So wow.  First off, I want to say that it's INCREDIBLE how honest 4 strangers can be in front of a mediator and note-taker/recordist.  The UAB Girl's Focus Group was AWESOME!   I can't wait to go back over the notes and tape!  I got a lot of good info from tonight!  Before I review the notes, I want to go ahead with my field notes so I can write about what was most memorable to me.  First off, it seems that not everyone is so open to this idea of compliments being powerful.  There are more conditions behind compliments than I realized.  Maybe I'm just a bit naive, but I generally accept compliments from anyone because I personally crave spoken affirmation.  This is mostly just a personal thing because of my past.  Others have a difficult time receiving compliments from strangers, because of a fear that it might be a "Regina from Mean Girls compliment" aka, a lie or negative gesture.  Of course, there's also the issue of girls not being able to figure out if a guy really means they look nice or if he's trying to come on to a girl.  Then there's also a danger in being over-complimented so that the compliments don't really seem to have worth.  It was good for me to see other people's take on this.  My brain doesn't quite work the same when it comes to compliments. 
One of my favorite comments of the night was in reference to fashion.  The quote was that fashion should, "set the trend, not the norm."  There was a good bit of discussion on how the media and fashion present us these models that we know don't exist in everyday life.  We know that we're not supposed to believe that normal people are that size, but there's usually so many problems with shopping and trying to find proper clothing for each shape and size that we think the real problem is that we don't look like those models.  This presents questions that have been popping up in my head now and then- why are most stylish clothes in such incredulous sizes?  Is society trying to impress upon us that if you're bigger, you must not care about what you look like?  Or it being the perfect(impossible) size with the right kind of curves and waste an elitist thing?  There's not only a problem with clothes that are too small, there is also a problem with clothes that are too big.  Even smaller wastes girls can have larger butts or smaller chests than clothing stores suggest we should have.  Why aren't women's clothes more women-friendly?
Another topic we discussed was how women look at food an exercise.  There is a thought that I dare say crosses a multitude of women's minds and not just a few of my focus group girls.  This thought is that, "If I were only x lbs lighter...." and this thought can end with many things like, "...the right kind of guy would like me," or, "I would look right in clothes."  There's so much focus on being skinny that we start to label foods as "good" and "bad."  We often desire to lose weight, so we try to go for the good foods, but when we're feeling down we often turn to the "bad" foods to make us feel better.  I shared my thoughts with my group on this topic because some of the girls mentioned these things and I brought up something that happened in my own life to change the way I view food.  After a wake up call on my doctor on how seriously high my cholesterol is (I'm only 22!!!), I realized that obsessing over losing weight and eating more "good" vs "bad" food is not the way to change my eating habits.  Instead, I've become more conscious of what foods actually contain, e.g. cholesterol, carbs, and sugar.  I've realized that there are plenty of things I enjoy eating that are low in carbs with no cholesterol.  I did have to give up french fries and I can hardly ever eat cheeseburgers, but I've realized that these foods aren't just bad-- they're hazardous to my health!  I can tell our society is becoming a little more conscious of our health, but we have a long way to go.  How can you convince people to go to the doctor and get their blood tested to see how healthy they are on a chemical level?  Most people judge health by how much body fat is visible.  What you eat really matters so much more than that!  The other side to labeling food as "good" or "bad" is the eating disorder side of things.  After watching Laura Greenfield's Thin, it's like there's a list of "bad" food that continually grows to eventually encompass all food.  I really don't think any food deserves to be labeled outright "bad."  There are foods that are more fattening than others or more sugary than others, but if only eating once in awhile, they're not bad!  Moderation for the purpose of health is something that needs to be taught a little more often.  I wish every high school and/ or college student was required to take a basic nutrition course.
Speaking of required classes, I think college males should all be required to take a Women's Studies class as core curriculum.  The first thing we looked at and one of the things we ended on was a magazine cover of Cosmo with Scarlette Johansson on it.  I think we all agreed that SJ is a beautiful woman with a nice body.  What we did not agree on is that how she was presented on the cover of the magazine represented who she was.  Everyone in the group agreed that the magazine cover said, "Sex," loud and bold.  Not only was it written on the cover a few times, but it was obvious because of how SJ was dressed.  The focus group recognized that women are often sold as sexual images when it comes to the media.  There are not only negative self-image issues that spring from this because some women feel inadequate, but there is also a hesitance to dress up!  A lot of women enjoy dressing up and looking pretty- it's a form of self-expression.  However, some of the girls in the group expressed a "safety net" of not adding lip stick, or not wearing certain clothing or accessories because they're afraid of attracting negative attention from males.  By negative, they clarified they meant sexual advances from complete strangers.  Presenting women as sexual objects seems to empower men to think that any woman can be treated as a sexual objects.  This keeps women from being able to express their personality through their appearance!  Also, there was some discussion about how there seems to be a norm that men expect from makeup and that to go outside the norm and do something a little crazy should be judged and not accepted.  Who are men to tell us what we can look like?  It was annoying to the girls in the group that they couldn't just be who they wanted to be.  The girls did express a sense of hope through Dove's Movement for Self-Image and Seventeen magazine's diversity in showing girls of all shapes and sizes.  We're headed in the right direction, but this isn't over yet.  I think after this group I've gained insight on two main things:  It is important that we change the way everyone thinks about women and that no one- male or female- holds women to an unrealistic expectation.  Second, one of the biggest ways we can spread confidence and encouragement is to be honest and open with our friends.  Compliments usually mean the most when they come from our friends, but sometimes our friends are the hardest people to be honest with.  We have a real need to be transparent with people that care for us because we'll all be stronger if we don't face our battles alone.
