Stephanie Heart is part of the core Shape Your Culture Team, running projects, conducting video interviews, focus groups & leading photo shoots. She is also the presenter for BBC2’s Global Body Film, award winner of the rising star award, the London assistant director for an international documentary, The Illusionist. In the past she has also directed and produced short films featuring twice academy-award winner Emma Thompson, and created the international Model-meter that unites women in declaring 1size does not fit all.
We though it would be good idea to ask Stephanie Heart what inspired her first culture-shaping project, and here is what she said.
I remember a conversation I had that inspired me to make a change in the community that I live and beyond. I was around 19 at the time and was a mentor to a lovely group of girls at my local church. I was on my way home from the youth session I was leading for the girls, and a conversation arose when one of the young ladies who was about 14 at the time shared how she left the house one day with no make-up on. She said that she saw someone she knew in a shop, and so ran and hid. I asked her why and she said because she believed that she was ugly without make-up on.
I thought at that moment: what could make a beautiful young girl at 14 years of age believe she is not beautiful without make-up on? That she needed to purchase a product in order to be beautiful? That beauty was something she had to buy not something that she indeed was?
I thought about the messages that were being sold to women today. Having a look around there was such an emphasis on beauty being seen through the purchasing of a product, beauty being seen only if you looked a certain way. I started to explore these issues further and committed myself to an in-depth study into the effect of the current visual culture on women today; inviting the women in my community to a series of events, focus groups and creative sessions. That was where Stephanie Heart began.
‘I first came to the focus groups with a face covered with foundation, false eyelashes, eye liner and left the experience accepting and loving who I am, without having to hide behind the makeup.’
This young woman described taking part in the focus group as the day that she began to open her eyes to the pressure magazines place upon her generation to reach a certain standard of ‘perfection’. She chose to go on a journey to accept and love her natural appearance as a result of it.
Through the sessions, the talks, and the events I worked towards exposing the falsities perpetrated by the media and popular culture as to what defines feminity, womanhood and beauty; teaching girls and women of all ages to be aware and critical of this as well as taking them on a journey through which they learn to appreciate their uniqueness, understand their value and recognise their potential.
I am ever so excited about the projects that the SYC groups across London and the Southeast are embarking on this year. Three months ago the SYC team and I started a conversation with the girls . We asked them 6 questions: What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want to see? What do you want to hear? What do you want to say? What do you want to be able to do?
We are spending time with the SYC groups exploring the way the media generates preconceptions, stereotypes and anxieties, and inviting them to share their own story, start their own project, create their own media.
This year we are going to see these young woman impact the communities in which they live in, in passionate and thoughtful social action. Looking back at the first moment that led me to this work, it is a joy to still be working on these projects, and watch so many individuals find their voice, and begin to break the mould.