Identical twins, Lexie and Lindsay Kite’s life missions became clear to them during their freshman year in college. An introductory communications course coupled with the pain of having grown up with severe body-shame would be the catalyst for their MA and PhD research and the beginning of their non-profit, Beauty Redefined. Lexie and Lindsay’s mission and purpose are to promote body image resilience. Their research has brought them a deeper understanding of the enabling power of the Atonement and a stronger relationship with their Heavenly Mother.
What is Beauty Redefined?
Lindsay: Beauty Redefined is a non-profit based in Salt Lake City that focuses on positive body image, but specifically helps women understand that we are more than bodies. When we see ourselves as more than something to be looked at, objects to be used and admired and judged, then we can move on to bigger and better things.
We started this non-profit at the end of our master’s degrees at the University of Utah in 2009. We began our PhDs that same year and basically developed and tested our whole process for helping women to develop body image resilience.
Why did you start Beauty Redefined? Why was it important to you?
Lexie: Lindsay and I felt this drive that began our freshman year at Utah State University when we took a required class for journalists on media literacy. We learned introductory concepts about why women are represented the way they are in media—in such a one-dimensional form that is so objectifying—and how all of that is engineered on purpose to drive profits through advertising revenue. I remember feeling so profoundly that I had been impacted by a fixation on my appearance at the expense of who I was in every other aspect of my life. And my heart pounded faster and I felt the Spirit very strongly in that classroom testify to me that I had been impacted, but that I could make a difference in the world by shining a light on that pain and helping other people through that pain.
Lindsay: I had the exact same experience. I immediately went into a minor in Women and Gender Studies and became the Assistant to the Director of that program. I basically found my feminism and it resonated with me on the same level that every spiritual truth had ever resonated with me. That’s one of the things that has kept Lexie and me both going through what became ten years of higher education: consistently being guided, really feeling led to find truths that resonated with us based on our personal experiences but also based on our spiritual understanding of who we are and how powerful and capable women are. We are being underutilized and undervaluing ourselves because of the objectification we have been subjected to—and because of self-objectification. Learning about it made us angry, but it also inspired us and fired us up, and so our focus turned from helping people recognize the bad stuff to helping women dig their way out of obsession with appearance, and move on to bigger and better things. We help women know who they are on every level including spiritually.
Lexie: Our belief in women has been our driving force. Every time we’re speaking to a new group, whether it’s at university or a conference or a regional fireside, we look around at those women and we know what they are capable of and we know that their purpose has been stifled. Way too many girls and women have been stifled by feelings of insecurity, by a fixation on appearance. It keeps us from walking up to the front of the chapel to bear our testimonies, or from raising our hands in class, or going to grad school, or getting that promotion, or any other number of things we should be doing and we’re not because of this insecurity that we are defined by our looks.
Do you think the media works to keep women separated?
Lindsay: For sure. Desirability feels scarce and out of reach, so women feel we are in competition with each other in order to be the most desirable, to receive the most attention. That comes into play not just in love and romance, but also in the workplace and in our own families. We’re always feeling like we need to be the prettiest one in the room or the thinnest one in the room and all that stuff holds us back in such significant ways.
When women can see our value extending far beyond those made-up surface level constructs, then we can have more compassion for ourselves, but also more compassion for each other. We can recognize that rather than looking down on that woman who walked in the room who is dressed much better than you and whose body looks much better than yours, instead we can remind ourselves that she is more than something to look at. This is a human in front of me. We can unite together to reject those messages that tell us we are less than each other.
Lexie: And we teach the concept of self-compassion and self-kindness. This is so important because when you care about yourself and you see yourself as more than a body, then you don’t need to turn to judging others or comparing yourself to others for a boost to your self-worth. Self-comparison research tells us that when you compare yourself to another girl or woman, whether or not you come out on top in that comparison, you’re always left feeling more divided from other girls and women. And how terrible is that? So when we can say, “We are all important. We all have work to do. And our purpose extends far beyond how well we decorate the world around us,” then the whole world is better off.
You have traveled all over teaching women at various events, some secular and some with an LDS element. What are the differences in messages, if any?
Lexie: It’s small.
