Body Image and Making Films

By Michelle Gallarza -- All through middle school I heard girls complain about their bodies. They would say, “I’m fat.” They would say they felt ugly without makeup. Some girls wouldn’t be allowed to wear makeup so they would get to school and put it on in the bathroom in a hurry and then take it off before they left school. It was difficult to hear these comments.

When I got to high school at the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School (MACCS) I noticed that the girls there weren’t as worried about their appearance, about looking like the young women in commercials. They were more concerned with their art and their identity. In ninth grade, all students take a media literacy class with Media Literacy Project. This was the first time I can remember looking at the content and the messages in our media. After this class I continued to think about media messages throughout high school.

I didn’t start to think about body image in a deeper way until the following year when something happened to a celebrity. For years I had been a fan of Demi Lovato, a signer and Disney product. In tenth grade I heard that Demi went into rehab for an eating disorder. I was really upset. I remember telling my older sister, who just made fun of me because I didn’t really know Demi. I was just a fan, and Demi was a celebrity. Yet, I was so upset I wanted to cry. Her public image showed her always happy and smiling. I couldn’t understand how this person could have all this pain and addiction. From then on I continued to think more about media and its connection to body image.

One of the counselors and one of the social workers at MACCS had been asking me to join MLP’s Girl Tech program for years. I finally agreed to join when I was a senior in high school. I actually agreed at first only because they kept asking me. When I talked to Jessica Collins at MLP before the first Girl Tech meeting, she explained that we would make our own video in the program. Then I got really excited.

Once the program started, we talked about different issues that impact women and girls. In one activity we mapped out these circles and made notes in them about our gender, our health, our sense of safety, and our sexuality. We told stories and watched other youth-made videos. I remember the video Image of Contamination. It was about the ways our environment can affect our bodies. From these conversations we came up with the issue we wanted to make a video about. I, of course, chose body image. Fortunately, there were two other girls who were interested in body image and wanted to make a video about it. One was my sister Wendy Gallarza and our friend Anamarie Regino.

I know there are body image videos out there, but I have actually never seen any of them. We just knew we wanted to make a video for girls before they got to high school with a message to value themselves for who they are and what they can do. Often in media, the focus is on the physical appearance of women rather than their abilities. My co-directors and I decided that our other main message could be encouraging girls to look within themselves for those things that make them unique.  Therefore, we looked for girls who were willing to share a little about themselves. For the next six months we wrote, produced, and edited our video.

Over the course of the summer, we battled scheduling conflicts and shooting video in the New Mexico July heat, but we still had a lot of fun filming in the park. Editing was my favorite part of the process. I think this was because Wendy and Anamarie were a lot of fun to edit with. With editing you just go in and you sit one place. You don’t have to carry equipment around and deal with people. When we had the final cut, I was really excited for more people to see it. But I was even more excited and hopeful that at least one person watching would feel inspired by our video. 

Currently I am completing my first year in college. I am studying nutrition. The body image issue is the reason why I want to become a nutritionist. I want to help others, especially girls who are always complaining about their bodies. Instead, I want people to look at themselves with the love and respect we all deserve.

Michelle’s Girl Tech video It’s My Body can be found here. If you would like to support MLP’s Girl Tech program consider donating or becoming a Media Literacy Project sustainer. Sustainers are monthly donors who give $5 or more each month to keep our media literacy programs and campaigns going so that we can build a better world through media.