The photographs are beautiful, and the message behind them is anything but superficial.

If you’ve flipped through a magazine since, oh, the dawn of time, you’ve probably seen photographs of women who are retouched almost beyond recognition.

These girls become "flawless," losing anything — bruises, scars, cellulite — that could identify them as less than what our society considers perfect. Emily Lauren Dick, a photographer, is not having any of that.

With her book "Average Girl: A Guide to Loving Your Body," Dick hopes to redefine what we consider beautiful by showing women just as they are — bruises, scars, cellulite, and all.  


Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

Like most humans, Dick was tired of feeling like she didn’t quite measure up to society’s standards.

In fact, the idea for the "Average Girl" series was inspired by the photographer’s own experience.

"I called my project Average Girl because personally, I’ve never been a fat girl and I’ve never been a skinny girl … I‘ve always been in the middle … an Average Girl," she wrote on her project's Kickstarter page.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with average. In her mind, "Average was where we all fit." She set out to create something for "any girl who has felt mediocre and who has struggled with not being considered ideal by social standards."

Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

"Average Girl" is more than just a book of beautiful photographs. Dick hopes it will be a tool to convince women they don’t have to constantly improve their bodies to fit society’s narrow definition of beauty.

"I think we all wonder if the way we look is normal and although we are all different, we are all very similar. Young women need to see that we have a lot of similarities!" Dick says of her choice to photograph women in their underwear. "The things we are embarrassed about having (stretch marks, scars, bruises, acne, etc.) are things that are very common. We've just been told by the media that we should not have them."

"When we see stretch marks, blemishes and bruises we have started to question why they are present … and that is the reason for this book," she explained on the Kickstarter site. "I want them to see the stretch marks, blemishes and bruises as markers of living their lives to the fullest."  

She interviewed more than 80 young women for the project and filled out the text of the book with reader-friendly facts and even worksheets about the value of a positive body image.  

"The photographic component only reinforces the message that we need to practice self love and we are only going to do this if we change social beauty standards," her page reads.

Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

The photographs are stunning, but the topic of body image is anything but superficial.

Think back to those magazines you’ve been flipping through forever. Have you ever stopped to gauge how you feel when you see them? Would you even notice if you started to hate yourself or your body as those images flashed before your eyes?

When 3 out of 4 teen girls feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after three minutes of looking at a fashion magazine, it’s time to offer them some alternatives. Dick hopes her book will do just that.

"I want the conversation about women’s bodies to be focused on all that they have been through, what they can accomplish and what their bodies have done for them," she said.

Photo via Emily Lauren Dick, used with permission.

Want to help make Dick’s vision a reality? You can support her Kickstarter here.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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One little girl took pictures of her school lunches. The Internet responded — and so did the school.

If you listened to traditional news media (and sometimes social media), you'd begin to think the Internet and technology are bad for kids. Or kids are bad for technology. Here's a fascinating alternative idea.

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This article originally appeared on 03.31.15

Kids can innovate, create, and imagine in ways that are fresh and inspiring — when we "allow" them to do so, anyway. Despite the tendency for parents to freak out because their kids are spending more and more time with technology in schools, and the tendency for schools themselves to set extremely restrictive limits on the usage of such technology, there's a solid argument for letting them be free to imagine and then make it happen.

It's not a stretch to say the kids in this video are on the cutting edge. Some of the results he talks about in the video at the bottom are quite impressive.

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