05.19.148:44 AM ET

Kickstarting the Way We Look at Women

Kickstarter is allowing the public to fund images of a world they want to see, a world that is decidedly more female-friendly and multi-dimensional than the status quo.

Embrace has raised $143,000 AU (of a goal of $200,000, about $187,000 US) on Kickstarter in nine days. The Lizzie Project has raised $99,500 (of $180,000 goal) in 17 days. And IAmElemental Action Figures for Girls has raised $81,000 (of $35,000 goal) in six days. What these three crowdfunded projects have in common is they they are challenging, or creating a new narrative for, the way society has talked and thought about women and girls.  

Embrace, which is boldly calling itself “the documentary that will create global change,” is the most obvious and also maybe the most radical. As creator Taryn Brumfitt describes on Kickstarter, her project came into being after she posted non-traditional “before and after” photos online.  

The reason they were nontraditional? In the before photo, her body was that of a typical swimsuit model, and in the after, she revealed her post-pregnancy “normal” woman’s body. She was both praised and derided for this decision and so decided to create a “LOVE YOUR BODY” movement.  Doing so led to a partnership with a filmmaker and the upcoming documentary Embrace, which aims to unite women across the globe in loving their bodies as they are.  

There is one disturbing caveat to the body-positive project, though: Brumfitt pledges that if she exceeds her goal and raises $300,000, she will get back into bikini-body shape (for the purpose of illustrating the difficulty in doing so).  I hope she falls short of this goal – or simply decides not to do it – because I fear it will undercut the message of loving your body as it is.  

Why this project is game-changing? Per Dove Research, only four percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and 11 percent of girls globally are comfortable using the word “beautiful” to describe themselves.  

Another film, with another possibility of life-altering impact, is the Lizzie Project. Now 25, Lizzie Velasquez is one of three people born with rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight.  

At 17, Lizzie found a video on YouTube – made by an online bully – calling her “the Ugliest Woman in the World.” The first comment said she should “do everyone a favor and just kill herself.”  Lizzie graduated from college, became a motivational speaker – her TEDxAustinWomen talk has over 9 million views to date – and is about to publish her third book this fall. This movie follows her effort to address online bullying.

In the days since the Lizzie Project Kickstarter campaign began, another video has gone viral: that of a 7-year-old girl sobbing so hard she was unable to speak as she tried to describe the bullying she was facing at school. Lizzie immediately posted a video response, offering her support to the little girl and her family, and to help her feel less alone. Since kids can be so unspeakably cruel, it can change the world to have others be equally kind.

Why this is game-changing? The CDC’s 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that, during the prior school year, 32.8 percent of students were in a physical fight, 20.1 percent had been bullied in school and 16.2 percent had been electronically bullied. 9.8 percent had been the victim of dating violence and 8% had been forced to have sex. Of the 15.5 percent who had seriously considered suicide, 7.8 percent had attempted it. With the exception of physical fighting, each of these issues disproportionately impacts girls.  

IAmElemental Action Figures for Girls, which describes its toys as “more heroines, less hooters,” has already blown past its funding goal.

After researching action figures, the creators noticed that the typical female action figure was designed not for a girl or a boy but for an adult male collector. So they made sure their toys had “healthier breast, waist and hip ratios” and made sure to feature “fierce, strong females worthy of an active, save-the-world storyline that fosters creativity in kids.” Most important, instead of receiving their super powers externally (e.g., from a spider bite), these girls have their powers within.  

Why this is game changing? The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls showed links between sexualizing girls and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. Evidence suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences in terms of girls’ ability to develop a healthy sense of sexuality.  

By allowing the public to direct their money toward projects they care about, Kickstarter is helping provide a glimpse of the world these multiitude of funders want to see – and it seems to be a world decidedly more female-friendly and multi-dimensional than what traditional media usually portrays. For eons, the excuse has been that one-dimensional, Photoshopped, “idealized” images are what the public wants; they are what sells.  

It may be too soon to tell if the public would truly buy a more democratic, realistic representation of girls and women, but this certainly gives us ammunition to start raising the question.