By Pia Guerrero, Co-Founder/Editor
Women and girls are bombarded everyday with thousands of media messages, from billboards to bus stops ads, telling us our worth is not in who we are, but in what we look like. The media and our culture tell us we should be sexy, thin, young, and perfect—just like the actresses and models plastered across ads everywhere we turn. We strive and struggle to look like these flawless creatures that–thanks to Photoshop–don’t actually exist. We’re buying what’s being sold and our self-esteem is taking a huge hit.
That’s why Off Our Chests, a new women’s online magazine and apparel line, has launched a campaign to create The Self-Esteem Act, a bill requiring “truth in advertising” labels be attached to advertising and editorials with models who have been Photoshopped or airbrushed beyond touch-ups. This announcement comes on the heels of news that in Britain, L’Oréal was forced to pull an ad campaign for falsely advertising an anti-aging product featuring the super Photoshopped images of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington. In the words of British MP Jo Swinson, who led the effort to ban the ads, the images were “not representative of the results the product could achieve”. This move sets a precedent, opening the door for a wave of industry change here and abroad.
In addition to this ban, law makers in Britain and France have called for disclaimers in the form of health warning labels to accompany airbrushed images in ads, but in the US no proposals for such labeling have gotten traction to date. Needless to say, at Adios Barbie we are excited about the campaign to create the Self-Esteem Act and have been brimming with questions. We connected with Off Our Chests co-founder, Seth Matlins, who started the company with his wife Eva. Matlins spoke to us candidly about the vision for the Off Our Chest’s clothing company and plans for The Self-Esteem Act.
AB: In order to make real change, awareness must be followed by concrete action and for that we want to acknowledge Off Our Chests for putting your money where your mouth is. What are next steps? What do you plan to do specifically to get this legislation passed?
Matlins: Before we can get it passed, we need to get it introduced and sponsored. We’re working to build what we’re calling a “Coalition of the Concerned”…NGOs, talent, individuals, media companies and organizations who want to stand with us and support what we’re trying to accomplish and do. As we’re building this coalition (and we’re open to better names) we’re simultaneously beginning to approach members of the Senate to discuss the situation, our intentions, and enlist their support and commitment.
AB: Do you have plans to partner with other groups in the self-esteem and body image movement to promote and pass the act?
Matlins: We have hopes of doing just that. Everything we’ve done since the moment we launched Off Our Chests and OffOurChests.com has been based on the premise that we’re all in this together, that we’re all connected, and that it takes a village. That goes for raising our daughter and our son…all your readers are contributing to the world in which we raise them and in which they grow up…to turning The Self Esteem Act from an announcement into life changing legislation. We can’t do it alone, we don’t want to do it alone, and we need everyone’s productive support and efforts.
AB: In terms of your apparel line, do you have plans to expand your sizing and models for your own line to include women of color and women of different shapes and sizes?
Matlins: We love that you’re calling us on that. The short answer is yes, though all of our shirts run into XL sizing even now. We did so many things wrong with our initial launch of the apparel line, and will do many things differently moving forward. The models we’ve used were images supplied to us by a manufacturer and, ironically, our shirts were simply Photoshopped on them. We’re learning how to build an apparel line and company one mistake and one misspent dollar at a time. Eva and I are the white parents of two beautiful black children, so we’re pretty conscious of providing a spectrum of images [on Off Our Chests], which we haven’t yet done, but will moving forward.
AB: Passing an act like this is a huge step. As a former CAA agent, do you have any plans to hold hands with Hollywood, as Geena Davis has done, to promote more realistic images of women and girls in the media?
Matlins: Hollywood and Madison Avenue play such an enormous and unrivaled role in setting and resetting our cultural norms, standards, ideals and expectations….and given where I come from and what I’ve done, we’d be crazy not to try and enlist their support, they can make all of this so much easier and quicker. Geena’s done and doing amazing work, though I think we’ll try and be a bit more strategically provocative than she’s been. We love Hollywood and whatever negative effects media has comes not from malice but from benign neglect, in our opinion. We want to help play a part in making every one more mindful of their role and responsibility. This crisis of confidence isn’t any one’s fault – it’s everyone’s. Let’s stop blaming and judging and just start fixing and changing. Then we can all feel happier.
AB: How did you come up with the name “The Self-Esteem Act”? It seems some recent commenters to your piece at HuffPo responded negatively to the use of “self-esteem”. Why not “Truth in Advertising Act?”
Matlins: Self-Esteem is what we’re trying to positively affect with everything Off Our Chests is and does. Truth-in-advertising is how we hope to help affect it. We decided to focus on the ends not the means, for it’s the ends, it’s the epidemic crisis of confidence hating on the happy of so many girls and women, that we’re trying to help make a little bit (if not a lot) better.
AB: Your t-shirt line carries some great messaging that makes folks think. You’ll be working with Fred Segal, a store known to cater to the LA/Hollywood elite. Many customers are (or are related to) the producers, celebrities and artists who work on the very ads that heavily use Photoshop. What is your thinking behind having Fred Segal be the target market for your clothing line?
Matlins: My family is the Fred Segal consumer, and their market is very much one we want to reach, influence and sell to. If you want to change the conversation on a cultural level the way we do, we believe you have to enlist the makers of culture. It’s where I come from, it’s what I know, and Hollywood is and can be a force for so much good if they embrace their power to do good.
From before we launched the line, we committed 10% of profits (profits, btw, we don’t yet have – but against which we’ve already written a check) to an amazing, amazing group called We Stop Hate (www.westophate.org). Founded by the amazing Emily-Anne Rigal, who only now is 17, WSH works to raise what they call “teen esteem” as a way to end bullying of all types. They are smart, and soulful and effective. We will always do something with a percentage of our profits that furthers the mission and cause of Off Our Chests…making girls and women happier.
AB: What do you say to those who may feel this campaign is a publicity stunt to promote your own clothing brand for profit and name as body image thought leaders?
Matlins: Well, the first thing we’d say is would you like to buy a tee shirt? The second is, yes, we hope this is good for our brand and our revenues. Our intent is to build the world’s most meaningful – and one of its most valuable – women’s brands. One capable of changing the world and making it a better place for our daughter and son, and everyone else.
We are not a charity, and beyond being parents we have neither aspiration nor qualification to be seen as a body image thought leader. We just see problems and opportunities and try to address them. In fact, our focus is much more emotional than physical, and our clothing line and the other merchandise that will follow are all intended to serve as reminders…reminders to get things off your chest, to live out loud, speak your truth, and let your freak flag fly – even if it’s not very freaky at all.