The world is an extremely diverse place, but how much of this diversity is represented in the media? Paris Sistilli, a senior at Broadneck High School, realized while growing up that people in the media didn’t quite look like her.
“I am Hispanic, and I noticed that in a lot of Disney films, for example, there was never a princess I could identify with exactly,” Sistilli explained.
But it was not only Sistilli who registered this homogeneity in movies, television shows, magazines, and social media advertisements. Talking to her friends, she found others who agreed that there is not a lot of diversity pictured in terms of ethnicity, culture, body size, and sexuality.
Sistilli further stated, “A lot of the models that we see on magazine covers fit a certain frame, a certain size, which is not reflective of the American or even the world population, and that leaves a lot of girls who are growing up feeling like there is something wrong with the way they are built, even though that there is just absolutely not.”
To aid in increasing diversity and body positivity in the media, at 17 years old, Sistilli created the organization Curls Colors and Curves (CCC). For more than a year now, this inspirational movement has sought to foster self-confidence in females and help them feel comfortable in their own skin by introducing various types of people in the media and embracing their differences.
CCC gained its media influence through Instagram (@curlscolorscurves). The account includes about 100 posts of images and videos of females of different appearances and backgrounds, with captions encouraging followers to embrace themselves for who they are.
Sistilli holds photoshoots in her home or in various outdoor locations in her community. “Each shoot, I pick a theme or issue that I would like to address through visual photography,” she said.
One of her photoshoots focused on challenging the negative bikini culture. Beginning in the spring, there is a large emphasis on “preparing” for summer so teen girls can look good in their swimsuits. Sistilli took a different approach to such ideas. The pictures were taken in a grassy field and models put flowers on their stomachs. Instead of being ashamed about what the media portrays as something that needs to be changed, Sistilli hoped the flowers would show that “even the parts we are insecure about have beauty and we are all growing as our own person.”
Another photoshoot revolved around the mantra “highlight it, don’t hide it.” In this session, the theme was to embrace and highlight body hair. Some of the models had a unibrow, for example, and they all put glitter on their eyebrows, dark circles, and freckles. Sistilli explained the glitter demonstrated “parts that are often photoshopped or facetuned are still definitely worth loving and they should be portrayed more often.”
In addition to pictures people see on social media, there are some components of the photoshoots that are not seen by all. Creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere is important to Sistilli.
Music is typically played, and Sistilli organizes an activity for the models. When talking about her last photoshoot, she said, “I had everyone write letters to themselves, saying something positive about their insecurities and how they will overcome their insecurities.”
Another time, she had the models write letters of affirmation to each other. She also has group photos, which create a special dynamic with everyone supporting one another. Equally special are the portraits Sistilli photographs. She discussed their importance, describing how “each girl gets to acknowledge I am beautiful. This is real and raw, and it is still relatable and beautiful.”
A majority of Sistilli’s models are teens, but she doesn’t stop there. CCC aims to reach females at all ages, from children to adults.
Recently, Sistilli did a photoshoot with elementary schoolers involved in the chess club at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis. They were photographed outside their school while holding inspirational signs, such as “Girls Can Chess,” and posing with chess pieces as props. The goal of this session was to get young girls excited about being in chess club and involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). She hoped to empower these girls and make them feel confident starting at a young age.
In the fall, Sistilli will be a freshman at Columbia University. She does not know exactly what her new life in New York will consist of, but, when speaking of CCC’s future, Sistilli stated, “I hope to continue my work with college-age girls. I also think it would be cool to have different chapters so it could grow beyond one photographer.”
It is difficult to find acceptance and confidence when people cannot relate themselves to what they see in the media, but with increased inclusivity and representation due to the work of people like Paris Sistilli and the Curls Colors and Curves movement, self-love is becoming a priority.
Sistilli wants the audience of CCC to know the following message: “Love yourself. It's OK if you don't fit the mold that a lot of models in the media are told to fit into, because that is not really representative of any demographic as a whole. It is really limited. Regardless of that, it is important to feel beautiful.”