Lindsay: The difference is almost nothing, which is really cool because part of our presentation is about body image resilience and how to develop that. It’s basically the ability to have more respect for your body by going through hard things, not just in spite of the pain but because of it. That process requires all different types of power, and one of the sources of power we identified through our doctoral research is spiritual power. We found the women who were resilient—who had the most respect for their bodies, and didn’t feel defined by their appearance—they were the same women who cited a spiritual source of power. We had to dig into that and figure out what ways they are accessing this power and what does it look like. When we’re speaking to Mormon congregations, we’re able to be a little more specific about ways that we can access spiritual power. We share teachings from Mormon leaders like Emmeline Wells. The presentation is exactly the same as what we do at huge universities all over the country, but with the addition of maybe three slides that go specifically into Mormon doctrine.
Lexie: We talk about the enabling power of the Atonement and our feminist foremothers, about how we can pattern our lives after those women, and Heavenly Mother.
Lindsay: We talk about the eternal gift of our bodies and the immortal nature of the bodies given to us and made in the image of our Heavenly Parents. So that’s a really important part of the presentation. We don’t receive negative backlash from that. We speak in some of the most conservative areas in the country and we regularly have stake presidents afterwards coming up and thanking us. We count ourselves very blessed for that because we recognize that not every woman has the luxury and the privilege of being able to speak openly about things that some consider controversial. We, so far, have been able to do so in a way that is sincere and that most people seem to receive as faith-promoting.
Is your message only for women?
Lindsay: Our main target audience is definitely women, but we recognize the value of having boys and men in that room. It’s not to say that boys and men don’t have body image issues because they certainly do and those are on the rise. Our work can benefit men with their own body issues. But it can also help men to be more understanding and empathetic towards the girls and women in their lives who are struggling. Men can learn to be allies, to be more conscious of the ways they are thinking about bodies, talking about bodies, interacting with other girls and women and boys and men.
Have you ever had any backlash?
Lexie: When our bodies are at the forefront we get one of two responses: either, “You’re young and pretty and have no idea what it feels like to be in an aging, overweight body” OR “You’re too fat and ugly, you’re just jealous of these women.” Both of those are reinforcing our message. Women are more than bodies. When somebody tries to silence us by looking at our bodies they reinforce the importance of our work: women are more than bodies. When we can see more, we can be more.
Lindsay: Thankfully we haven’t let that silence us. Obviously it can be painful and disheartening to read and hear really horrendous things being said about us, but we’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years. Ignorance is bliss. We don’t read the comment sections of our media appearances or my TED Talk or anything like that. I know what’s out there, I do not care to know it and it will not change what we do.
Lexie: It’s hard to do this work in women’s bodies that are constantly changing and growing and shrinking. Through the last ten years of doing this, our bodies have changed drastically. We’ve gained weight and lost weight. I’ve had a baby. I’m getting some wrinkles and some acne here and there. So much about our bodies has changed and it can be really scary to go out in front of a big audience and talk about bodies while people are looking at your body. Or to go out and do a TED Talk in a woman’s body. And yet we have to do this because if we can be silenced or self-objectified to the point that we step out of doing events and activities, if we take a step back because we feel self-conscious over the weight we’ve gained or whatever it might be, then our whole message is defeated. We have to be an example to girls and women who are starving for reality.
Lindsay: It’s hard, but it’s worth it. The feedback we receive overcomes any of the negatives.
Do you believe in missions/purposes in life? If so, do you believe Beauty Redefined is yours?
Lexie and Lindsay: Oh yes!
Lindsay: We both give a definitive yes to that answer. We would not physically and emotionally be able to do this work if we didn’t 100% feel that we have been given this mission.
Lindsay: We have continuously been reminded over the last ten years that this work is important. Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences have come while reading academic literature and while writing what I know is true. It has been reinforced so many times through the Holy Ghost that this is important and that we have perspective and a voice in this fight that is unique. We’ve had people tell us that we should be excommunicated because we’re questioning the way modesty is taught to Young Women and throughout the Church—that kind of stuff would have broken us by now if we didn’t feel a strong pull to continue doing this.
This is the most emotionally taxing thing I can imagine doing. Putting ourselves out there on the internet is nerve-wracking, even just on our own social media pages where we share our research-backed opinions and thoughts. We get trolled by people from every different extreme and perspective you can think of. We get questioned a lot. We hate fighting with commenters on the internet; it’s really taxing on us. But the positives far outweigh the negatives and I firmly believe that’s from a spiritual source.
