Not long ago, I noticed a new follower on our @ednutrition Twitter account. @BeutifulMag had an intriguing sound, and sure enough, its web site turned out to be a welcome addition to the public conversation on body image and self-esteem.
Started by Patricia Colli over two years ago, the site at the moment mainly collects good content around the net on the subject of body image, self-esteem and the destructive effect of mass media on women’s conceptions of self, with positive, encouraging commentary on the articles. Beutiful Magazine’s tagline is “Embrace who you are with no apologies about who you’re not,” and its Facebook page explains, “Our purpose is to show how perfect and beautiful you really are—regardless of any society-made standard. By undefining, we are redefining.”
Colli, a Philadelphia graphic designer who will turn 26 this week, has been thinking about these issues for a long time. At the age of 8, she was a compulsive exerciser. She was short but didn’t care about that. Her weight was average, in fact she was on the thin side. Yet she thought she was fat and was self-conscious and self-critical. Her negative body image didn’t come from her family, which was supportive and nurturing, and in her strict Catholic home, TV viewing and access to fashion magazines was limited. She did read lots of fitness magazines, though, and fashion/beauty magazines whenever she could find them outside her home.
When her friends were out socializing, Colli was at home, compulsively doing crunches or any other exercises that could be done with no special equipment, or spending hours on the only exercise device in the house, a trampoline. “Now that I look back,” says Colli, “it was completely bizarre.” Although she never suffered from a full-blown eating disorder, she did swing between compulsive junk food binges and restricted mealtime eating.
The idea for Beutiful Magazine came to Colli on one particularly deadly low self-esteem day during her junior year of high school. She had come to realize that her desire to “reflect the ‘perfection’ that I was seeing” in the mass media was the root of her problem, and explains, “I needed to challenge the media in order to reverse it. I wanted to create something that would show people they were beautiful as individuals, tell them to believe in themselves, and allow them to be happy and raise their quality of life.” One big source of inspiration was the groundbreaking Dove Campaign for Real Beauty launched in 2004.
Later, as a graphic design student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Colli saw close-up to what extent the images she was basing her ideas of beauty on were a sham. “Just learning how to Photoshop was very eye-opening—if I had known all that I might have gotten healthier a lot faster,” she notes. Colli learned that photo editors can replace and resize body parts, change complexion and skin tones, and endless other more subtle manipulations. “Ninety-nine percent of what we see has been manipulated,” says Colli, even if it’s just color and lighting.”
Her site, she explains, is not just about eating disorders and body image, but also about “acceptance of all people — race, age, gender, sexuality, religion … the right to be yourself, hence the "be u" spelling in the ‘Beutiful’ logo.”
Interestingly, Colli says, “Once I started working on how I could express these ideas to others, my own ideas [of self] started to change.” Her eating and exercise normalized, and she notes, “It's amazing what a change in perception and mental dialogue can do!” As with many things in life, actively discussing and acknowledging a negative obsession can not only be empowering, it can also lessen its power over us.
In addition to her day job as a graphic designer, Colli is now working to produce a more robust version of her site and would like to eventually generate more original content and launch a print version of her magazine. Good luck, Patricia!