Social Change Is The Same In Every Language

Social Change Is The Same In Every Language

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Jess Weiner was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.

by Jess Weiner, Author, Self-Esteem Expert, Consultant, and Media Personality

I believe everyone has an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

If I didn’t believe that, I couldn’t have forged the path for myself that I have as an Actionist®, which is my term for someone who is committed to taking action in their everyday life to help others.

I originally coined that phrase after I spent a frustrating afternoon in a workshop with some middle school girls in the United States who told me adamantly that they never wanted to be activists. The word "activist" was a turn off for them. They thought it meant being “radical,” or that an activist had to protest in the street or burn their bra on the steps of the Capitol.

I felt so overwhelmed that these stereotypes had tarnished a word that I felt was a vital part of who I am. Early on in my teens, I knew I had to stand up for those who couldn’t. I felt compelled to lend a voice or a hand for those who needed it. I wasn’t content to sit back and watch injustice play out before me. I wasn’t afraid of being an activist, because without activists we wouldn’t have some of the personal and professional freedoms we enjoy today.

But for this younger generation of girls, this word had become a toxic representation of standing apart and risking alienation from the larger group. Somewhere they had taken the worst connotations of Activism, perhaps the kind they hear in the media from people who are afraid of revolutionary voices, and they adopted that fear for themselves.

How then, was I going to get across to them that, in order to create a generation that continues to evolve and grow socially and emotionally, we had to take action in our lives? How was I going to get them to come out from behind their mirrored compacts, where they spent hours studying their “flaws” and complaining about their body image and beauty?

I knew they would never be content nor particularly engaged in the world if they spent their time comparing themselves to other girls—airbrushed, fabricated stories of what a girl or woman should look like. That kind of negative relationships with beauty was serving as a grand distraction for them. They would become so numbed out by their obsessive thoughts about their appearance that they had almost no energy left to look around their lives and discover what they were passionate about.

After this workshop I called my father, who is my rock and mentor, and told him of my concern that the spark for social change amongst these young women may have been put out by some unfortunate media sound bites about Activism. He asked me, vocabulary aside, what it was that I really wanted these girls to do? I thought about it and then answered:

“I want them to care enough about something—to take a small step of action every day.”

“So you want them to be an ACTionist, then,” my father said. Loving that word, I immediately looked it up in the dictionary. One of the definitions had Actionist®, meaning someone who is a stockholder in a joint company.

“Great,” I thought, “I guess we are all stockholders in this joint company of life…and everyone needs to do their part to make a difference.”

That moment of shifting the language to better define someone who helps to create social change has guided my career for the past 15 years. I have a belief at the core DNA of my work as an author, self-esteem expert, and Dove’s Global Ambassador for Self-Esteem that we can create a world where beauty can be a source of confidence, not anxiety.

Developing a positive relationship with beauty isn’t a vain pursuit for mere superficial acceptance. This is backed up by research that tells us that only 4 percent of women around the world think they are beautiful.*

And why would this bear any importance for Actionists® or Changemakers? Because when girls and women are preoccupied with a negative relationship with beauty and esteem, they are less likely to raise their hands in class, to see a doctor when they are sick, and to join a club or social organization. That lack of involvement, lack of self-care, and social isolation ends up robbing us all of our future leaders, mothers, and visionaries.

We need to cultivate leaders of tomorrow’s generation by helping them see themselves as whole beings. Not parts. Not weight, or size, or eye color, or hair texture. When we compartmentalize girls and women by their body parts, we neglect to acknowledge their intellect, intuition, and inventiveness. When we marginalize women and girls by encouraging them to be distracted by the pursuit of unrealistic forms of beauty, we basically are telling them that their desires to spark change in the world don’t matter, that their ability to come to the table as dealmakers and policymakers doesn’t matter.

But by helping them form a positive relationship with beauty, we can help women and girls realize their full potential. And then they can choose to take action in their everyday lives, whether it’s speaking up in class, confronting the status quo, or finally addressing the vibrant visions they have for the world.

As the Global Ambassador for Dove, I have seen first hand what happens to the confidence of young woman when she is encouraged daily by the mentors in her life, or supported by an online community who believes in her future. It’s an unstoppable force of social change to educate and empower a girl by first teaching her to love and value herself.

An Actionist®, a Changemaker – no matter the language, all of it means the same thing to me: being someone who heeds their passionate yearning for justice, chooses to take risks for what’s right, and takes small steps everyday for the betterment of lives around them.


* Dove Research: The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited


Considered this generation's "Go to Girl" for self-esteem, Jess Weiner is a Best Seling author & Dove's Global Ambassador for Self-Esteem. She motivates women and girls around the globe to develop the tools for living a more confident life.