Some student reactions: “She’s trying to be like those magazine covers.” “She’s insecure.” She doesn’t look like those photos.” “She pretty, just like those photos.” “She’s studying to be a fashion designer.” ”Those books are going to fall on her head. She must really like to study.” And this from a fifth-grader in the back of the room: “Are those photos on the wall all of the same person?”
How many photos do we consume everyday that shape how we look at each other and ourselves? A study at the University of Minnesota estimated that girls 11 to 14 are subjected to some 500 advertisements a day and that by staring at a Photo-shopped image for one to three minutes can negatively affect self-esteem. How difficult is it to measure up to societal definitions of beauty and masculinity?
The high school student in this photo navigates between the image-soaked mass culture that surrounds her and the culture of her family, who immigrated from Egypt. Her father is very religious and prays five times a day. “I think he’s even more religious after we came here,” she says, “because he’s afraid that we will forget about our language, culture and traditions. But it’s hard for us because he wants us to cover our heads and not wear pants. It’s the Muslim tradition. But in America everyone can wear whatever they want. I think that’s good.
“My father wants us to only be with people of our own race, our own culture, but none of my friends are Egyptian. They are American, Chinese, and Asian—from all over the world! I do a lot of activities in school. When I go I don’t want to leave. I don’t even want to come home. I like learning. I’m on the National Honor Society. My GPA is 4.0. I want to be different and have my own way of life. I like new fashions. I want to be a heart surgeon. I want to be famous.”