Would you ever write your biggest insecurity on your body and photograph it for everyone to see? FACEIT – a photo exhibition organized by University of Miami’s Girls4Good and SPARK organizations – does just that. It brings pairs of students together to face their insecurities head-on. The organization began in the spring of 2014 from inspiration by the “What I Be” Project by Steve Rosenfeld.
We sat down with founder of FACEIT and president of Girls4Good, Valerie Quirk to learn a little bit more about the exhibit…
If you could tell the UM community in one sentence what FACEIT is, what would you say?
FACE IT is a chance for people to take their securities head-on, and is also an opportunity for people to experience themselves as the world does—in a much more positive light.
What’s your role with the FACEIT project?
I came up with the idea of FACEIT my sophomore year and then approached SPARK – “a mentoring organization at the University of Miami created to encourage young women to spark their way to brighter futures” – to help brainstorm on what it would actually look like and how we were going to make it happen.
I am one of the chairs on the Girls 4 Good side this year. The other chairs and I deal with getting the photoshoots set up, getting participants, raising money for the event, getting the photos printed, etc.
What is the primary goal or message you want to send to UM students?
College is a phase in our lives where we spend a lot of time focused on the outside world—keeping up social personas and obligations, tending to our relationships, trying to stay afloat in oceans of schoolwork, maybe some worldly learning, and throwing ourselves at the world in hopes that it will validate us with something like a job or other “real people” things like that.
But when do we ever take the time to reflect on our own person? We wanted FACEIT to be a space where people were forced to do just that—to think about what impacts them, take ownership of them, and to ultimately realize “I may have all of these insecurities, but they haven’t stifled my progress. I’m here!”
People HATE giving themselves credit for how far they’ve come. Getting up every day and just making it out the door in college is HARD, and some days we can’t even do that, and that’s okay. I guess the ultimate goal of FACEIT is just to let people know that it is OKAY and that they are nowhere near alone.
What is the inspiration behind the project?
The “What I Be” Project by Steve Rosenfield also features individuals writing personal insecurities on their bodies, but we wanted to take it a step further.
We wanted to offer a challenge for people to allow themselves to be glorified, built up, and loved by both themselves and those around them. Our first semester we required that every participant also submit a “Selfie”—hilarious, I know, but think of the implications! A Selfie, for any non-Kim Kardashian types, is a horrific task. You have to take a photo of yourself and submit it to the public world and admit that “I feel good about this.” We wanted people to have that moment.
As FACEIT progressed each semester, we realized that there’s another thing people are often deeply uncomfortable with, but undoubtedly appreciate: praise. In the past three semesters of FACEIT, in place of the Selfie we have had a partner, family member, or friend submit a word they think best embodies the participant and write about it. It’s a chance for loved ones to express their care, but also a chance for us to realize how much we are loved.
What kind of reactions do you get from the people participating in the photos?
The reactions are always really beautiful to watch. We don’t let people see what their partners have written about them until the day of the event so the moment they get to see what their partner wrote about them is awesome. This partner is the person they personally chose to remind them of who they really are—that’s usually an important and trusted person in anyone’s life.
The reaction comes when we give everyone the post-its that event attendees have written them. There’s a lot of emotion that comes when complete strangers have written you really thoughtful notes of encouragement, support, and empathy. It feels good.
You’ve actually participated in the project, right? How did you feel after working with a partner and seeing the photos come out?
Yeah! I’ve participated three times now. I didn’t realize how hard it is to write about and be honest with yourself.
Working with my partner was a really moving experience for me. To have someone stand up for you so honestly when you won’t do it for yourself feels really amazing. You don’t realize how well-studied they are in knowing you, just by loving you.
Now onto Girls 4 Good – what’s your position in that organization?
Girls 4 Good is an organization dedicated to issues that affect women and girls around the world. We discuss these issues at weekly meetings, and then create programs and forge partnerships with organizations locally and globally to help address some of these issues.
I am the president and founder of Girls 4 Good.
How long have you been involved with this organization?
I actually started Girls 4 Good when I was 14 at my high school.
My family and I traveled to Cambodia for the first time and took a trip that was a lot more ‘off the beaten path’ than what I was used to. We spent the summer in orphanages and rural schools. I was really shaken. I held little girls orphaned by their parents for no reason other than the fact that they were a girl. I sat with girls my age who had spent their lives up to this point as sex slaves, and met 8-year-olds who drove boats for foreigners in the mornings so they could afford to go to school in the afternoon.
I realized how pitifully little I know about the world. I wanted to learn more. So Girls 4 Good really just started as a space for conversation. As a 14-year-old I got on the announcements asking people to go to a classroom after school to just talk, to learn. For pretty much a whole year it was just 5 girls and me sitting around a round table talking. But it grew really quickly and organically from there. We started hosting conferences at our school, we mentored elementary aged girls in our community, we teamed up with an all-girl school in India and built them a cafeteria which previously was two women and two big pots serving over 1,000 girls a day.
Has working with this organization and exhibition helped pave your career path or encouraged you to be more involved with projects involving similar societal issues?
No doubt! I’ve been dedicated to issues that affect women and girls for a long time so Girls 4 Good and FACEIT were really just entities born out of that personal inclination. I’m probably never going to stop doing “stuff” like this, so I’m always looking towards the next ‘thing’ that challenges me or presents itself as an opportunity in my life.
For instance, I’ve been working on developing a curriculum for an after school program for middle schoolers on the topic for a while now and since I’m entering the workforce really soon that project seems to be my next “thing”!
When is the next opportunity for students to participate in the FACEIT project?
This is a bi-annual event. We have an all male FACEIT every fall and all female every spring. It usually happens mid-way through the semester. We usually post about the photo shoots on the Girls 4 Good Facebook page.
What would you say is one major thing you’ve learned from working with Girls 4 Good and the FACEIT project?
I’ve learned the importance of giving ourselves some freaking credit from FACEIT. FACEIT forced me to think about what I’ve experienced and how those experiences have impacted me, it exposed me to a generous community that helped me feel less alone, and reminded me that at the end of the day, I am loved.
** A very special credit to UM senior and FACEIT photographer, Emily Robbins