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Girling Up


Girling Up is a collaborative website and instagram page that serves as a tool to educate and empower parents to grow confident girls. This is my capstone project presented to acquire my degree at The University of Texas at Austin. View full process booklet here.


As a female who was born and raised in an extremely body conscious culture and as an Eating Disorder (ED) survivor, I always held the topic of body-positivity, fitness, health, and wellness very close to my heart. Since my meetings with therapists, I became aware how society may pressure people to be judgemental about themselves. However, it wasn’t until the Fall of 2018 - when I took Dr. Kathrynn Pounders’ course Psychology of Advertising - that I realized the magnitude of the power and extent of media’s influence in an individual’s psychological health.

After watching the Onslaught by Dove video in Dr. Pounders’ class, I felt hopeless for the next generation of females. It seemed that the thin ideal and gender stereotypes were so ingrained in our culture that there was nothing that we could do about it that would be enough to make a significant change.

During the summer of 2019, I found a book called Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween by Melissa Wardy. As I read the first few chapters, I realized that there were in fact things that we can do about the issue of idealization of females and that there are people that have already taken initiative to push this change to happen.




(3) Books

(1) Article

(1) Documentary

(9) Visual Observations

Thin ideal, gender stereotyping, sex appeal - those are all ideas and concepts that have been incorporated into our society as a result of years of advertising. Although we might not really pay attention to them, we absorb most of their information subconsciously. Because of that, subliminal messaging in an extremely powerful tool. Advertising affects how people think and act without they realizing it. However, women are the ones who pressure themselves to reach unrealistic expectations and are first exposed to those expectations as young girls at home.

Magazines have been very effective in enforcing society’s expectations on women through their curated content. Although magazines lost the popularity they used to have, they now have been replaced by social media - which works in somewhat similar ways and it's maybe even more destructive since it’s harder for people separate real from reality. Also, social media blurred the line between content and posts created by celebrity and the general public - which encourages even more our natural drive towards social comparison.

Now that body positivity have gained popularity, companies are starting to use it in their marketing strategy and advertisement campaigns. Although this might indicate that we are taking a right step towards how society views women, it made the movement “too exclusive” and some advocates are turning away from it and towards several smaller movements such has “body neutrality” and “body acceptance”.

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The following is a collection of media and products that may be overlooked if we occasionally see them through our day and don’t stop to really think about them and what they mean.


(3) Interviews

(1) Survey

(1) Community Research


A consumer psychologist who is also a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, an Art Director at an advertising agency, and an eating disorder survivor were all interviewed in order to provide variating and insightful views on the issue at stake. 


These interviews revealed that unrealistic expectations of women are so rooted and ingrained in out culture that sometimes it is overlooked by the advertising team who might end up launching a project that reinforces such expectations.


Most important of all, these interviews revealed that indeed, the environment that a girl grows up in plays a big part on determining the extent in which she will be influenced by such expectations. A couple of examples of how that might happen what were mentioned in the interviews included the child watching their parents' constant dieting and lack of intervention when the media presents unrealistic expectations to the child.

Online Survey

The objective of this survey was to compare who the respondents were before society told them who to be to who they are now and explore some of the factors that might have influenced this change. In order to do so, additionally to answering some questions on their upbringing, each participant uploaded a picture of them when they were kids and of themselves now.

This survey was advertised via social media and group chats in Portuguese and English. The respondents age varies from 36 to 15 and their nationalities include, but aren’t limited to American, Brazilian, Venezuelan, Mexican, and Chinese.

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This survey revealed that all the participants are affected by the unrealistic body standards imposed and promoted by the society and media - even though not all of them realize that.

Only two participants said that they don’t believe that they are personally impacted by the media

and advertising, However, both of them also said that they have dieted my times in order to lose weight even though they are at a healthy weight range. This reveals that even though they don’t realize it, they are indeed affected by media’s thin ideal.

Community Research

Part of this temporary interactive exhibition was inspired by the 1989 study by Zellner, Harner, & Adler, Effects of eating abnormalities and gender on perceptions of desirable body shape. In which Zellner et al showed their participants illustrations of bodies arranged in a scale from thin to fuller and asked them where on the scale they thought it was the most attractive for their own gender, and where it was the most at- tractive for the opposite gender. This study revealed that men and women differ in their perceptions of the most attractive body figure of their own and of the opposite sex. All women’s ideal figures are thinner than their current figures, whereas men rate the two nearly identically. Besides that, the researchers also found out that women identified a thinner female as attractive while men marked a fuller female figure as attractive. This study was conducted decades ago and I wondered if its findings still remained true.

As an exploration of the relationship of body image with culture, habits, and health, this exhibition took place on Saturday, October 26, 2019 at Mueller Lake Park, Austin Texas. It had as objective to survey people’s knowledge on healthy foods, activity levels, and their views on the female body.


People interacting with the exhibition placed stickers on the boards near their answers. There were no assigned sticker color for any of the boards but the one about the female body. For this board, participants were asked to place a green sticker near the option that they believed to be the “healthiest” one and a pink or orange one near the most “attractive”.

Interactions were measured by the amount of stickers glued on the boards. In the course of 3 hours, the exhibition had the total of 146 interactions.


The boards that tested people’s knowledge on nutrition and activity levels were formatted as “tricky questions”. For the nutrition board, I expected people to select the salad as the correct answer since salads are usually associated as a healthy meal. However, interestingly enough, it was the option that was less voted for (3). The one that was most voted for was the correct answer - the buddha bowl (32). For the activity board, I expected people to vote for the office worker since it’s the only activity profile that regularly goes to the gym and stays active during weekends. However, although it wasn’t the option that was voted for the least, it only had 6 votes out of 30. On this board, the participants also got the answer correct - the mover (22). I believe that the interaction with these boards didn’t come out as I expected since the neighborhood that I survey is wealthy and well-educated.

