“I want to encourage people to follow their path and to see whatever they can do, change what is just in front of you. This project has had an enormous impact, and I thought it was just a small thing to do. I would encourage women to think what is in their everyday life and what can be done to make life for women better.” — Paula Escobar Chavarría
One of my colleagues from the Yale World Fellows Program class of 2012 decided to take a stand against our looks-obsessed culture. Paula Escobar Chavarría is the editor of the magazine that accompanies El Merurio, Chile’s foremost newspaper. In 2014, she decided on a new policy for the magazine: they would use no photographs that depicted underweight or under-age models, nor would they permit digital alterations to images. They would also not publish fad diets.
There could have been a lot of resistance. Post-production alterations to images had become so much the industry norm that few photographers would feel comfortable with the new policy. Models would now have to bring a doctor’s note, verifying their age and body mass index (BMI), and around 90% of models would not meet the new criteria.
But Paula was a smart operator, and got all the relevant individuals on board before announcing the policy, so it was agreed relatively smoothly.
Paula felt that it was her responsibility to use her position of influence to fight back against the industry standard that was creating such devastating side effects, particularly among young women, in terms of poor body image leading to eating disorders and lack of self-esteem. As a mother of two daughters and a son, she cared enough to take a stand.
Paula Escobar Chavarría quotes:
“For me journalism is more than work, it is a vocation, my metier. From the beginning my approach has been to be as honest and fair and accurate as possible …. We have to be ethical and independent and truthful.”
“We have this idea like we are a guest in this world that belongs to men. So we have to be perfect so as not to be thrown out of this world. We have to be perfect in our home, our jobs, our bodies. You can’t be courageous and bold and an explorer. You’re very cautious and trying to be perfect. I don’t know who put this awful idea in our heads because perfection does not exist. And this idea only applies to women. Men can be fat and bald and feel great with themselves. There is nothing in society saying they have to be thin and good-looking. They have the freedom to whatever they want, to be the leaders they want to be… that is something we have to change for the next generation. Every generation has put another flag in this man’s world. We need to carry on doing that. And embrace our mistakes and our errors.”
“We women should have more solidarity between us. Sometimes you feel this sense of competition between women. The worst critics and the most painful ones come from women to other women in power. Politicians, colleagues. One thing we can start changing is to have more solidarity, and to advocate for other women. Speak up for other women if they are being criticised behind their backs. Let’s feel that we are all in the same boat. It’s not a fight against men, it’s a fight against stereotype and against this society that has put so many restrictions against women throughout the ages. Be the advocate, not the competition.”
“You have to love what you do. And when you love it you will be great, and will make that profession better.”
The Huffington Post has released this video about my story. Enjoy!
I will be giving a lecture on “Extreme Rowing” in Cambridge on 10th February. It would be great to see you there!