s proof of how much can change when you take control of your life and don’t let accepted definitions (of beauty or anything else, for that matter) define you.
And if social media can help us do that, then we’re not embarrassed to hop on that selfie train, too.