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Arizona State University sophomores Jenny Butzbach and Megann Phillips are about to undertake a rather unique approach to studying abroad this summer when they head to Santiago, Dominican Republic in August.
While enrolled in classes, the students will be filming a documentary that aims to shed light on how society and the media define beauty in different ways around the world.
“Everywhere we look, there are reminders to lose weight and ‘get skinny fast,’” said Butzbach, who is studying nonprofit leadership and management through the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the College of Public Programs. “All of the magazine covers and ads are digitally edited, giving people an unrealistic view of what beauty is.”
Having developed a passion in recent years about how she believes media interpret beauty in other cultures, Butzbach has seen the negative effects it has had on people worldwide.
“It is hard not to look at Victoria’s Secret models and wish for their bodies, and I believe a lot of girls and women struggle with that,” Butzbach said. “Trying to control our weight has become such a norm in society that a lot of people don’t even know when they are taking it too far.”
As for Phillips, how other cultures identify beauty is something she looks forward to exploring more.
“In the Dominican Republic, we really want to see how women are expected to alter themselves in order to fit society’s definition of beautiful,” said Phillips, who is studying journalism in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It’s going to be eye-opening for people in the U.S. to remember that box-like definitions of beauty aren’t something that only affects Americans and Europeans. It’s really a universal problem.”
According to Butzbach, the project is in no way intended to attack those who are portrayed in images and videos.
“I don’t want it to seem like I am body-shaming models, because I am not,” she said. “My hope is to make a documentary that gives hope to the young girls and women in America to look past the magazine stands and be confident in their bodies.”
The trip will not mark the students’ first time overseas or engaging with diverse communities.
In 2011, Butzbach took a mission trip to Tokyo, Japan, where she helped teach students English and shared her faith and beliefs. Two years later, another mission trip sent her to San Miguel De Allende, Mexico. Here, Butzbach helped at “Casa de los Angeles” (House of the Angels), a day care center where impoverished working mothers could safely leave their children while heading to their jobs.
For Phillips, who previously studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina, her volunteering experience extends back to her home in Portland, Oregon, when she helped teach children about species conservation at the Oregon Zoo.
“I hope that studying abroad in Santiago will be just as rewarding,” Phillips said.
The semester-long program will help them integrate various aspects of Dominican culture while serving as a key location for their documentary.
“In Latin American countries, they have a different definition of beauty,” Butzbach said.
Phillips added: “We’re going to be exposing people to opinions and points of view that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to understand, and that could really influence, in a positive way, their worldview and the way they see themselves.”
Just one small speed bump in this journey has been the financial cost. While scholarships and working part-time jobs have covered most expenses, the combination of airfare, video equipment and living costs still adds up.
Recently, Butzbach created her own page on the “Go Fund Me” personal fundraising website where people can go online and donate money to help individuals pursuing projects like this. As of March 3, she currently sits at $1,050 with a goal of $4,000.
Written by Chris Hernandez