Real People, Real Beauty
Last year, junior computer science major Natalia Rodriguez watched “Killing Us Softly,” a documentary about how women are exploited in the media, and how media depictions of women fuel a culture of self-esteem issues and eating disorders.
The documentary inspired Rodriguez to fight back, so she created “Real People Real Beauty,” a photo campaign that depicts real women and men in the media, and celebrates beauty in all its shapes, sizes, colors and definitions.
“A lot of the time when we flip through magazines and we think of photo shoots, you think of a skinny − not always white but mostly white − touched-up model,” Rodriguez said.
So she designed a different kind of photo shoot, one in which anyone could attend and model, regardless of their weight, background, or skin color.
Junior Ricky Gonzalez helped Rodriguez photograph her first “Real People Real Beauty” photoshoot, which had 23 attendees. This year, that number nearly tripled. She also brought senior communication studies major Erica Grant on board, and collaborated with the Photography Club and Latinos Unidos to put on the event.
Grant’s passion is photography, and she helped Rodriguez plan and photograph the event.
“The images aren’t edited. We touch up the background and put on a filter but we don’t edit anyone’s face or body. It’s all natural, so I think that message is important, to just be confident with yourself,” Grant said. “Because we are all given these messages in the media to look a certain way and be a certain person. That’s not healthy or constructive.”
Rodriguez and Grant also applied for a McMichael Student Experience Enrichment Fund, which they received and used to travel to a National Geographic Photography conference, where they learned as much as they could about media and photography, and then applied what they learned to their “Real People Real Beauty” campaign.
Those who attended the “Real People Real Beauty” photoshoot were able to put on one of their favorite songs and pose however they liked in front of the camera. Afterwards, participants were asked to write down their own personal definition of beauty, and one thing that they loved about themselves.
One of Rodriguez’ anonymous favorites: “I like my lanky stature as it allows me to compare myself with giraffes, the somewhat awkwardly tall mammalian powerhouses.”
Although this year’s shoot was a huge success, Rodriguez hopes that both its attendance and Internet following will continue to grow.
“I think that anyone can have a voice nowadays. Had it been like 1993 maybe “Real People Real Beauty” would have just been on a wall at Southwestern and nobody else would have seen it, but now social media allows me to post it online,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely want to have #RPRB trending at some point on Twitter worldwide. I hope that next year we’ll double.”
Beyond “Real People Real Beauty,” Rodriguez and Grant hope to continue to use photography and technology to promote social justice.
“I want to be a photojournalist,” Grant said. “I want to take pictures of people changing the world. I want to take pictures of people to empower them, and to tell a story.”
As for Rodriguez, she knows she wants to keep creating and working on projects like “Real People Real Beauty.”
“I definitely see myself working in a mission-oriented start-up, definitely having to do with social justice,” Rodriguez said.
Currently, the “Real People Real Beauty” website has 80 followers on Tumblr and a web traffic of approximately 200 people a day, and although Rodriguez is hoping to increase the campaign’s reach in future, ultimately, it isn’t about those numbers.
“Making someone feel comfortable in front of the camera, someone insecure who thinks their eyebrows are too short, their chin too pointy and their shoulders too broad, is incredibly hard. I spent hours planning this. Some people didn’t want to participate because they didn’t have make-up on… we convinced them to do it anyway,” Rodriguez said. “In that moment they stop being self-conscious and just jam out in front of the camera. They aren’t defined by the width of their shoulders, or eyebrows, or chins, or any other nonsense. They realize they are so much more than that. A person is actions and thoughts. Insecurity has killed more dreams than failure ever has. It’s truly one of the greatest things a human can realize, and if I can help with that, then I call this campaign a success.”