Artist Myla DalBesio wrote a compelling cover essay on body image for the latest issue of Suited Magazine, which also appears on Refinery29. It outlines the significance of self-image and the importance of not judging oneself or others negatively based on physical characteristics, or really, causing someone to feel ashamed for themselves physically.
Likewise, social media personality Essena O’Neill recently made headlines for lambasting the growing social brand industry, and her role in it, for placing unnecessary pressure on young girls to emulate the standards of beauty, thinness and perfectionism often seen in cleverly disguised paid posts on Instagram and other social media sites.
The desire to be attractive and liked is universal across cultures globally. It's as strong as the resulting loneliness that accompanies feeling like an anomaly, alien and strange after being picked apart physically. Our preoccupation with our appearance permeates every area of our lives and is so intricately linked to our existences, that often we do not realize how significant it is to our decision-making and perception of others.
The Birth of The Weird Girls Project
It was this intense focus on body image and resulting low self-esteem by women around her that led British-born Iceland-residing conceptual artist Kitty Von-Sometime to launch The Weird Girls Project.
“When I relocated to Iceland a decade ago my social circle had somehow shifted from mostly men to women. I thoroughly enjoyed this,” says Kitty Von-Sometime, on a chilly autumn evening in Reykjavik. “What stunned me was when we were alone together at my home, everyone was very busy enjoying themselves. However, when we went out the mood dramatically shifted to were we cool enough, thin enough, pretty enough? There was such a strong preoccupation with how they measured up, or more, a preoccupation with how others thought they looked, and I saw how it was affecting them. Additionally, as time went on and friendships developed, I realised that of these 10 women, four had experienced eating disorders, and three had experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. I was horrified. But I was even more horrified to discover that this is on par with the experience of women across the western world.”
Kitty had not envisioned The Weird Girls Project as a series when the first episode Neon Fame, featuring ‘Money, Success, Fame, Glamour’ by Felix the Housecat, was produced in February 2007. She devised a shoot for the sole purpose of building up confidence in her fellow women friends. The group of ladies participating and the viewers of the resulting photo and video felt so wonderful and confident that she was inspired to produce another.
The Power Of Redressing Women In Music Videos
Now, The Weird Girls Project has matured into a 25 episode-strong video and photo art series and social experiment, which results in high concept music video-like short films designed to empower both those participating in each shoot and those viewing the episodes. The use of the music video format is especially poignant, given the tendency music videos have of portraying women as little more than sexualized window dressing.
Each episode is shot in one day, kept top secret until the morning of the shoot and features women participants, who until that moment know nothing of what they will be doing and often do not know each other. They have a deep trust in Kitty and a desire to step outside of themselves to be immersed in the bold, powerful, often playful nature of the worlds Kitty creates.
Before your eyes you see women transform from say, the women depicted in Myla DalBesio’s essay, or the impressionable young girls that Essena O’Neill says are consuming her and other social media celebrity content into remarkably, invigorated and better versions of themselves.
“Social media is a place where this is spiralling out of control, and it’s why I specifically focus on the ‘Share’ trigger with my work. It’s been a challenging decision to continue to follow given the production costs involved in producing each episode, most of which I bear myself. But in making my work free and as publicly available as possible, as shareable as possible, I can most effectively counter the negative imagery that girls and women contend with on a daily basis.”
The Rise Of A Global Message
While the project was born in Iceland and was even commissioned by UN Women for their rebrand launch in 2011, it has traveled the world over, through the press and social media, but also in production. Kitty brought The Weird Girls Project to China for a special series with Converse in 2012 and then to Germany for Nordic Arts Festival Nordischer Klang in 2013.
Working on viral content with brands that are granted still selling, but selling products which add to you as YOU without unachievable beauty standards, has been successful. It has also given Kitty the opportunity to test the format in other cultures.
“It’s been very interesting to produce the series in different countries and continents. Culturally there are great differences in what is the most desired aesthetic, between for example - Iceland and China, but what is always present - and why The Project is applicable - is that there is a desire to be ‘perfect’ or better than we are - mostly in a naturally unachievable way. This has always been something pushed for women (although increasingly for men) and it seems like no matter where in the world you are, as long as there is a consumerist media, as a woman - you will be groomed to believe that unless you buy a metric ton of whatever products you can’t possibly be the best you.”
“Working with European women, the concept of dancing freely - in the way that the flower power/psychedelic 70s taught us - is not entirely alien, even though many participants might not have done it. However, in China it took a great deal more encouragement, teach by example, and different ways of explanation to get that concept across.”
Respect Yourself, Embrace Yourself
When I first met Kitty last spring she was in post-production on #EmbraceYourself. While I had been following and admiring the series for years, I wasn't aware of the elements of the social experiment nor how significant the experience of bringing the women participants together for the first time was to the final outcome of the resulting episodes.
“There is almost no way to describe what it’s like to have someone tell you that they feel more positive about themselves, that they look at themselves differently - with more respect and joy. That’s the one thing that an audience member just looking at the pieces won’t get. It’s incredible and makes me cry each and every fucking time.”
For #EmbraceYourself, Kitty dressed her participants in nothing more than a c-string and thick layers of shimmering gold glitter, placed them against a backdrop of mirrors and black volcanic sand and directed them to dance and writhe with the soundtrack song “Dim The Lights” by CREEP (feat. Sia). It is her most critically acclaimed episode to date.
The participants look other-worldly, like goddesses or the personification of achievement. The use of mirrors reminds the viewer to celebrate and love oneself from every angle.
Who Wants To Be Weird?
There is now a documentary entitled I Want To Be Weird, directed by Brynja Dögg Friðriksdóttir, chronicling Kitty's journey in creating The Weird Girls Project. The film is currently touring the international film festival circuit. It screened at The Nordic Panorama Film Festival (Malmö, Sweden), the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival and many others.
“The vibe we get from Kitty, in interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, is of a cool friend-of-a-friend whose contributions to a social setting are always welcome. She’s engaging, intelligent, and has a clear vision and undeniable passion for what she does.” -- The Reykjavik GrapevineYou can check out all of The Weird Girls Project episodes on this website.