Jess Weiner: Actionist, Ambassador, and Advocate for Girls
Jess Weiner is an author, advice columnist, and major media personality." She is also an ambassador for the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem. Weiner reaches out to young women to promote self-confidence and body awareness. She runs the advice column, "Jess's Body Peace Blog," for Seventeen magazine and has written two books. A Very Hungry Girl chronicles Jess's personal struggles with eating disorders, her journey to becoming a motivational speaker, and stories and insight from women around the world about body image and self-esteem. Her second book, Life Doesn't Start Five Pounds from Now, reads like a manual for decoding "the language of fat" and motivates girls and women to gain self-acceptance and body confidence." Jess Weiner travels worldwide speaking with community leaders, mothers, and daughters. Teen Voices peer leaders Bria Gadsden, 17, and Denesha Peter, 18, spoke with Weiner to discuss self-confidence, self-awareness, and her future plans.
Teen Voices (TV): As a child, what relationship did you have with your own body image and self-esteem?
Jess Weiner (JW): I" wrote a lot about this topic in my first book, A Very Hungry Girl. My body image and self-esteem were very low as a child and a teenager. I was a very bright, talented young woman who struggled to feel pretty, fit, and special enough. I understand firsthand how terrible it feels to not feel good enough, and how much that can impact and influence your life. I took what bothered me as a teenager and turned it into something powerful: a career that reaches out to other teens, helping them feel powerful too.
TV: You are known as a major female "actionist" around the world. What is your definition of a true actionist?
JW: An actionist does not wait for somebody or something to make a difference, but takes action themselves. When young women and men feel empowered to take action in their lives, they can help solve issues. Sometimes we forget to rely on one of our biggest allies—ourselves.
TV: As an ambassador for the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem, you've learned a lot about women and girls around the world who are facing self-esteem issues. What are the most surprising things that you've learned?
JW: One of the most surprising things I've learned from my work is that girls everywhere, whether they are wearing burkas or Birkenstocks, feel the same pressure to fit in, to be accepted, to be valued, to be loved. It's a universal challenge. The way it gets expressed is different from country to country and culture to culture, but people across the globe are all dealing with the same issues—wanting to be connected and feel loved.
TV: What type of events does the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem participate in?
JW: The Dove Movement for Self-Esteem is dedicated to helping create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety. On Dove.com we have exercises and activities for moms and girls (ages 8-18) that are designed to increase self-confidence. We believe that even if you can spend just an extra hour with a girl in your life you can help her to" realize her full potential.
TV: How did you get involved with the Dove Movement? And what can teen girls do to get involved as well?
JW: I have been the Global Ambassador for the Dove Movement for five years and I tell ever girl I meet that there are three simple ways to get involved:" (1) Like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/dove) and join our community of over two million people who care about self-confidence. (2) Get involved in our "Movement" tab on our Facebook page—it's there that I'll leave inspiring notes, exercises, messages, and opportunities to be a part of the campaign. (3) Take some of the exercises and activities on our website and bring them to your classroom, book club, mother/daughter events, or just use them in your own life.
TV: You are currently writing your third book that focuses on the relationship between mothers and daughters. What can teens and parents do to reach out to one another?
JW: Every mother thinks her teen daughter doesn't" understand her life and every teen thinks her mother doesn't understand hers. So it's important to open your mind when talking to your parents. Don't assume that because they don't know the latest term or trend that they are completely out of touch. What matters most is honest communication, open lines of dialogue on even tough issues, and being able to say "I'm sorry" when you are. Forgiveness is key to moving past petty arguments that can hold you in a place of discontent. Listen more—that's my advice for both parents and teens!
TV: Do you believe that with more support systems, the number of women and girls who develop low self-esteem will decrease overtime?
JW: I think that we need to continue to create resources for girls and women all over the world. We need to keep having these conversations, but I don't think [conversations] will eradicate the issues that make people feel poorly about themselves. I don't think the issues are ever going to go away completely, but I think we can change the way we talk about them.
TV: What advice would you give to girls to start feeling better about themselves, more confident, and less self-conscious?
JW: You have a million choices to make in the day and figuring out how to feel about your body is one of them. Don't get stuck in the past story of your life: "I weigh this much, or someone said this to me about my butt, etc." " Make up your own body story every day. Start the day affirming that you will treat yourself and your body with respect today. That means not speaking ill of yourself or tearing yourself down. Girls have to realize that their body isn't a separate thing—it's a vessel that carries their spirit through life. Love that vessel. Honor it. And take good care of it daily." That choice is completely in your power.
TV: A quotation from your article "Emotional Fitness: How Many Calories Does that Burn, Again?" reads: "I would learn that fitness was just as much about emotional and spiritual well-being as it was about physical fitness." Why do you believe that emotional well-being is also a contributing factor in being "fit"?