I really hope every girls left the focus group a little more confident and encouraged by their honesty with each other, and I hope they took comfort that they're not the only one that struggles from time to time. 

Over the past month I've received emails, fb messages, and quicktime videos in response to three questions I asked every girl I knew. Question 1: What is beauty? Question 2: Are you beautiful (why or why not)? and Question 3: Who is beautiful? I got answers from girls as young as 16 and as mature as late 40's. I've also spent the past month paying closer attention to facebook and tumblr notes and posts written by girls in high school and college.  I've noticed some common things in each response and note that I would like to talk about individually in this field notes/ blog.
#1 - Beauty is your heart/ comes from within
Almost every single woman and girl that responded to my questions said something about true beauty being inside you.  It is an inner strength, your character, the spirit within you.  It makes me wonder if this is a flaw in our society.  Inside beauty is a great thing to cherish, but why such little attention to outside beauty?  Some ladies thought that outer beauty reflected inner beauty.  Others felt that there was really no worth in outer beauty.  Others knew exactly what their outer flaws were and were quick to point them out, but they recognized their inner beauty and valued that as higher.  After doing research in the past month through watching documentaries, reading articles and books, and participating in my gender role sociology class, I wonder if American culture has gone so far to equate women to sexual objects that women are turned off to the thought that they could be beautiful on the outside... Do we view ourselves as things to be decorated for men?  When girls are little, they often play dress up- they enjoy getting all made up.  Obviously with shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and America's Next Top Model there is still a portion of society that likes to play dress up, but what is there cost?  I can't see how some of the people on those shows can be truly happy because people put on such a facade.  A question for my focus group centers around the possibility of finding a balance.  Can you truly value both outer and inner beauty at the same time?  It seems as though some people obsess over outer beauty to find their worth, but there's another group of people that put such little value on their appearance that they really don't see the beauty of their bodies and faces because they try to fall back and rely on the inner strength and beauty they possess.  Can there not be a better balance of these two things?
#2 - True beauty comes from God
I realize that this statement probably would not have been a common theme if I didn't know so many Christian women.  To be fair- I sent my questions to every female I know on facebook and the majority of the ones that responded were Christian.  I wonder what that says about our perception of beauty...  Do Christians care more about beauty or are they more eager to answer the question?  Several girls believe that the Holy Spirit indwelling in a person makes them beautiful- which goes back to all the comments about character revealing true beauty.  One lady also believed that physical beauty is possible through taking apt care of the body God blesses each of us with.  She believes that God created our bodies to be active and that they function best when we are active, eating the most naturally grown foods, and enjoying the sunshine.  Other women knew that they were beautiful because God believes they're beautiful.  Instead on leaving themselves to judge they're beauty, they look to God to judge their beauty.  All of the answers I got intrigued me, but I was most intrigued by the amount of Christian women that responded to my message as opposed to all the other women I asked.  I'm not particularly close to the women and girls that responded, whether or not they were Christian, so why did these ladies have something to say?
#3 - Boys.
I've read some disheartening things about ladies that feel incompetent or unattractive because of rejection.  I've also gotten a few responses that hinted that men & the media are the judges of who is externally beautiful.  Why do we let this happen?  One of my favorite responses to my questions was a girl that is so confident that every single woman has strength and personality inside of her that is beautiful and that without clothes, makeup, etc we are still left with our strength and beauty.  I think she's on to something.  I personally think that we have the potential for strength, that we don't always fulfill.  We all have differing personalities and interests and different points of view.  I believe we're made like that for a reason and that our individuality is an attribute of our beauty.  So why do so many girls conform to this sexual/ lustful image?  Aren't we worth more than that?  Dreamworlds 3 is a documentary I watched recently and it absolutely repulsed me.  Pair it with a recent article I read: Teaching about Being an Oppressor: Some Personal and Political Considerations, and you get an acute taste of what a man-driven society this is.  Men should NOT define us.  I don't typically consider myself a feminist... there's a lot of negative connotation in my mind with that word.  I consider myself an activist for equal rights and equal perception.  One gender shouldn't control the other, and the majority of women in the media today are sexuality in some way or another.  Not cool, America. Not cool.  I see the struggles my friends on facebook and tumblr are dealing with and I want to ask them, "Why are you looking for validation in an imperfect male?"  Why do we also look for validation in the latest fashion trends and what magazines tell us we should look like?  I can't imagine that the majority of us are happy feeling like we have an impossible standard to live up to.  Just watch Grace's rant near the end of The September Issue and you'll see how the creative director of Vogue recognizes the models "aren't real people."  If we all face this same problem of not feeling beautiful on the outside, why don't we do something?  Why aren't we more open about encouragement?  We're all humans, we all have emotion, typically as women we all have something inside of us that wants to nurture and help others.  Why don't we spend more time helping ourselves?  Some women are catching on to this.  My final notes are a thank you to the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem and Operation Beautiful.  They've seen the need and they've done something about it.  Now it's my turn.
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