Lexie: We believe that every person on this earth has unique missions and purposes. I think that it can be difficult to be female and a member of this church because the males get a very clear step-by-step trajectory forward from the time they are 12. The girls don’t get that. The women don’t get that. But in that flux, in that fluidity I think it is up to each of us, personally and spiritually to figure out what our missions are—what our callings are. They don’t have to come from a man. They don’t have to come from the bishop. They don’t have to come from the stake president. They can come from God.
We believe that our Heavenly Parents have specific work for us to do. Through body image resilience we know that shining a light on the pain you’ve experienced in your life can be your catalyst for change. That pain can be the very thing that gives you purpose and direction you never would have asked for, you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself, but that will take you down a path that is so much more powerful. It will give you purpose and direction and meaning. It will allow you to bless the lives of others in a way that you are called to do. That you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t experienced that pain.
Lindsay: We grew up being absolutely obsessed with losing weight. From the time we were in elementary school, we were very fixated on our bodies and our appearance. Feeling very much sub-par, abnormal, embarrassed of ourselves to the point where we quit competitive swimming because we didn’t want people outside of the swim team to see us in our swim suits.
Lexie: We had detailed food journals and goals in our journals when we were still just little.
Lindsay: We had calorie burning competitions in middle school. We did every extreme diet you could think of. We were so deep in this darkness of body shame it consumed us all through high school and even through the first part of college. We were consumed by feelings that if only we lost weight or changed our appearances in some way then we would be happy. Of course all of those things are lies.
Lexie: We would not care that so many girls and women were suffering, were hurting themselves, and were starving themselves, if we hadn’t experienced it ourselves. And so we are grateful for that pain for giving us a purpose.
You’ve touched on it a little bit, but could you expand on how Beauty Redefined helped your testimony?
Lindsay: I have to think about that. It’s hard because Beauty Redefined shows us the tensions that exist between what we want the Church to be and what the Church has been. It has made us more aware of the pain that girls and women experience and the ways they are diminished and limited by having their value come from such surface level sources.
Lexie: Like their desirability to a partner. And the modesty rhetoric and the chastity rhetoric that has fallen on the shoulders of girls.
Lindsay: But it’s through this church we are taught and very firmly believe that women are equal to men and that women do have all of the spiritual powers and capabilities that men possess. Our Heavenly Mother and our Heavenly Father are co-equals and co-partners in the creation of our world, our bodies, and our souls, but that’s not necessarily how it all plays out at the ground level. So we do see those tensions and it causes further pain and I think we try to address some of those things through our work with Beauty Redefined.
Lexie: When you’re watching something like General Conference or you’re in sacrament meeting and you’re looking up at the stand and you don’t see any women, not even just women that look like you, but no women at all, or one woman for every several men, it is heartbreaking.
We believe that when women can have a voice, can have a place at the table, that the Church benefits and the world benefits and families benefit and women benefit and men benefit. That is something that we pray for very desperately, and we have seen small changes. We know that the Church has been working toward this, that in a lot of ways they at least hear the pain of women and we have faith that things will continue to improve.
Lindsay: Our work with Beauty Redefined increases our testimonies of the power of the gospel to connect us with our higher selves. I really like the idea of our higher selves. Like a higher me in the eternities who is looking back on my life, the choices I’ve made, and the things I’ve experienced and is proud of me right now. I like to imagine myself as knowing more and having experienced more and being able to root for myself. I think sometimes when I feel the Spirit I like to think that it’s me, the eternal me in that next dimension feeling excited because I’m becoming more of who I am supposed to be, who I really am.
I have had my testimony strengthened consistently. Even as it wanes and fails at times, I’m grateful to have experiences and feelings and see little glimpses of changes within the Church structure that allow me to regain hope and experience that feeling of tapping into spiritual power. Not just institutional power, not just a structure that allows me to go to church and hopefully feel the Spirit and hopefully be connected with like-minded people, but a spiritual structure that allows me to tap into knowledge of my higher self—my greater potential and power through the Holy Ghost, but also the influence and love of our Heavenly Parents.
Do you think Relief Society helps with that?
Lexie: I’m a huge proponent for Relief Society. Studying the history of women in this gospel that has been a big testimony builder for me and for Lindsay. A lot of our feminist activism is rooted in the fact that our foremothers were incredible feminists. People like Emmeline Wells, the 5th General President of the Relief Society. She is a hero of mine because she was simultaneously a General Relief Society President and a major advocate for women.
