PHA holds Taking Back Beauty Week to inspire confidence unrelated to appearance

Sophomore Summer Eppel was surprised to learn that her appearance was less important to others than she thought.

The women of the Panhellenic Association know that beauty is not only skin deep.

PHA Vice President of Risk Management Kendall Foley has been working to promote this concept since she was a senior in high school, when she helped organize a series of workshops to aid younger girls in recognizing and rising above society’s standards of female beauty. A year later, while serving as executive vice president of Sigma Kappa, she came up with the idea to bring the crusade to a college setting.

“I wanted to execute (the) campaign back then but knew I didn’t have the leverage or resources to do something like that as just an officer in my own chapter,” Foley said in an email. “Once I became a member of the PHA board and issues of body image actually became my job to worry about, I knew I wanted to bring this campaign to the women in the PHA chapters.”

Last semester, Foley pitched the idea of Taking Back Beauty Week to her fellow PHA executives, who immediately supported it. Thus, PHA held Taking Back Beauty week from Oct. 19-23.

Greek women were challenged to forgo wearing makeup for a week and post their makeup-free selfies on social media using the tag #IAmMore. Carolyn Welter, PHA Vice President of Public Relations, said more women began to respond to the challenge as they saw other women doing so.

“I think (the movement) gained momentum throughout the week,” Welter said.

Seventy-six women responded to the social media prompt, for which the prize was a $75 massage gift card. PHA chose five winners: Kyler Garron of Phi Mu, Melissa Dombro of Zeta Tau Alpha, Randi Meyer of Zeta Tau Alpha, Summer Eppel of Alpha Chi Omega and Sara Higginbotham of Chi Omega.

Eppel, a sophomore, said it was refreshing to not have to spend as much time getting ready in the morning. She was also surprised to learn that her appearance was less important to others than she thought it was.

“People didn’t really say anything about it,” she said. “I wore makeup before (that week) a lot, and then that week happened and nobody really pointed it out.”

Going without makeup was definitely a challenge for Higginbotham.

“I really like makeup,” she said. “Not wearing it was definitely hard for me, but it also didn’t make me feel like any less of a person.”

Higginbotham, a senior, liked seeing her fellow Greek women embracing who they were.

“It was really cool to see that many people showing that vulnerable side of themselves, (and) that PHA inspired that, encouraged people to do it and made them feel more confident,” she said.

The week’s activities began with a talk on Monday, Oct. 19, from life coach Erin Foley. Greek women packed Jesse Auditorium to listen to Foley address the detrimental nature of the standards society places on women’s looks. She advocated for “healthy confidence” and for women to lift each other up instead of pushing each other down.

"Imperfection creates the vulnerability that leads us to the love we most desire," Foley said, according to PHA’s Twitter. "Beauty obsession pulls you away from the factors that influence happiness the most."

Eppel said the talk resonated with her and her friends.

“That speech made me think more than I ever have in my whole life,” she said.

PHA also held the Love Your Body festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 22 on Lowry Mall. The event was put on in collaboration with The Women’s Center, which held Love Your Body Week during the same time period.

Throughout the event, women rated themselves and their best friends on a scale from one to 10. When the festival started, the average rating women gave themselves was four, and the one they gave their best friends was eight. Three hours later at the festival’s end, the averages had increased to six and nine, respectively.

Putting on makeup again after the week ended was an interesting experience for Eppel.

“It wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t easy,” she said.

Foley said in an email that the executive board is already discussing making the campaign an annual event. She expressed her appreciation of the sororities’ positive response to the week, especially since PHA had not forced anyone to participate.

“When it comes down to it, it’s up to our members to choose whether or not they want to tap into the resources and programs we offer them,” Foley said in an email. “However, I was more than pleased with the participation from chapter members and the overwhelming positivity I saw.”

Foley is aware that one constructive, empowering week does not change the way society works.

“Women still feel pressure to look a certain way,” Foley said. “They still look critically at themselves, they still feel poorly about themselves (and) they still link their confidence to the way they look. I hope that the campaign helped them realize that pattern and those issues.”

Eliminating the social pressure and criticism will take decades, Foley said, but women can take steps now to bring this change about.

“My goal was to plant the seed and help the women in the PHA chapters realize that they’re more than what they look like and that they can be a part of changing the pressure to be a certain beautiful,” she said. “Our goal was to tell them that we value them and they are powerful, capable and wonderful women who don’t deserve to feel as though they are less than because of their bodies.”

Similarly, Welter said that the point of the week was to create a dialogue between women about what it means to be beautiful.

“Based on the feedback we got, it felt like something the community really cared about and will continue to care about,” she said.

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