The Start of a Movement

The Start of a Movement

I don’t often share why starting the #DONTCALLMEPRETTY Movement is so intertwined with my own life’s journey, but I thought that the first post here would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

Flashback to 2015, I was struggling trying to finish my last semester of college and had to complete a nearly year long research project for my Interdisciplinary Studies Major that proved I had an expert understanding of my two disciplines: Fashion Marketing and Communications. My thesis assignment was to choose a phenomenon that was taking place and come up with a long-term solution to the problem. I chose to study body image dissatisfaction for women in western culture and more specifically Los Angeles. At the time I was doing the research in 2015, the body image movement wasn’t big yet, but I realized I was on to something.

Meanwhile, my personal life was unraveling before my eyes. I was going through my first real breakup, recklessly partying, ignoring important friendships because of said relationship and I was watching my mom’s health deteriorate.

I spent hours on end in the library researching eating disorders, and learning terms like “body dysmorphia” from scholarly journals. I had no clue that there were actual medical terms for how I was feeling about my body. One of my advisors on the project suggested that I watch a TED Talk called “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model” by Supermodel Cameron Russell. In the talk, she admits to having won “a genetic lottery”: she’s a tall, white, pretty underwear model, but that doesn’t always make her happy.

This talk was really flooring for me because if a woman who has walked the coveted Victoria’s Secret runway show isn’t happy, then how are the rest of us supposed to feel? This lead me to question why women value their looks so much.

Why have we as women been taught to put so much value in the way we look and to prioritize our pursuit of physical perfection over everything else?

I started to think about how the way that I looked and presented myself in the world influenced my everyday life. It’s played a role in the jobs I’ve gotten, the people I’ve dated, grades I’ve been given, the way people interact with me in public, etc. While I was working on the project, I experienced favoritism for being pretty while taking a math course at a local community college. The professor was old and I’m not sure if it was a cultural difference or him just being inappropriate, but he would make comments about me in front of the class pretty regularly. It was extremely uncomfortable when he repeatedly asked me to meet him outside of class for tutoring- I never did. When it came time for a final grade, I was hoping I could leave with a C. After the test, I went to talk to him one on one and he’d given me an undeserved A and a note with his cell phone number on it.

There are a lot of advantages to being pretty, but it also can be really toxic if our looks are the only thing we value ourselves for.

Long story short, I ended up presenting my thesis project to a group of professors and they loved it. What I proposed was hosting a Women Empowerment Summit that promoted themes of body positivity and self acceptance. I’m still hoping to create this one day.

In the years since the project began so much has happened, including me starting a career in Social Media Marketing, working as an Organizer for Women’s March LA in 2017, starting the @dontcallmepretty_ Instagram page, battling serious depression while my mom was in the hospital for nearly six months waiting to receive a new set of lungs, moving home to help her healing process after the lung transplant, forcing myself to focus on my own healing, and more recently in 2018, turning #DONTCALLMEPRETTY into a real business.

Part of this process for me has been learning to value myself in order to better show up for and serve other people, and I can safely say I’m really proud of how far I’ve come.

A couple of years ago, I saw feminist icon Gloria Steinem speak and she left me with this piece of advice which I’ll never forget. She said something along the lines of: “If the end goal involves dancing and singing and laughter, then there needs to be dancing and singing and laughter along the way. A means to an end should be just as important as the end goal because the journey is the best part.” That’s what I feel like I’m having the opportunity to do with this movement and community. I’m learning and growing and sharing all the parts and I hope that my vulnerability in showing the journey helps you all feel comfortable to do the same.



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1 comment
  • Aly, thank you so much for opening up about your journey, highlighting your struggles, and keeping it real. I know that your story and experiences will resonate with many people, including myself. I’m looking forward to seeing this platform evolve and fulfilling its purpose. Cheers to connecting and overcoming barriers, together!



    Mary Nguyen on

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