Lindsay: Relief Society is one of those places where the leadership and strength of women can be cultivated and recognized. Of course it doesn’t always turn out that way; there are a lot of differences between congregations. But we know from the early minutes of the Relief Society that a “Kingdom of Priests” is what we were supposed to be.
It’s important for us to recognize what Relief Society was once, and take it upon ourselves in our own individual congregations to make it as powerful and as forward-thinking, as inclusive and as loving as it possibly could be. That takes a lot of work and a lot of mold breaking because there might not be support for that from local bishoprics at the ward level, but as individuals, I think we can make of it what it could be.
Lexie: I have served in the Relief Society in my wards for many years now and I’ve been a Relief Society teacher for much of that time. I have made it a point to quote and cite women, and I think that has made a positive influence in my wards. We need to hear women’s voices despite whether or not women’s voices are included in our handbooks, which they often are not.
Lindsay, what was your TED Talk experience like?
Lindsay: It was really hard to narrow down ten years of research, plus another several years of doing this work into a 15 minute talk. I prayed a lot for help to figure out what was most important to say and I really did feel guided.
Lexie: That’s one of the ways our testimonies have been strengthened: throughout these last ten years of research and accomplishing really difficult things, both of us have felt our minds quickened. We’ve felt enlightened. We’ve felt this drive that gave us energy—it has been a literal gift of the Spirit.
We have made it a spiritual quest. Anytime we are doing something important, anytime we’re putting words out there on a page or on the internet or saying them, it is a spiritual effort for us. We are always praying. We acknowledge that our gifts, abilities, and opportunities come from God. I know we didn’t make this stuff up.
What are things people can do now to start the process of truly loving themselves?
Lindsay: One of the most research-backed strategies to improve your body image is to change your paradigm: think of your body as an instrument for use rather than an ornament to be looked at.
For a lot of women, when we’re dealing with body shame and weight fluctuation we find ourselves becoming much more sedentary and we hide from the world, hide even from fun activities we want to do just because of that feeling of shame and self-comparison. We strongly encourage women to find it within themselves, find the strength, even in small ways to break out of that shell and that hiding place—to be able to experience the use of their bodies in an enjoyable way. That allows us to experience what our bodies can do rather than prioritizing how they look.
You can do it by setting new kinds of goals. Most girls and women are setting goals related to their bodies that are entirely revolving around their weight, their dress size, and their body mass index. Take those off the table. Stop weighing. Stop measuring. Don’t measure the outsides of your body and instead set goals about what your body can do and what you want to experience and how you want to feel.
The other thing I would recommend is learning and being really conscious of the role of beauty ideals in your life. We’ve all grown up with so many different sources that have taught us what it looks like to be an acceptable woman. What healthy supposedly looks like. It comes from what our moms believed our bodies should look like, what their bodies should look like. It comes from comments about celebrities on social media. We need to be very thin. We need to look young no matter how old we are. We need to have clear skin, none of these flaws.
Unfortunately for a lot of women, including Mormon women, we have confused our definitions of progress and perfection with physical beauty ideals. Ideals that largely came about in the last 50 years or less. We need to be conscious and learn to recognize those influences and those thoughts: what they’re telling us about what we eat, about how we move our bodies, about what we’re good for. So we should at least ask ourselves some questions while we’re scrolling through our social media, watching t.v., looking at the magazines in the checkout stand. Those beauty ideals are a tyranny in our lives. They take over everything. We first have to see them, to acknowledge the influence that they have in our lives, before we can move on and fight against them.
Is it possible to raise our children free from the “tyranny” of those beauty ideals?
Lexie: With my daughter, a lot of it has to do with what she sees and hears me do. So I do not talk about the size, or shape, or looks of other people’s bodies. I just don’t. I’m not going to say it about a celebrity. I’m not going to say it about a character on a tv show or people in real life. I want her to see me in my swimsuit, to see me living these principles even if I’m not feeling great about how I look.
Lindsay: I think one of the most important things is to validate and value body diversity. We’ve been taught to view bodies looking one way, especially thin as being the ideal, and the norm, but bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that is not wrong. That is not a mistake. That’s not a problem just because some bodies are different than others. Body diversity is just a reality and it’s a good thing.
Kids need to see a variety of body shapes presented neutrally. We need to treat all people the same. We need to refrain from making judgmental comments about people. When kids do make negative comments about people, we need to teach them that diversity does exist, especially among races and ethnicities that they might not be as familiar with. We need to be a champion of those things. And be grateful that we’re able to see people in all different shapes and sizes and abilities and ages and everything else. We need to tell them how cool it is that we get to live in a world where there are so many different ways to be a human.
