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Evolving Woman Magazine, August 2001

By Trace Shapiro-Hoffine, MA

Two women doctors and a woman therapist sitting at dinner... (No, this is not the beginning of some crude joke)...

Just imagine - . Frustrated with the state of women's health, they ask each other, "If we could change just one thing about women's healthcare, what would it be?" They take a moment to think about it, and they all agree on an answer.

"Imagine a world where there would be more images of women-images of greater diversity-that would support real women - " begins Cathy Conheim, one of the founders of the Real Women Project and the Athena Foundation. "Creating a definition of beauty that is wide enough to include you and everybody that you love. Because, if it's not wide enough to include you, it's not wide enough to promote health."

There are many psychological studies demonstrating that over 70% of women feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after only minutes of viewing a fashion magazine. Actual physical indicators of depression include: imbalances in neurotransmitters, increase in stress hormones and suppression of the immune system. Who knew that your copy of Vogue could actually make you sick! So cancel your subscriptions, throw away your last store-bought copies, and wear blinders while grocery shopping. Ahhh - Freedom at last. Imagine. Never picking up a fashion magazine again. No more starvation images-pictures that haunt and pound us into a state of depression and self-loathing within the first five minutes of perusal. But there are more than just magazines out there.

"A normal, 'regular' person (not one who sits in front of the TV all day) sees four- to six-hundred ads a day! That's what gets in without our permission while we are going about our lives, driving our car, watching billboards, doing whatever! And one out of eleven of those ads are about beauty or beauty-related products," according to Cathy's statistics.

Ads penetrate our minds so effectively that we can quote ads that have not been aired in many years! For example: "Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz - (fill in the blank)." This ad for a popular brand of antacid, hasn't run for twenty years! And how do these insidious jingles seep in to our consciousness? Through multimedia and constant repetition. So how do we remove or replace the toxic images and notions that plague us? Through multimedia and constant repetition.

What does it take to wage war on the beauty and diet industries in one swoop: the cosmetic industry reaping over $20 billion a year, and the diet industry-with its 97% failure rate-taking in over $40 billion? This group of three women friends, over dinner, simply began.

They knew a sculptor. The sculptor was so inspired by the idea that she created images of thirteen women ranging in age from 14 to 72-all shapes and sizes. A poet saw the sculptures. She was so inspired that she wrote poems for each sculpture and for the project itself. A musician saw the sculptures and read the poems. She wrote a song. A photographer saw the sculptures, read the poems, heard the song. She made a video of the sculptures, poem and song.

Three women. One dinner. A multimedia project to change women's health forever.

"The goals of this project are to invite women into a dialogue about 'what is beauty?' And to invite women to not think of beauty as one dimensionally as we've been taught--we are more than just our bodies-we have minds and spirits and souls," declares Cathy. "But that's not what counts! It's what's on that scale-what shape we are. That's what we've been told. And as long as we buy into that, and say that's our 'value' and spend all of our time and money and energy on it, it becomes a reality." Cathy goes on to define "Reality is Imagination times Vividness-how many times you go over and over it becomes your reality. So the goals of this project are simple and yet complex: We believe that self-acceptance and self-love are the foundation for mind, body and spirit health. You can't come out being healthy hating yourself. It just doesn't work."

From one dinner conversation, over six million women will be transformed by the Real Women Pro-ject as it tours the United States over the next five years. Kansas City hopes to be a model for the cities visited. Instead of a "passing fancy," the Real Women Sculptures will find a home here in the Central Exchange Education Center. The sculptures, multimedia presentation, and corresponding workshops will then become a part of our schools' curriculum, our doctors' training, our health facilities' programming, and on and on. Every woman in the Kansas City area will have an opportunity to redefine beauty, to reclaim her body, find her voice, express her story: through poetry, song, movement, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, you name it!

One woman telling one woman telling one woman can and will change the world. How would you like to be inspired? Just imagine - .

Real Women Project coordinators in Kansas City can be reached through The Central Exchange by phone at 816-471-7560 and via e-mail at: [email protected]
Breakthrough Press webpage: www.BreakThroughPress.com

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