Two University of Utah twins are on a quest to change the perception of beauty.
Lexie and Lindsay Kite, 27, say tackling the stereotypes of what makes a woman beautiful has become their life’s work. They are completing doctoral dissertations on topics pertaining to physical health and body image and self-objectification.
The Kites recently launched a nonprofit charity, Beauty Redefined, with the motto "Taking back beauty for females everywhere." They’ve traveled the nation speaking with thousands of people while presenting their message of true beauty and positive body image.
"We use these messages to solely uplift and empower women," she said. "We think women can accomplish so much [when they’re not focused on their appearance]."
Perhaps it’s fitting the Salt Lake City residents live in the same city that Forbes Magazine once named the most vain in the nation.
"We see women going to great lengths to try to change their own appearances to [conform] with the [media’s] ideals," said Lindsay Kite during a recent interview.
The sisters recently hosted an event at a Salt Lake City middle school to raise awareness of the issue.
But overcoming deeply embedded stereotypes has been challenging. The youthful and attractive Kite sisters have themselves faced a form of bigotry in their crusade.
"We definitely had experienced both sides of that stereotype," Kite said.
She said people who don’t know them assume they’re pushing their message because they’re fat and ugly. When people see what they look like, they face questions such as "How would they know anything about feeling bad?"
"It’s often the women who are closest to the ideal that feel the furthest away," Kite said. "They learn to value themselves solely for their appearance. We really can’t win. It wouldn’t matter what our bodies look like. We just need to get out of solely judging women on their appearance."
She said the profit-driven media have promoted a tall and superslim body type, which is not the norm, and wrinkle-free faces. While women often are criticized for aging naturally, men are considered distinguished when they get wrinkles and start turning gray, she said.
Women over 40 are rarely featured in entertainment and when they are, they’re often cast in a villain-type role, Kite said.
She said these portrayals set a harmful standard for youth who often grow up feeling subpar, particularly about what she terms "body shame."
When women feel disgusted with their bodies, it often leads to extremes — skipping meals, running just a little bit longer on the treadmill to shed a few more pounds or even eating disorders, Kite said.
Overweight women may be reluctant to get involved in physical activities because of fears they’ll be judged by others as too fat to work out, they’ll sweat too much, or turn too red from all the exertion.
One thing Kite said she’s found success with in her own life is trying to focus on positive attributes rather than thinking or saying negative things about her own body.
"I learned when I stopped saying bad things about myself, it made it a lot easier to stop thinking them," she said.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.