We aren’t objects to take, we are people to understand.
As part of the SPARK Summit Blogtour, I recently had the chance to chat with 17-year-old activist Ali Jean Reynolds, who works with Hardy Girls, Healthy Women to challenge the ways the media sexualizes girls. Here’s a transcript of our fascinating chat:
JF: So, start with Hardy Girls. How did you get involved?
Ali Jean Reynolds: My sister, Kate, was on the board for two years before me, and of course, anything she did I did not want to do. Ha! That’s sisters for ya. Anyway, when she left, I saw all the good that Hardy Girls was doing, and the GAB, or Girl’s Advisory Board, group, and I joined.
JF: What were they doing that made you override your sisterly competitiveness?
Ali Jean Reynolds: I also had a friend in GAB, Kalyn, and I heard her talking about things like pushing back sexualization in the media, and working with all different age groups, and being powerful, and I thought that sounded like me. Eventually, I stopped caring about what my sister did, and started doing my own things. I think I have made a different name than her in GAB, so it is my own place to be.
JF: What have you been working on since you joined GAB? What kind of name have you made for yourself?
Ali Jean Reynolds: I have become really outspoken, and active in GAB. Kate was active, but they are different types of active. I have been focusing on advertisements in the media, and photography. I take the opportunity to analyze advertisements, and really show what is wrong with them. I also take photos of people naturally, and show how people are beautiful just the way they are.
JF: Can you send links or examples of any of your work, for me to run with the article?
Ali Jean Reynolds: I actually don’t have the agreement with some of the people I am photographing, because they are under 17, but I plan on doing a new shoot where I have my friends, with no makeup on, paint their bodies with words that represent them, in a very natural shoot.
JF: Oh, that sounds very cool.
Ali Jean Reynolds: No nakedness, they would be in white t-shirts, and standing together as powerful young women.
JF: What do you think made you the kind of girl who cares about media and sexualization issues? Why did this issue appeal to you in the first place?
Ali Jean Reynolds: To be honest, I was sexually assaulted on my first day of highschool. This story has made me the powerful woman that I am, because I faced my school and went back the next day. Believe me, I needed some pushing from my mother, but I did go back. There are so many reasons why he thought he could do that, and I think the media is one of them
JF: Wow. I’m really sorry that someone did that to you.
Ali Jean Reynolds: Let me add, that he and I are actually very good friends now, we talk about this issue with no tension, and I have had this dealt with.
JF: Really? He’s your age?
Ali Jean Reynolds: He is, he is in my class. To be honest, I am not sad he did this, I grew. I overcame something, and each step after this has led me somewhere new and powerful. First to GAB, then to Girls Unlimited, which is a conference we hold, and now SPARK. There are defining moments in everyone’s life. I had mine very early!
JF: Do you mind if I ask what happened, and what your response to it was?
Ali Jean Reynolds: He, in front of his soccer team, started to dance with me. They had music playing, and he wouldn’t stop dancing on me, and I had contact with him that I didn’t want. I asked him to stop, and he didn’t, so…. I kicked him. Hard. Where it hurts. And I ran. I reported it maybe an hour later.
JF: And what did the school do when you reported it?
Ali Jean Reynolds: They actually asked my mother what she wanted for punishment, they called her in, and all she wanted was him to learn his lesson. And he did.
JF: Do you think he would agree that the media’s sexualization of girls was a factor that led him to assault you?
Ali Jean Reynolds: I honestly don’t know, he is a very strange child, haha, but most of the time, people don’t know that they are being changed by the media.
They see advertisements, and think they do nothing, but they do. People up high in businesses get paid a lot of money for commercials and ads.
JF: How do you see the media giving boys permission to assault girls?
Ali Jean Reynolds: The media take our bodies, as women and men, and objectify them into objects. Many men’s commercials advertise a product to woo a woman, to take her to be his. We aren’t objects to take, we are people to understand.
JF: And how do you think you came to be resistant to those messages? A lot of girls, they would have just allowed the behavior to continue, thinking they had no choice, or fearing they’d be shamed or hurt. Do you have ideas about why you knew you could fight back and report it?
Ali Jean Reynolds: I totally know lots of girls who just assume that is their role! And my GAB sense tingle like crazy! I think my experience with this boy, and also working with GAB has trained me to feel powerful, and above the media. I don’t watch TV often, I don’t buy many magazines, and I don’t put myself in positions to feel uncomfortable.
Hardy Girls and Healthy Women taught me to be above that, and all we are trying to do is spread that message.
JF: And how’s it going? What do you find works to help your peers see the impact the media is having on them?
Ali Jean Reynolds: Honestly, I hang out with a group of very strong willed girls, who don’t have time to be changed by the media. But the girls I do know, I tell them that they are beautiful, and awesome to be around, because they are real people. The people in the magazine are so phtooshopped and edited that they aren’t real anymore. I also tell them that when they feel bad, call a friend, get icecream and watch a movie. Don’t go surfing the web, and get caught in something that will bring you down farther.
The web has articles about celebrities, and advertisements for sexed up products, you can’t help but see those negative messages.
JF: Any positive media that you enjoy? Are there any shows or movies or even ads that you think get things right?
Ali Jean Reynolds: Glee! I am so a Gleek!
I love how they have such a variety, and they address issues that are in the world, and in my own life. They have a gay kid struggling to find himself, the power hungry couple, the head cheerleader who messed up, the larger soul sister who also feels blue sometimes.
It is amazing, they touch everyone’s life somehow.
JF: Well, it sounds like you’re on your way to doing just that, too. Will I get to meet you at SPARK next Friday?
Ali Jean Reynolds: Of course! I will be there right in the morning, and I will be spreading my message of empowerment and love with my Hardy Girls!
JF: Awesome! I can’t wait. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me – anything else you’d like to add?
Ali Jean Reynolds: I would love to add that if anyone has any questions, or are interesting in more, they should either check out the spark website www.sparksummit.com or www.hardygirlshealthywomen.org. They have all the links, and ways to get involved if any girls is wanting to step up against the media… or just become educated and strong!
SPARK stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge. SPARK is both a Summit and a Movement designed to push back against the increasingly sexualized images of girlhood in the media and create room for whole girls and healthy sexuality. SPARK will engage teen girls to be part of the solution rather than to protect them from the problem.
The SPARK Summit will launch a grassroots movement to support and stand with girls. Scheduled forFriday October 22nd at Hunter College in New York City, the Summit is a day to speak out, push back on the sexualization of girls, and have fun while igniting a movement for girls’ rights to healthy sexuality. The Summit will give girls between the ages of 14-22 the information and tools they need to become activists, organizers, researchers, policy influencers, and media makers.
The Summit is focused on working with girl leaders and activists to jump start an intergenerational movement. Attendees will be girls (ages 14-22) and those working closely with them. There will also be a virtual Summit so that girls and adults who can’t make it to New York City can participate.