Living in a selfie society

Photo exhibit portrays women in social media

By gabriella patti | 2/19/14 7:06pm


Portrayal of Women on Social Media project was initiated out of a desire to further shed light on how social media has reinforced the messages that media has been giving out for decades to women. GVL / Laine Girard

by Laine Girard / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Today’s college students are no strangers to social media. They scroll through Instagram on the bus, check Twitter on the walk to class and Snapchat in between. At Grand Valley State University, several students explored the effects of this growing trend through photography.

From Feb. 18 through March 9, the photography project called “The Portrayal of Women on Social Media” will be displayed in the Gary and Joyce DeWitt Exhibition Space located in the Mary Idema Pew Library.

Laine Girard

GVL / Laine GIrard Photographer Makenna Runion speaks about the symbolism behind her photographs and how the display is meant to capture the pressures that social media places on women to portray themselves in media settings, such as Facebook profile pictures and Instagram photos.

The project features 12 images of six high school girls. In each set of photos, there is a picture of the girl in her natural state without make-up and in the process of doing something that she loves. The second photo is of the same girl dolled-up and posed in the way that she believed to be social-media worthy.

“What started as a simple assignment for one of our final projects at Grand Valley turned into an eye opening journey. It is very difficult to walk away from an experience like this unchanged,” said Makenna Brooke Runion, the photographer for the project and a GVSU alumna.

Runion took the photos for a women and gender studies capstone project done by GVSU students Amanda Hentsch, Sashara Campbell and Elizabeth Batten.

The images’ stark contrasts led the students to a powerful statement.

“We were supposed to choose a gender justice issue that we are very passionate about and produce the programming to spread awareness to the issue,” Campbell said. “This is our way of fighting back and educating this campus about negative beauty ideals.”

The group began the project in the fall of 2013. The participants became dedicated to helping women see their true selves rather than a falsified “perfect” image that the media has made so popular among women.

“The need for women to know their true beauty and worth is made only more vital by the images that media has chosen to be the standard,” Runion said. “It is not novel news that the general overall body image of girls in America is not very positive.”

The group is concerned that the culture in the U.S. has set women up for failure by placing unnaturally high beauty standards on them that are nearly impossible to reach.

“It is important to take away the overall message that social media plays an increasing role in the pressures of unrealistic body imaging on women, and it is very hard to conform to these images,” Hentsch said. “These photos display the two ideals: the actual natural beauty and the beauty that the media places on women.”

The project was a student initiative put on with the help of GVSU’s Women’s Center.

Jo Ann Wassenaar, associate director of the Women’s Center, encouraged women to use social media in a positive way.

“We should be standing up and calling it out when behavior is not correct,” Wassenaar said.

GVSU has resources on campus for students struggling with body image, and Wassenaar encourages individuals to visit the Women’s Center for support.

“An important part of this is the idea of sisterhood,” Runion said. “It makes it easier when you are surrounded by women who believe in you.”

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