By Jessi Putnam
In your final year of design school at my college, students must complete their senior thesis to obtain their Bachelor of Fine Arts. It is a year-long class in which you conceptualize, research, develop, design, execute, and present a project entirely of your own creation. I can only compare the hysteria of thesis to that of a gladiator preparing for battle. There is the risk of pain, even academic death, but finally, you gain your freedom. And as I entered my senior year, it was fight or flight.
For years now, professors have been spoon-feeding me projects with lists of outcomes, mandated typefaces, and required research steps. But now I could do my project on whatever I wanted. Graphic design isn’t like the fine arts; self-expression isn’t our day-to-day goal. But thesis gave my design work a megaphone. For the first time, I was finally able to send a message with my work loud and clear.
Design can be a powerful tool and I wanted to use that tool to help a cause that was very personal to me. Body image and self-confidence issues is something that has plagued me for most of my life. And I’m not the only one; low self worth is something that so many women of all ages struggle with. I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact source of my poor self-perception, but I can tell how I started to overcome it. I began using journaling as a way to get anything that was bothering me off my chest. Writing was a safe place for me to be honest and just be myself without worrying about anyone else. Journaling, therapeutic writing and artistic expression helps me to work through my body image issues, and I wanted to give other women and girls the same outlets I had.
And thus my thesis was born.
For the last several months, I have been working on my project, Dear She. Dear She is for women of all ages, and focuses on female body image and self-confidence. The project asks women to write an anonymous love letter to themselves to help address issues of self worth. The letters all start with “Dear, She” and end with “Love, me,” but what goes in between is completely up to you. Participants can write a paragraph, a page, a sentence, a word, it doesn’t matter. The point is that you can do anything you want if it makes you feel better. You don’t have to be a writer to be a part of Dear She; you can submit a photo, a drawing, or a doodle if you’d like!
Submitted stories will be compiled into a book to create a community for women dealing with the same issues, regardless of their age. At the beginning of this project, I thought that body image was something that only young women dealt with. But after talking to my mom and grandma, I realized just how much there was to learn from generations other than my own.
I launched Dear She two months ago and the first letter I received brought me to tears. It was from a 15 year old girl who expressed how thankful she was that Dear She existed. She said that she had been waiting to pour out her feelings about her body and finally felt like she had a safe place to do it. Right then I realized I had used my passion for graphic design to help someone in a way I could never quite help myself. Since then I have revived a bunch of submissions to Dear She. Each and every one of them has been so completely beautiful. They are thoughtful, honest and inspiring in ways I never imagined. And I simply cannot wait for people to read them for themselves.
Sometimes I forget that Dear She started out as just my senior thesis project. It has become so much more then that for me. It is a labor of love and it has changed my life. And it is my most earnest hope that Dear She can play even a small part in changing someone else’s. So now that you have read my story, consider sharing yours with Dear She. You never know who it could help.
If you would like more information on Dear She, to read featured letters, or write a letter of your own, please visit dearshe.org.