A Cinderella Story

This year, Disney came out with a live-action version of its classic movie “Cinderella”. I saw the advertisement for the film for the first time on the side of an MTA bus in Manhattan. As the bus drove by and I saw the image of 2015 Cinderella for the first time, I was floored. Her waist was unnaturally, dangerously tiny. There has been speculation and debate as to whether the images in the advertisements and film itself were photoshopped, but actress Lily James’ agent did confirm that she wore a corset to shrink her waist.

As a child, Cinderella was my hero and by far my favorite of all the Disney Princesses. I had a Cinderella dress from the Disney Store that I absolutely adored; every day when I got home from preschool, I would change into Cinderella’s outfit and wear it around the house for as long as I possibly could. I wanted to be just like her.

One can imagine how it felt to see my cartoon hero, being portrayed as a real person for the first time, so morbidly skinny. Cartoon Cinderella had a tiny waist too, of course, but the effect is very different and much more powerful when shown on a live woman. I thought about all the little girls who worship Cinderella like I did excitedly going to see live-action Cinderella in theaters; they would see their role model’s waist and subconsciously begin to believe that because the amazing princess was so skinny, that means they should be too.

These kind of beliefs and beauty standards are ingrained in young girls all too frequently. Their heroes have perfectly slender waists, skinny arms and legs, and curvy breasts and bottoms. Barbie, the classic American girl to many children, would have, if enlarged to human proportions, a waist of 18’’, hips of 33’’, and a bust of 39’’. Unrealistic figures like this are everywhere. There is so little variety in images of beauty offered to young girls that it is nearly impossible for uninformed girls not to have this singular ideal of how they should look.

To alter such narrow and dangerous female beauty standards, we need not only to show young girls role models with a much wider variety of appearance, but change the way that they look at themselves. That’s where organizations like Unleashed come in. Girls are applauded for so much more than the size of their waists; they are encouraged to have a voice, defy the status quo, take risks, innovate and step out of their comfort zones. At Unleashed, we teach that a girl doesn’t need a Prince Charming or a glass slipper, and certainly not tiny waist, to be powerful. Power is a seed hidden deep within the souls of each and every girl and woman, and she creates her own fairy tale ending when she embraces and leverages it!
-Rachel Scharf, Unleashed Summer Intern

The Reality of College Rape Culture

Beginning in Fall 2015, Unleashed’s first class of alumnae will be headed to college! This is an exciting milestone for the organization and its girls. Our hope is that we have prepared them for all the new challenges that college brings. It is a time when young people encounter many new aspects of the real world;  independent living, strict deadlines, money management, and many more new challenges are part of the college experience. There is another, more unfortunate aspect of the real world that exhibits itself very potently during the college years: rape culture. As we’ve come to see, most recently through highly publicized cases like Emma Sulkowicz of Columbia or Jackie of UVA, sexual assault is a huge problem on college campuses.

I too will be beginning my first semester of college in the fall, and the reality of the unsafe environment that I am entering has been on my mind and a constant source of nagging worry. At the beginning of my college application process last fall, though articles about Sulkowicz carrying her mattress around Morningside Heights and Jackie being penetrated with a beer bottle were at the top of my news feed and consciousness, I wasn’t too concerned about my own experience, as my college list consisted mostly of small, liberal arts colleges, and these incidents seemed to be occurring mostly at big, traditional schools with active Greek Life. None of the schools I was applying to had fraternities, where most of these cases began, and I thought that my schools’ small, isolated environments would offer administrators who cared about their students, rather than the seemingly heartless ones at the schools in the news who found rapists not guilty despite overwhelming evidence.

This illusion of mine was soon shattered. In December, I read an article about a rape and acquittal of its perpetrator at Vassar College, one of the schools on my list. It was then that I began to realize that college sexual assault isn’t about fraternities or the size and location of a college; it is about college-aged kids who are incredibly susceptible to the national epidemic that is rape culture and administrators who care more about their schools’ reputations than freeing its students from this disease. It is terrible, but it makes sense; you give 18-22 year-olds who’ve been raised in a society of rape culture, victim blaming, and patriarchy complete independence and freedom for the first time and put them in the bubble that is a college campus, and this is where we end up.

I am scared. I am scared for myself, all my female peers, the Unleashed alumnae, and every other college freshman who is entering this disturbing world of college rape culture. Beginning college is such an exciting and important milestone, and it is truly a tragedy that this excitement has been tainted for young women everywhere. To make college and the rest of the world safe for women, we need not only to prepare the next generation of females through programs like Unleashed, but end the rape culture that permeates America and that reveals itself so powerfully in the microcosm of higher education.

-Rachel Scharf, Unleashed Summer Intern

Why Unleashed Matters

Unleashed is committed to investing in  the next generation of powerful female leaders. There are many who are skeptical of such a goal; some like to claim that women have equal rights under the law, women have just as much freedom in modern America as men do, and there are many women in positions of power- they name female CEO’s, female government members, and cite the fact that we even have a woman running for president. There are people who say that feminists are complainers who insist on continuing to fight for something that was achieved 95 years ago with the passage of the 19th Amendment. An organization like Unleashed, they say, is moot.

Unleashed and its goals, however, are the farthest thing from unnecessary. Though it is true that women have equal protection under the law and that there currently are many female leaders in America, the female experience in 2015 remains tragically similar to that of the past. The amount of women in positions of power is not even close to equal to that of men; in 2010, only 8.4% of c-level positions were occupied by women.  Those few females who are in power today are often judged more on how they look than how they lead, talked down to and belittled, paid on average 78% of their male counterparts’ salaries, and accused of being “aggressive” while men who do exactly the same things are praised for being “assertive”.

We live in a complex system that in so many ways hinders women and stops them from becoming and succeeding as the strong leaders that they are capable of being. Issues plaguing this system range from beauty standards to rape culture to perceptions of female weakness, and in a generation in which such ideas are constantly, although not always consciously, being pushed on even the youngest of girls, Unleashed seeks to be part of a solution that will let girls grow up to be the powerful women they can and deserve to be.