Emory Report

March 27, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 26

First Person:

St. John's search for beauty

By Shani St. John, senior English major

"Close your eyes . . . think about all the beautiful women you come from. Mother, madre, mama, ma-a-a-a, mom . . . Think of the lessons you've learned, how her past is becoming your present."

"Now," Suzie Galler said, "open your eyes." Then she smoothly launched what would prove, for me, to be a life-changing program.

Entrepreneur, producer, director, mother, daughter, Galler now stands as a role model to the many young women she encounters.

It began with a vision. Perhaps it was witnessing through her daughter's eyes the powerful impact the world has on impressionable little girls. Maybe it was the mixed self-esteem messages she recalls from her own childhood. But whatever the reason, and there are many, the empowerment of young women has become her life's work.

With this vision as impetus Galler directed and produced I Am Beautiful, a documentary that shares the powerful stories of women who overcame esteem-shattering adversity to embrace their own beauty. Galler is president and founder of Muse Entertain-ment, a women's programming production company. She has had more than 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry and has produced, written and directed programs for major networks like Disney, NBC, Lifetime and CBS/Fox.

Her film, I Am Beautiful, opens the series of empowerment and self-esteem building films that the company is producing. These are important stories to tell.

Galler spoke wisely, humbly and with eloquence. As one well-wisher commented, "She delivered her message without preaching or being overbearing." Instead, she blended powerful and insightful commentary with excerpts from the film, allowing the audience to bear witness as the women spoke for themselves.

I Am Beautiful presents diverse stories. Some of the hardest hitting were shared by an HIV-positive foster mother of abandoned children and a homeless mother of five who started her own shelter. Celebrities such as Courtney Cox even made appearances in the film.

But Galler did more than just document these and other stories. She asked again and again the vital question, "Why are you beautiful?" The women cited many different kinds of reasons, from the complex to the simple. Reasons ranged from motherhood, the ability to succeed in a man's world, because "I am breathing," or to one child's "I am beautiful because I am just beautiful."

Something within these women rose to the challenge despite every "no," "you can't," or "it's never been done." They emerged renewed from their struggles and fortified with an unshakable self belief. They proclaim unequivocally, "I am beautiful," and encourage us to do the same.

As she closed the program Galler pointed the way to the kind of success, strength, and power the women in the film seemed to radiate.

The first step, said Galler, is to "turn away from the self-loathing your mothers unconsciously taught you." She emphasized it is vital that women stop criticizing their bodies and destroying their spirits the way their mothers might have: "The beautiful women we come from never knew how beautiful they were."

Galler further suggested a single means of combating violence, eating disorders, drug abuse and virtually all the problems that plague us as a planet: "embark upon a search for beauty." She ended the program as profoundly as she began it: "Recognize and appreciate that your inner beauty is not a privilege. It is your birthright."


My immediate response to Galler's program was a powerful one. As a woman who came of age in a culture that proliferates images of a Eurocentric ideal of beauty, Galler's program resonated for me. We are presented with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed depiction of idealized beauty and told this is the standard to meet. This measuring stick is a standard against which all women are measured, and most fall short.

As an African American female, this image is the antithesis of what I am. In the midst of this cultural misinformation we are constantly being fed, which our mothers have also been privy to, Galler's program provided a moment of affirmation.

It was empowering to hear women who didn't match the cultural standard embrace their own beauty. It felt much "safer" to tentatively embrace my own. Galler reconfirmed the fact that America's obsession with physical appearance isn't some random phenomenon but instead has deeply seated roots. This is something the American people are slowly beginning to grasp.

We are awakening in the midst of some collective trance and coming to realize what we should have known all along: Beauty is not something that magazines, fashion models or media hype should define. It lies within our own hearts, waiting for us to find the courage to claim it.


The "I Am Beautiful" program was sponsored by Emory Women's Center, Intersorority Council, University Health Services, University Counseling Center and the Office of Greek Life.

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