Brooks: Photographer seeks to show young women what real beauty is – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Smile, the world tells young women.
But not like that.
Smile, but only with your eyes. Thrust your face forward to accentuate your jawline. Arch your back. Stand at a 45-degree angle to the camera. Do something with your arms. No, not that. Say "prune" instead of "cheese" and give the camera a sultry pout. Arrange your entire body in the shape of an S. Put your tongue between your teeth. Choose a filter. Throw your head back and give a carefree laugh.
This is what it takes to take a perfect picture, according to social media and its influencers.
At her Perfectly Imperfect Studios in St. Paul, photographer LaTwanna Williams watched the young women on the other side of her lens and worried.
"Boys come in and they are very comfortable in front of the camera," said Williams, who watched the dynamic play out again and again when families came in for portraits. "I don't have to give them much direction. They are very comfortable in their skin, they smile or they don't. I don't have to give them direction about how to hold their body."
The girls were another story.
"The girls, I noticed they look off to the side or they're looking down at the ground," she said. "They're really waiting for that instruction: How do I stand? Where do I look? When do I smile?"
Williams wanted to give these girls something better than the perfect photo. She wanted to show them something real. A photo of themselves, facing the camera with confidence, showing their authentic selves to the world.
"Your photograph should show exactly who you are," said Williams, who is hosting a workshop at her studio this Sunday. For $50 — or no cost for youngsters who can't afford the fee — she will put on some music, start a conversation and start chipping away at years of Instagram messaging about which of their selfies are good or bad; which of their features are flattering or flaws.
Facebook spent three years researching the effect its Instagram app has on millions of young users. It found that the photo-sharing site was harmful to almost all of them — but particularly toxic for teen girls.
Instagram bombards users with airbrushed images and curated content that made many youngsters feel unattractive and inadequate, yet kept them hooked and unable to log off, according to the Wall Street Journal, which obtained the research from a company whistleblower.
On Capitol Hill on Thursday, senators roasted Facebook executives for profiteering off social media at the expense of the mental and physical health and self-esteem of children.
"Instagram is that first childhood cigarette meant to get teens hooked early," Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said at the hearing. "Facebook is just like Big Tobacco, pushing a product they know is harmful to the health of young people."
Much of the work Williams does at Perfectly Imperfect these days is helping businesses find their brands. Sunday's "Be Resilient" workshop is an effort to counter some of social media's damaging branding. The event is aimed at girls in fourth through 12th grades whose self-image may have taken a hit from Insta posts telling them their hair is wrong, their skin is flawed, their bodies aren't beach-ready and they need to take 30 selfies to get one that's safe to post online.
To Williams, the only likes that matter are her clients, when they themselves face the camera, looking confident and happy.
"It's OK not to be Insta-perfect, because in reality nobody is," Williams said. "I really try to help girls be OK in their skin. We have the ability to change the narrative."
For more information about Sunday's workshop, visit perfectlyis.com/event/be-resilient.
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Jennifer Brooks is a local columnist for the Star Tribune. She travels across Minnesota, writing thoughtful and surprising stories about residents and issues.

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