Students attract clicks and applause with self-acceptance message


With a video clip, help from fashion industry professionals and a social media campaign, three Ghent students are spreading body positivity messages across Flanders

Love your flaws

A trio of Flemish communications students have created a short video about self-image issues among teens and young adults as part of their coursework at the Artevelde University College in Ghent. To their own surprise, the clip has had a reach far beyond their teachers and fellow students.

The #conqueryourflaws video opens with a young man scrolling through a feed of fashion photos, all of them showing impossibly perfect bodies. Two other young people with glum expressions idle through the empty streets of the east Flemish town of Doel. When asked to describe themselves, they offer up only negative qualities – “unattractive”, “stressed” and “plain”.

The clip then switches to Sabine Peeters, a makeup artist and body positivity advocate. Looking straight into the camera, she urges viewers to look for and focus on their positive aspects, and to learn to love themselves.

Sofie Van Speybroeck, one of the students who made the clip, says many adolescents today struggle with problems with self-esteem. “A lot of young people feel deeply unhappy with themselves. If you see the data from surveys, it’s almost dramatic how many young people are not happy with their appearance,” she says. “Hence our choice to do something about self-esteem among young people.”

The students recruited two fashion industry professionals to participate in the project – Peeters and fashion blogger Joppe De Campeneere. “This certainly helped draw attention to our clip,” Van Speybroeck says. “But the fact that various media picked it up so quickly was a surprise. That shows that it remains important to talk about the message of being happy with yourself.”

A love of negativity

De Campeneere, who plays the young man looking at the fashion images, writes the popular blog Start to Fashion. He was immediately enthusiastic about the message. “The most important thing is that people are taught to like themselves and to focus on the positive side we all have,” he says. 

The impact of what you see on the streets is increasing, and there, almost no-one has a ‘perfect’ size

- Fashion blogger Joppe De Campeneere

In De Campeneere’s view, the media – but also ordinary citizens – tend to skew toward the negative. When pictures of celebrities with no makeup surface, they are gleefully shared and discussed.

“Negative attitudes about themselves makes people afraid,” explains De Campeneere. “Many people, especially young people, are dissatisfied with certain aspects of their appearance and, therefore, see themselves as unattractive. They fear that others will feel the same way about them. This campaign aims to clearly say that everyone is beautiful in their own way, and that believing in yourself is extremely important.”

De Campeneere was also surprised that the film quickly garnered more than 2,000 views. “I honestly did not expect it. I attached my name to it because one of the students is a good friend, because I obviously agree with the message and because I really appreciate the work of Sabine Peeters.”

After the clip went live, De Campeneere didn’t pay it much attention – until one of the students told him it was being shared on social media and getting coverage in mainstream media. “That shows that this is a pressing topic,” he says.

A new normal

De Campeneere’s blog centres on fashion, an industry that is often criticised for promoting unrealistic beauty standards at the expense of normal-looking bodies. Doesn’t that fly in the face of the message of #conqueryourflaws? (In a pivotal moment in the clip, the three young people also receive a professional makeover from Peeters that appears to instil in them the confidence they lack.)

“I don’t think so. There is an evolution in progress,” he says. “I notice that when I am present at fashion events, there is much less of an emphasis on having the perfect body. The impact of what you see on the streets is increasing, and there, almost nobody is the ‘perfect’ size.”

Fashion bloggers are becoming more and more influential, he says, in attracting attention to brands. “As a blogger, you are a kind of friend who’s trying out new things, and not a perfectly sized model. The fashion houses have to take this in account.”

The clip and the accompanying social media campaign with the #conqueryourflaws hashtag, flowed from an assignment the three students had to complete for a digital storytelling course at Artevelde. Will there be a sequel?

“Right now there is just no time for that,” says Van Speybroeck. “Everyone is in the middle of the exam period. But we definitely want to go on with this later, together with Sabine Peeters.”

They’re not sure yet when and how, but they hope to make another clip. “We noticed that this format appeals to people and is easy to share,” says Van Speybroeck. As to how their project will be assessed by their teachers, that they won’t know until next month. “But I’m quite confident,” she says.

Photo courtesy Conquer Your Flaws