I met Stephanie Heart at the Endangered Species summit in London last month, and invited her to talk about what she does.
Tell us about Stephanie Heart. What do you do?
My aim is to combine creativity with passion to present a message of true beauty, value and worth. Stephanie Heart uses innovative illustrations to explore complex themes working to engage women into the subject matter in creative ways. Through different projects I have exposed the dark side to the beauty industry; spoken out about the objectification of women in advertisement; engaged young women in analysing the impact of the media surrounding them.
Stephanie Heart works to remove the expectations that have been placed on young women today by the media, beauty and fashion industry, our friends and even family members, working to remove these demands on young women so that they can be free to be themselves.
What inspired the work you do? How did it begin?
I was on my way home from a youth session that I lead for young women at my church and a young girl aged about 14 told me how she left the house one day with no make-up on. She said that she saw someone she knew in a shop, and so ran and hid. I asked her why and she said because she believed that she was ugly without make-up on.
I thought at that moment what could make a beautiful young girl at 14 years of age believe she is not beautiful without make-up on? That she needed to purchase a product in order to be beautiful? That beauty was something she had to buy not something that she was? Stephanie Heart began from the desire to address these issues.
My first project explored the theme “searching for beauty”. I took a group of around ten participants and asked them to complete a questionnaire on how they felt about their body. The first project explored the theme of the increasing numbers of women in contemporary society choosing to go to extreme and dangerous measures in order to change their bodies. Just as shocking is that this has become acceptable in Western culture. Those who engaged in the project - as models, volunteers and final viewers of the work - were encouraged to ask themselves whether changing our bodies is about self-improvement or self-destruction.
You invited people to be photographed in Ealing Broadway next to a stand showing the average size of a model. How did people react?
This project was entitled 1 size does not fit all-uniquely you and I used an interactive “model-meter” structure that I created for a triple purpose: to encourage women to break the mould by celebrating their unique shape; to reveal through photography how 95% of women are left out of the images that appear in the media; and to provoke discussion about body image.
When I took the model-meter stand out in Ealing I had a very positive response and great energy throughout the day as around 60 women stood behind the structure to get their ‘Uniquely you’ photographs taken. The women were encouraged to write down one thing they liked about their body, to share their thoughts and break the mould. Men also stopped and expressed their concerns about the limited portrayal of women in the media and how they believed it affected the females in their lives…their friends, mothers and partners.
The day before I took it to the street, I held a photoshoot workshop where participants were able to explore their unique body. One young woman who took part, said. “ By attending the workshop I realised how so many of us young, old, tall, thin women are not happy with our bodies, and it actually made me think about why I personally felt that I was not living up to the worlds standards. Despite not having the ‘ideal’ body measurements of the media I still know I am beautiful because this is the way I have been made. It made me realise and understand that I do not need to have on display large amounts of my body, nor do I have to desire to be smaller or bigger in certain parts of my body. It made me love who I am, every extra inch, every extra pound. I now love me for me, not what someone who has never met me wants me to be.”
Tell us a story of a girl who has had her outlook changed by one of your projects.
One young woman said, ‘I first came to the focus groups with a face covered with foundation, false eyelashes, eye liner and left the experience accepting and loving who I am, without having to hide behind the makeup.’ She described taking part in the focus group as the day that she began to open her eyes to the pressure magazines place upon her generation to reach a certain standard of ‘perfection’. She chose to go on a journey to accept and love her natural appearance as a result of it.
I always hope that those who have embraced this journey and changed their outlook on beauty will then encourage their friends towards a more positive way of thinking. This young woman in particular went on to encourage many more girls and young women and offered her time and skills to help out on other projects.
How did you get involved in the Endangered Species Summit?
I think when you are working towards change you are drawn to individuals who are passionate about the subject matter like yourself or desire to find others working towards change.
I was invited to be on the AnyBody Team by Susie Orbach in 2010. AnyBody encourages a change in cultural attitudes towards bodies, food and eating so that women and children of the next generation can learn to be happy in and look after their bodies This team is made up of inspirational individuals of diverse backgrounds and professions all working together to bring about change.
The AnyBody team organised and put on the Endangered Species summit, London. The name comes from the belief that the person who doesn’t feel held back by the way that they look is becoming an endangered species. I was honored to be on the team who put this summit together, working towards a new visual culture. I spoke at the London summit and demonstrated the Model-meter, and also got the opportunity to travel to New York to speak at the summit there.
I’m the principal designer and film producer for Endangered Species, and my latest short film features Emma Thompson which you can see on the Endangered Species website. This was a great opportunity to reach thousands with a positive message. I designed the marketing materials and videos for the event, and also the Endangered Species logo.
What gave you the courage to set up your own project? Who has helped and inspired you?
The voices of those in the community that I engage with gave me the motivation to just do something. As a mentor to young women for over four years I began to hear stories that all stemmed from a lack of self-worth, esteem and confidence stopping young women from reaching their full potential. When a woman believes that she is beautiful the way she is, and that her worth is about what is inside her more than her looks, the cycle will be broken. Women are influenced by other women, mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. One woman can make the world of difference in her community.
I realised that if you want to see change you have to be change. Rooted in my Christian faith and in response of those in my community, I was compelled to do something. At the beginning my community was small but I began to put my talents and gifts to good use. My ability to draw, illustrate, capture, and film helps inspire a different view of a woman’s worth and value. When delivering Stephanie Heart projects I aim to captivate and engage women in the project.
I drew on the strong support system that my family gave me and continue to give me allowing me to turn part of the house into a studio. My local church donated equipment to use in the shoots and friends and family members gave up their valuable time and skills to help on the projects. For this I am ever so grateful. I have a very determined spirit to keep going where most people would have given up which has enabled me to persevere. It has definitely been hard, but I have learnt to keep my eye on the goal and to have faith. I am constantly pushing to create bigger and better ventures to encourage others.
I have had the privilege through these projects to work with beautiful, creative young women and my job is to ensure they realise this themselves. A young women who had been involved in my projects since 2008 said.” Stephanie’s projects helped me realise that it’s better to be comfortable being myself than uncomfortable trying to be someone else.”
You can find out more about Stephanie and get in touch with her via her websites: www.stephanieheart.com and www.sh-enterprise.com