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Tuesday
Dec112012

A Story Unfolds

Yesterday I watched the movie Miss Representation. It was amazing
to see a woman document what the media culture is like right now in America, and how that impacts her, all of us—including our sons and daughters. These issues have concerned me for the past several years also, as I've tried to be a good mom to my 12-year old son & 9-year old daughter. As a graphic designer who has spent most of my career building retail brands by creating marketing, store environments
and brand imagery for many leading brands, I am highly aware of
this media culture. At times I myself have been responsible for propagating these unrealistic ideals. Anyone who has art directed beauty photoshoots or retouched their glamorous images has certainly played a part in it.
 
What could I do to be sure my kids wouldn't fall for this false impression of reality? Growing up, my mother always insisted I understand who was behind the scenes and what their motivation
was to get me to buy what they were selling. Perhaps her over-protectiveness made me curious and aware of this game from a young age. Perhaps I became fascinated with perception and wanted to be in on shaping it, rather than oblivious to it. Perhaps this influenced me to become a designer.
 
Particularly after the birth of my daughter, I felt compelled
to prove to her, and my son, what was real and true in the world. Remembering my own teenage years, I feared one day my sweet
little babies would rebel against me and not believe a word I said.
If I could produce something that reflected my own values, rather than work for clients who paid me to help position their products, maybe it would help mount my inevitable defense. 
 
At the time, I happened to read the book Half the Sky. It shook me
to my core. Though I had no personal connection to women in third world countries and the stark realities it documents, I felt I had
to do something that, ultimately, might potentially help them too. Most people I knew didn't seem to be talking about these issues
that were affecting women & girls daily. I didn't know how to change
the conversation to be more meaningful, or when it would ever be appropriate. But I really wanted to create something that would strengthen the self-image of women & girls, rather than making
them feel like they were lacking in anything; something that would strengthen the vital relationships in the life of a woman or girl, rather than leave her doubting; something that would help her feel her value and potential, rather than making her overwhelmed by that. Something that would honor our beauty and strength, together. To me, that's what we truly embody, yet it's just too often overlooked.
 
If I could express myself regarding these issues and what this means to me, then maybe that would encourage other women to express themselves too. Maybe I could remind them that at any stage of life, our choices create our reality, but our support system may have a bigger influence on how we perceive those choices than we realize. I felt blessed by mine, yet pained to know too many others weren't quite so fortunate.

When we ensure we have a healthy support system, our own personal cheering section, we don't question our self-worth. When we know we're loved unconditionally by these people, it doesn't matter whether we stumble or succeed. Currently, the statistics are dramatic: American women are holding ourselves back from leadership opportunities. On top of that, we're often holding each other back without even realizing it. What would happen if we started encouraging and celebrating and forgiving each other instead? Maybe more people would be positively impacted by each other. Maybe we'd change how we feel about ourselves, how we treat each other, be less critical about ourselves, more critical of the media, and more fearless about going after our hopes and dreams.

My dream forced me to step out of a world of consulting to forge my own wild, uncertain path in an effort to share an idea that I believe in deeply. I always thought that if I built my own business or my own brand, it would be centered on service. But my awareness had shifted, and my mind had to shift to becoming a producer. Starting with jewelry, I pursued my own manufacturing vendors (and am endlessly sourcing to get the best pricing). I created a symbol that reflects my vision of encouraging growth for women & girls. It's cast into a sterling silver charm and crafted into beautiful pieces so that anyone may share this idea with a woman or girl they simply want the best for. My goal is to create even more products that share this message, so that it stands out in our media & brand-driven culture with its sincere message.

It's not easy. I'm used to working hard and fast, relentlessly. This unexpected detour in my path has caused me to slow down, think deeply, open my heart wider, and actually write. Though the market typically demands a sense of urgency, I'm taking my time. It's perfect timing for my family, because I'm no longer consumed by the need to bill every waking hour, nor travel for work as often as I used to. Now I can be more present with them and support them more fully. This means a lot to me since I lost my own mother to cancer suddenly, when I was a teenager. The memory of her and the reality of her
loss inspires me to put my health before my work. To keep this as a priority, I started teaching yoga. It's another effort to increase my strength, endurance, and balance. I can only pursue my vision and care for my family if I do it without sacrificing myself. Finally, I feel like I am aligning my life around all of my priorities. 

The third anniversary of my first product launch is quickly approaching. The line is called Thrive Theory because I believe the world will be a better place when women & girls are empowered to reach their potential. Each one of us makes the world better... though it usually takes someone who loves & supports us to make us see the truth in that for each one of us.
 
Last month a Nigerian woman was visiting the Dames Bond Marketplace in Columbus' Short North district. This ground-breaking shop features a striking collection of female business-owners and artists who support each other's work (including Thrive Theory). This visitor produces jewelry in Nigeria that is sold in the shop under the name Badala. It is the lifeline for women who make it because it keeps them from a life of prostitution, their otherwise only option for supporting their children. She said the thing she learned on her trip was that she never realized how hard American women work. She believed all the media hype too, that we have hours of rest and leisure every single day, with little need to actually work. She would go home and reveal to her friends that American women were actually working as hard as they do.
 
There is much we have to change about the stories the media tells about us and our American culture. We can only succeed if each one of us steps up and tells our own stories. We have far too much to celebrate together, not to.
 
(Miss Representation is featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network & available for download on iTunes)

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