My friend started a photo project to combat sexist stereotypes—it’s amazing
If you watch television or music videos or are even remotely in touch with the world, then you know about the sexist way teenage girls are often portrayed. Over and over, it’s the damsel-in-distress, the ditzy valley girl, the socially awkward girl-next-door, and the inevitably-jealous ex-girlfriend who goes to extreme lengths to steal back the guy she cheated on. Stereotypes like these make it hard for people to take teen girls seriously.
I can’t count the number of times a guy has raised his eyebrows in surprise because I knew more about Captain America or golf than he did. It’s frustrating to be a young girl in a time when the media has sexualized and trivialized our lives. One teenager in particular, amateur photographer Caleigh Zwahlen, was just sick of it, and wanted to show the world that we’re more than shallow or materialistic. That’s why she decided to start a photo project that highlights some of the most common stereotypes about teenage girls in one frame — and then shuts them down in the next.
Caleigh enlisted several of her friends to write down common stereotypes of teenage girls, and how they don’t fit them, and to take empowering photos with their messages. The juxtaposition is powerful.
“I don’t want teenage boys to think that just because I wear shorts or a dress, they can take advantage of me. In a relationship, my morals stand strong and I need a guy to respect me if they want to be with me. The media often portrays girls as desperate and crazy, as people who will sleep with guys to gain their love. But my willpower is stronger than anything. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who couldn’t honor my wishes. Love is accepting the other person fully.” -Clarissa Garcia, 17.
“Sometimes, I’m afraid to mention my celebrity crushes because I don’t want to be labeled ‘boy crazy.’ Guys think girls are really shallow and only care about looks, but the truth is, yeah, I think Theo James is hot! His personality is what made me fall for him, but his looks are a bonus. And I’m not ashamed of it. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: Labels shouldn’t stop you from being yourself. Don’t fall into the categories people will try to box you into. Don’t conform to society’s expectations of you. Be your own person.” -Michelle Villa, 16.
“The ‘basic girl’ stereotype shouldn’t even be a stereotype. Sure, I wear sundresses on breezy days and knit sweaters on rainy days, but that doesn’t mean I’m some crowd follower who can’t think for myself. Degrading my sense of style and my personality is unfair. Developing preconceived notions of my character and assuming you know everything about me is wrong, as well. For all you know, I could be the third female president or the doctor who finds a cure to cancer.” -Kaylyn Barajas, 16.
“It shows I’m not some ‘googly-eyed girl’ who swoons over attractive men. Not to say that Rob isn’t attractive, but I enjoy the show because it has strong female characters characters that make me want to go out and strive for my dreams! Empowering women, like Leslie Knope, prove that it’s a great thing to be a woman and we need to show the world that. It’s something that makes me confident in who I am and doesn’t diminish me for being female, but rather says I am twice as powerful because I have to put in twice the work to show I am at the same level as men. It’s also really important to show teenage girls that we need feminism. A lot of teenagers, both boys and girls, don’t know what feminism is and don’t have feminist influences in their life. Kids are the future, which is why I think it’s necessary to teach them from early on just how important equality it.” -Caleigh Zwahlen, 16.
“Whenever I mention my love for water, boys instantly picture me sunbathing in a bikini, drowning out the sounds of the ocean with my earbuds, jumping at the chance to flirt with a lifeguard. I don’t want to fit into some stereotype. I’m not some stereotypical girl who does things for attention. I swim because I love it, and I don’t want other girls to feel like they have to hide their passions because they don’t want to be stereotyped.” -Kaylyn Barajas, 16.
“I want to be taken seriously, and that’s difficult for a teenage girl in a male-dominated society. It angers me to think that one day, my male counterparts will be given opportunities and jobs I am more qualified for just because they are male. I don’t think that’s fair, and I am prepared to fight it with all my energy. I don’t want boys to think it is okay to view me as ditsy or helpless. Yes, I listen to Taylor Swift, but I can also code a website.” -Rebecca Castillo, 16
Did some of the signs in this series catch you off-guard or make you think about people you’ve stereotyped in the past? Did some of them resonate with you because you’ve been similarly stereotyped, just because of your age and gender? Good, because that’s the point.
“We did this series because we want the world to see what it is like to be a teenage girl. We want to encourage other girls out there to break out of these stereotypes and not be afraid to speak up. We want people to realize we’re more than a pair of shoes and a tube of lip gloss. We have brilliant thoughts and fiery passions. We want to break down these stereotypes,” Caleigh explains.
If you’d like to participate in this project, we invite you to post your photos of how you are not a stereotype with the hashtag #ImNotAStereotype.
Besides photography and feminism, Caleigh enjoys writing, acting, and singing. Her website is www.caleighzwahlenphotography.com and her Instagram is @auburnskys.