How does social media play into this?
Lindsay: Social media can either be self-help or self-harm and we get to choose. Especially for girls and women who are shown to use social media at much greater rates than boys and men. Girls are consistently bullied on social media about their looks. That’s the number one way they are bullied. We need to be conscious of how we’re using social media and obviously unfollow people who are making us feel bad. Hide those people. We can fill those feeds with positive sources, with positive people. It doesn’t mean you have to follow only Church sources, Church accounts, but there are plenty of people using the internet for awesome things: showing women doing incredible good in the world, showing men doing incredible good in the world. People who are not there to make a profit off of your insecurity.
So be aware of those people that are. That doesn’t mean those people are bad; they’re not evil. They may be very unknowingly and not maliciously trying to make sales and make money off of their followers, but unfortunately for a lot of us, it does cause harm. It does cause us to fixate on our appearance and feel like our houses and our families and husbands or whatever aren’t good enough. We can replace those sources with ones that bring light into our lives and as we question, “How does this person’s feed make me feel? How do their posts affect my life?” Be conscious, mindful, present, and aware.
What keeps you going in your work?
Lindsay: I think it just goes back to that spiritual compelling force we’ve felt so often. We’ve received some really positive feedback that the work we’re doing has improved people’s lives and I think it would be hard for either of us to turn our backs on that knowledge.
Lexie: I would feel like I am a fraud. If I stopped doing this work, I would feel so selfish. I would stop being me. I’ve never really thought about that, but I would feel like a fraud.
How does your perspective on Heavenly Mother fit into your work?
Lindsay: We believe there’s been a great loss to the world in that people don’t think of deity in female terms. When we’ve been raised to believe that God is overtly male with all masculine qualities and characteristics and a long gray beard, and acting alone up there in Heaven, then that is a huge loss for all the people of the world—not just the girls and women who are missing half the picture.
If we really believe this whole eternal families thing, if we really believe that men and women together can be complimentary and one, and if we believe that our highest power is together, then what on earth are we doing thinking that God is a man who is alone? If we think of God in terms of male and female it gives women a pattern to follow. We might not know much about Her at all, but it gives us at least the hope: the vague, faint imagery that we can be like Her. We can also be strong and smart and all-knowing and all-loving.
Lexie: I had an experience last summer that I shared in the Exponent. My husband had taken pictures of me and my baby at the lake and I was in a swimsuit. I saw those pictures and the most immense body shame overcame me and I was so embarrassed that Trav would even want to be with me and that I looked like that. It was so against Beauty Redefined’s message, but I’m human.
I went home and while Trav was in the shower, I was lying on my bed and I bawled to Heavenly Mother specifically. I prayed to Heavenly Mother because I needed femininity. I said, “I am so ashamed of my body right now. I need your help. I need comfort. I need peace.” As I begged for it, I felt this overwhelming, immense love and warmth overcome me and I saw this vision of myself. I was walking somewhere and I was looking at myself from behind and I felt the same pride that a mom has for her baby—that I feel for Logan. You know how visions are quick and you feel it all at once? I felt such pride in who I am and what I was doing. I felt I was looking at myself from Heavenly Mother’s perspective. I immediately wrote it down in my phone because it was the most profound, spiritual experience I’ve had in a really long time. I’m desperate to know more about Her and to see Her in the details of my life.
I shared this powerful experience with my ward Relief Society, of praying to Heavenly Mother for help and receiving that help. I received wonderful feedback from members of the ward you wouldn’t expect. I think it’s because women are starving for more, more truth about them, more truth about our Mother, more truth about the patterns we can be following, which include the incredible examples of progressive women of our past—our foremothers. I think that women recognize the desire within them for more.
At A Glance
Names: Lexie and Lindsay Kite
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Marital History: Lexie is married to Travis Bunderson, Lindsay is unmarried.
Children: Lexie has a 2.5 year old daughter, Logan
Occupation: Co-Directors of Beauty Redefined; Lexie is Development Director and Lindsay is Development Officer in the University of Utah's College of Humanities
Education: (both) Utah State University (BS 2006), University of Utah (MA, 2009; PhD 2013)
Favorite Hymn: (both) O My Father
Personal Website: www.beautyredefined.org
Interview Produced by Leslie Schwartz-Leeper