At just one year old, a local organization that talks to students about the influences of media and society has already reached 700 local teens.
And the nonprofit, called I AM not the MEdia, can thank its existence to the purchase of artificial enhancements for the derriere.
Founder Jimmeka Anderson, 27, always knew she was interested in helping youth – she majored in human development and family studies with a concentration in adolescent development at UNC Greensboro. But it wasn’t until she confronted demons about her own self-image a few years ago that Anderson knew she wanted to show teens how to recognize and rise above the influence of media.
Shortly after she graduated from college, Anderson said, she began to feel pressure to look more curvaceous to be considered attractive. She said there is a strong influence coming from media like television and magazines that, in some ways, has replaced peer pressure with “media pressure.”
“Out of nowhere, I started worrying about my butt,” she said. So she bought the enhancements, and curious about injections to improve her figure, looked up information on the Web.
What she found shocked her.
She saw information online about a black market for cosmetic injections, and she read horror stories of several women who had died as a result of improper practices.
“I said, ‘Why would I do that to myself?’ ” Anderson said. “ ‘Why?’ I even threw the butt pads out. Why are we risking our lives and health for something someone says we need to be beautiful? That kind of sent me over the edge.”
That’s when Anderson knew that if she could fall prey to society’s expectations, teenagers could, too.
“I can’t believe I even considered it,” she said of the injections. “But it sparked the fire for me to do something about it.”
Last January, Anderson launched the nonprofit I AM not the MEdia, which has more than 20 programs Anderson and her team devised through research on teenagers and the media. The workshops fall into one of five categories: body image and stereotypes, sex and healthy relationships, teens and consumers, education versus entertainment, teens and healthy living, and bullying and teen violence.
The capital letters of I AM not the MEdia spell I AM ME, which underscores the organization’s mission: To recognize and take pride in individuality, and to not conform to what magazines, television and social media say is socially acceptable or enviable.
Anderson pitched her program and workshops to the director of Communities in Schools, a national dropout prevention organization that works with several schools in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools system.
In the past year, Anderson has presented workshops all over Charlotte schools and organizations. The organization’s website also sells buttons, bags and other items emblazoned with “I AM not the MEdia.”
“The kids really enjoyed the session, and they were asking when she would come back,” said Tamika Russell, the site coordinator for Communities in Schools at James Martin Middle School in University City.
In November, Anderson presented the workshop “Rep Your Brand” at the school to talk about social media websites.
“She was very interactive and full of energy, which you have to have with middle-school students because they get bored easily. And they are very honest,” Russell said. “They will hurt your feelings.”
Students at James Martin said they benefited from the workshop.
“She was telling us about how celebrities represent themselves in the media and how others represent themselves,” said seventh-grader Isha Zaghari. “I learned that sometimes you have to watch out for what you put in the media, like Facebook or Twitter, because once it’s out, you can’t take it down.”
One of her classmates, Dustin Duong, also in the seventh grade, agreed.
“I think it’s important because it really says who you are, and first impressions are pretty much everything to what people think about you,” he said.
While I AM not the MEdia is just a part-time project for Anderson – she has a full-time job as a teen services specialist and events coordinator at ImaginOn – she said she can see it taking off in the future.
She’s planning to launch a first big event, a Teens Take Charge rally, in November.
Until then, her schedule continues to get booked every week with requests for workshops. And they’re hitting home, too.
“We learned stuff we didn’t know about ourselves,” Duong said. He said he recommended the workshops for other students his age. “They need to really know how to really tell who they are ... and let people know the true you.”