by MIKE CHAIKEN
Bridgett Burrick Brown has been inside an industry known for beating down a woman’s sense of self-worth.
And she is working to counteract that erosion – and all sources of erosion– for all women, not just models, by launching the Beyond Beauty Project
She describes the project as “a movement and multimedia platform that focuses on inspiring confidence and self-esteem surrounding beauty, body image, and mental health by providing education and awareness around feeling our best mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
The Greenwich, Conn. resident’s credentials in the fashion and beauty industry are stellar. She has appeared in fashion editorials in Korean and Australian Vogue. She has been featured in advertising campaigns and commercials. She has worked with well-known photographers as Bruce Weber, Norman Jean Roy and Ben Watts.
But those accomplishments came with a cost for Brown.
“I think the most detrimental part for me (working within the fashion industry as a model) was never feeling contentment about how I looked, which turned into a mental game,” said Brown in an email interview. “Working as a model, you are constantly being compared to others and judged for how your body, skin, or hair looks. It never felt natural to me, and I would always think, ‘Gosh, but everyone in this room has so much more to offer than how they look.’”
The former model explained, “Sometimes a client could be looking for such a specific look, but it was such an easy setup to tell yourself, ‘You’re not good enough’ if you didn’t get chosen.”
“The (modeling) industry also has this unhealthy dynamic where the model is left in the dark about what is going on with their career,” Brown continued. “We are supposed to show up, look like what they want us to, and have a great bubbly personality. We are told what size our bodies need to be, what color and length our hair needs to be, and how to dress.”
The Beyond Beauty Project was launched by Brown in what she described as the “lowest moment in my life.”
She explained, “I had just lost my mom, dad, brother, and a best friend in two years — immediately followed by three crushing miscarriages, twins at 5.5 months being the final one. Broken and suicidal, I longed for something from my life to be the same as before all the losses.”
After these tragedies in her life, Brown said, “I remember walking into my modeling agency thinking I was ready to return to work, and they told me I needed to lose weight. At 41 years old, I cried my eyes out because someone told me my arms looked big.”
From there, Brown said, “It took me a few days to think and process things. That was the moment when I decided to walk away from an industry that was my home for over two decades. I had never felt comfortable with the judgment around my body, and because of it, I always had a dream to help others feel good about themselves and their bodies.”
Now the mission of the Beyond Beauty Project “is to break down the barriers to self-love and self-worth by redefining the meaning of beauty from the inside out, providing education and awareness around feeling our best mentally, physically, and spiritually. I’m doing this through my podcast, workshops, blog, and social platforms, and I am loving every moment of it.”
Brown points to the rise of social media and social influencers as key culprits in attacking a woman’s, not just a model’s, sense of self-worth in 2022.
Research conducted by the Dove Self-Esteem Project in 2020 revealed startling insights:
80% of girls have downloaded a filter or used an app to change the way they look in photos by age 13.
67% of girls try to change or hide at least one body part/feature before posting a photo of themselves.
59% of girls with lower-reported body-esteem regularly distort their photos before posting them on social media.
37% of girls say they don’t “look good enough” without any photo editing.
“We have a serious body dysmorphia epidemic, which in turn, is a mental health crisis, and I’m not sure it’s as obvious as it needs to be,” said Brown. “It’s unhealthy to look at yourself on social media through filtered lenses and face tuning apps all day. You are bound to be disappointed and confused at the end of the day when you look at yourself in the mirror if you are constantly exposed to these alterations.”
“I believe teenagers and young adults are impacted even more because of influencers like Kim Kardashian,” said Brown. “The Kim Ks of our world are retouching their faces and bodies in real life with plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures and pushing and pulling their bodies so severely to create body shapes that aren’t natural. They are also teaching our youth that life is about how you look instead of who you are.”
Adding insult to injury, Brown explained, “Kim also talks openly about her extreme dieting, how she gets donuts after the event she extreme dieted for is over. By doing this, she is advertising disordered eating and sending the message that if you don’t shove yourself into these boxes, you won’t be accepted or good enough.”
Teens are not the only ones impacted.
In 2020, FHE Health solicited answers for its “Body Image and Social Media Questionnaire.”
FHE Health reported, “When people watch movies and TV, many viewers compare their own bodies to those of the stars onscreen. Our survey found 88 percent of women make these comparisons, compared with 65 percent of men. A whopping 51 percent of women say their body compares unfavorably with media images, while only 37 percent of men say the same.”
Historically, critics have pointed toward the advertising world and fashion magazines as sources for setting women up to feel dissatisfied with who they are. But, Brown said, social media and influencers have not necessarily supplanted those historically negative influences.
“We have more racial, age, gender, and size diversity than ever before (in advertisements and magazines). This does help us feel like we are recognized in advertising and seen in the world,” said Brown. “But today, we also have retouching by professionals for advertising and apps the rest of the world can use to retouch or filter their own photos. So, everything is retouched, and that is a big problem.”
How does Brown feel society should be defining beauty in 2022?
“Maybe we do forego (defining)it,” said Brown. “At the very least, we must shift away from the current definition. It is way too narrow and stifling.”
Brown continued, “Personally, beauty is when I feel my best physically, mentally, and spiritually. And when I am living authentically and in tune with my soul and purpose.
“I know from my years as a professional model that if you don’t feel good on the inside, you will never feel good on the outside; it does not matter how much you look like the beauty ideal,” said Brown. “We grow up thinking that if we look like the girls on the covers of magazines, we will be happy, accepted, and successful; but I can tell you from being that girl that it will never make you happy.”
Through the Beyond Beauty Project, Brown is doing what she can counteract the negative forces eroding a woman’s sense of self-worth.
“My project is meant to help others heal and feel the best about themselves,” said Brown. “We are changing these narratives for generations to come.”
For more information about the Beyond Beauty Project, visit https://www.beyondbeautyproject.com