JW: Our emotions are everything. In our country and culture, we are not supposed to have emotions. But I believe that our emotional life teaches us how to listen to our own gut, listen to our instincts, and connect with other people. It's really important that we don't think of our body as something that lives outside of ourselves, but instead, as part of us. When you are emotionally connected, expressive, and feeling free, it makes you want to smile, stand up straight, and have fun. You need to have your emotional well-being in balance. Otherwise, you won't be motivated to take care of your body.
TV: We noticed that you were named one of the "14 Power Women to Follow on Twitter" by Forbes.com. Do you believe that social media is a good way for people to share their opinions and spread awareness about an issue?
JW: Whether it's a good thing or not, people spread their opinions on social media. I think social media is a platform; it's a way to reach people. If you use social media the way it was designed—to connect—you can reach thousands of people. I have 8,000 people follow me on Twitter. The idea that I can, on any given day, put out a thought and it will reach that many people is really exciting. It comes with responsibility though—you have to be responsible for yourself and your material.
I still think that the most effective way to reach people is face to face. When you want to apologize to somebody, you need to look them in their eyes. When you want to confess something or connect with someone, you can never underestimate the power of human touch. I don't think any kind of convenient media social platform can ever replace that.
TV: How have you ever been in a situation where you had to take your own advice in your personal life?
JW: Everyday. Not only that, but I wish I listened to myself more! Just because I've spent many years working on these issues doesn't mean I've perfected it. I make mistakes; I fall down; I have doubts; I have horrible days; and I have great days. The difference is that I have a different set of tools now to help me play the game of life a little bit differently. That's all anyone can really ask for and want. No one is perfect and no one gets it right all the time. Just be kind and grateful to yourself, and remember your own good advice now and then. I think everyone has good advice, not just me—I borrow from everyone I can!
TV: Teen Voices celebrates girls of many different ethnicities and physical shapes by featuring real girls without any makeup online, and on the cover and inside of our print magazine. Many people argue that most popular magazines today do not represent the "average girl" on their covers. What are your thoughts about this?
JW: [Most magazines] don't represent average girls on their covers at all. Teen magazines won't change until their readers, the audience, and the consumers demand it. We might want their covers to feature real women, but the bottom line is that we still buy the magazines, even if they don't. Teens want to be reading what other teens are reading. They want to feel connected. But sometimes, in order to make great change, you have to stand up and you have to make a decision that can be hard. I wish that magazines would be more inclusive, but they're not. To change this, everyone needs to speak up—everybody has to do their part to elevate the message.
TV: As an advice columnist for Seventeen magazine, what are the most frequently asked questions you get, and what can girls do to better their self-esteem?
JW: I often get asked questions about how to lose weight. And it's such a tricky thing to answer because I don't know the medical or emotional history of the girls asking, and without seeing them in person, or knowing their medical history, well, I don't think any advice columnist can tell someone what to do. I try to steer them back to the truth about changing your body—whether it's weight or hair color—it's your choice and you have to enter into that choice lovingly. Our body is full of cells, muscles, and memory. Yes, it holds memory. And it can feel and hear us when we trash it. So we have to become a protector of our bodies. Getting proper medical advice is important if you feel you need help losing weight. Otherwise, my answer is move more, and enjoy healthier foods. (Most people know what those are, but [if not], here's a hint: if it comes in a box with words you can't understand, don't eat it). And most of all, celebrate your ability to move through life with a healthy body. That gratitude is an important part of raising self-esteem.
TV: What is one of your proudest accomplishments, and why?
JW: I love them all! There are two that really stand out: I've written two books that I'm proud of. Also, I had a dream as a teenager and in my twenties. I wanted to be on Oprah before I was thirty. Four days after I turned thirty, I went on Oprah for my first book. I think about that moment a lot—not because I was on Oprah and it was cool, which it was, but because I got to see a dream fulfilled. I got to experience what that felt like. I think that's really a powerful reminder that we can set our minds to accomplish anything.
TV: What advice would you give to teen girls who are passionate about overcoming low self-esteem or helping their friends do the same?
JW: Remember that having confidence is not a race; it's a marathon. I want to teach teen girls how to have balance and how to understand their emotions better. I want them to realize that they don't need to be fixed—there's nothing wrong with them. Everyone has problems, but we don't have to let those problems define us. We have to learn how to be the person we want to be. I want to remind teen girls of their power. That power doesn't lie in a pair of shoes, your weight, or your hair length. It lies within your heart, spirit, soul, mind, and vision. I want girls to develop better and different relationship with themselves.
Top photo by Dana Patrick
For more information about Jess Weiner and her efforts to empower girls, see: http://www.jessweiner.com/
Tagged as: Ambassador, body image, Bria Gadsden, Denesha Peter, Dove, Dove Movement for Self-Esteem, Jess Weiner, leadying lady, love yourself, self-esteem