Partner Spotlight: About Face

About Face’s answers were provided by Jennifer Berger, the organization’s Executive Director

When did your organization launch and why?

About-Face launched with a bang in the mid-1990s in San Francisco. Our founder was deeply saddened by some body-image talk she heard from a 9-year-old girl. In response, she and other volunteers took an image of the extremely thin model Kate Moss in a Calvin Klein ad for Obsession perfume, made it read “Emaciation Stinks”, and plastered these posters all over San Francisco at night! It was awesome guerrilla activism of the 90s.

At first, About-Face focused on challenging the media’s effects on girls’ and women’s self-esteem and body image in girls (the “heroin chic skinny white models years”). A LOT has changed since then, and About-Face, thankfully, has changed with it.

I learned about About-Face in Bitch Magazine (an independent feminist print magazine), started volunteering at About-Face, and became Executive Director in 2001.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

About-Face works with girls* ages 13-18 in their schools and other groups to give them media literacy and critical thinking skills for understanding and critique of our mainstream culture, including media and social media. We lead 3 versions of our program that are various lengths.

We then transform that knowledge into activism and self-advocacy skills that girls can use throughout their lives.

We have been focused on serving the San Francisco Bay Area, but have been expanding nationally in the last couple years given at-home learning.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

Our mission: About-Face frees girls* from the confines of our toxic culture so they can fulfill their potential.

The tone of our mission says it all, really: We are educators, but we are also fighters. Capitalism and the profit motives of huge companies have had us in a chokehold for far too long.

We have no problem speaking up about how social media companies have created addictive products that suck us, our students, and our children right in, so it’s hard to get out. Generally, we do let our teen girls come to that conclusion, though…

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

About-Face is in a transition post-pandemic. With so much media coverage on teens, social media, and mental health, About-Face aims to create a widespread, stop-gap measure for kids and teens until our legislators create regulations and social media companies, media producers, and advertisers make real change (which will take a while…).

So we’re creating a new line of programs to help parents demystify best (and most realistic) practices around screen time and social media at home. To figure out what that mix needs to be, About-Face is running a survey of parents, and here’s the link! Would you take the survey and PASS IT ON? We really need 500 responses in May. (Add your email at the end and you’ll get the results of the survey when we’ve crunched them.)

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Um, we are all media literacy all the time! About-Face exists to teach teen girls to question media messages and sometimes learn to create media so they can critique it.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

Teens love media literacy: As a lot of NAMLE members know, media gets them talking and expressing themselves. I love that About-Face’s brand of media literacy has evolved with technologies, time, and awareness, successfully educating 8,000 directly and thousands more via our website.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

I love my job — it’s great to know I’m helping these girls improve their mental health and lives far into the future.

Please join me and other educators on the NAMLE CommUnity Hub so we can trade ideas and share resources!

*About-Face welcomes and includes gender-expansive youth. To us, “girls” means self-identified girls, trans girls, gender-expansive youth, gender non-conforming, and non-binary youth.

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.