Although the third board was a recreation of the “Effects of eating abnormalities and gender on perceptions of desirable body shape” 1989 research, the purpose of it was to test if the body positive movement is in fact reaching people and changing their perception of the “ideal” body. I expected participants to mainly select #3 as “healthy” and #2 as “attractive”. However #3 was the most voted for both healthy and attractive, and second place was a nearly a tie between #2 and #4 - leaning more towards #4. Besides that, #1 had less votes for attractive than the fuller body figures #5 and #6. The results of this board reveals that yes, there is a change happening in people’s perception the the “ideal” body - even though this change is small for now.

Many people had personal connections to the exhibition and came to talk to me about their experiences about self confidence and body image. These interactions were unplanned, unexpected, and extremely fortunate and meaningful. The following are quotes from those participants.

“I do all this exercise and I’m still overweight. As a latina in my 30s, I struggle and think to myself that maybe if I’m thinner, white men will ignore the cultural barrier”

“I think that I’m a 5 but that #3 is the healthiest... maybe I could become a 4...”

“Which one is the most attractive? Can I answer all of the above? I don’t think that I can pick one.”

“#3 is definetly the healthiest, but I personally like the legs of #4 better”

“I believe that as you get older, you realize that body image is not that big of a deal”

“There needs to be an interference, something to educate these teenage girls that believe that they need to starve themselves to be thin”

“For me, my perception of the ‘attractive’ body changed in college, when my boyfriend at the time told me that he enjoyed my belly rolls”


Concept Development

My research taught me that the causes of body image problems in females can be divided into two categories: the external (cultural) and the internal (personal). And that external factors are almost impossible to manipulate and any changes to it would have to be through a collective action and would take many years. All the research conducted during the course of the fall semester of 2019 described above lead me to five insight statements:


thin ideal and sex appeal sell

Media is the biggest promoter of unrealistic body standards. Regardless of the damage that it does to female mental health, the industry therefore won’t regulate itself since it’s profitable.


comparison is natural, obsession is not

Media is the biggest promoter of unrealistic body standards. Regardless of the damage that it does to female mental health, the industry therefore won’t regulate itself since it’s profitable.


environment plays a big role

The environment surrounding a girl as she is raise is an important factor that will determine the extent in which she will be impacted by unrealistic body standards.


it's not all to blame on media & advertising

Women pressure themselves to meet unrealistic body standards.


body-positive movement isn't perfect

The environment surrounding a girl as she is raise is an important factor that will determine the extent in which she will be impacted by unrealistic body standards.

What society current perceives as an attractive female body and the way that companies sell their products are considered external factors. It’s hard to change the idea that a thin female body is attractive because it’s so ingrained into our society. We also can’t expect businesses to stop promoting unrealistic body standards in order to sell their products be- cause it’s profitable to them to keep doing so.

Internal or personal factors are the ones that are under the control of an individual. For example, how the women pressure

themselves to reach unrealistic body sizes and how the environment in which a child is raised in is under the control of the parents - which is the cause that seems to be the most relevant. How parents act in front of their kids and talk to them are just a few examples of ways that parents can unintentionally guide their kids to be more judgemental of themselves and therefore more prone to believing the lies of unrealistic body standards and eating disorders.

User & Competitive Analysis

Parents in nowadays society are busier than ever. Housewives are less common and in most families, both parents are working professionals. Their lack of time and the rise of technology made many parents drift away from parenting books and skew towards blogs and social media pages.

The rise of technology brings easier access to information. But many parents still don’t realize how simple acts such as the mom dieting without being overweight and the dad calling their daughter princess influence their kid’s self-esteem in the long-run. Educate parents how their words and actions might have an effect on their daughters, I will create a blog and instagram page that will serve as a collaborative between professionals, parents, and eating disorder survivors.

Because the topic of media’s subliminal messaging causing low self-esteem and possibly eating disorders can be overwhelming and scary, when communicating with the target audience, it’s important to be knowledgeable, calming, supportive, and honest. These adjectives are meant to guide the art direction and copy present in the website and Instagram page.

There are many parenting blogs out there. However, many
of them seems to be designed for kids instead of parents
and none of them - except for one that doesn’t have a lot of content and seems to be incentive - are dedicated to educating parents about how their words and actions influence their daughter’s self-esteem in the long-run.

The following are examples of popular parenting blogs.

Girling Up

Girling Up

Negative body image, eating disorders, and telling parents how they should act and talk to their daughters are delicate topics. Therefore, it's important to be passive, knowledgeable, and optimistic.

"Health is beautiful, regardless of your body shape". This is the main message that Girling Up wants to spread and therefore it guides visual brand decisions such as color and illustrative style.

Illustration Process

So that I’m not connecting existing people with topics that i’m discussing while paring images with copy, I decided to go with the illustrative route. Produced illustrations will be used throughout the website and instagram pages portraying girls and parents interacting with their daughters.

Because of my topic, it’s important that the illustrations are body-neutral. It’s also important that the illustrations remain simplistic in order to reflect the idea that I’m trying to simplify the problem and solution to the parents. In order to create 

these illustrations I first studied body composition by sketching possible activities that I would like to showcase.

After observing and studying body positioning and composition, I did an exercise where I created blobs with watercolor and made them into people by drawing on top of them. This exercise permitted me to explore a way to create fluid drawings that could possibly be body-neutral.

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After completing the watercolor exercise, I moved some of my drawings to the computer, where I refined them. In order to finalize the illustrations I had to manipulate the initial form of the watercolor shapes in order to cover more of the body of my characters so that the viewer couldn’t identify what body shape and size the characters have. I also referred back to my body composition study sketches while finalizing the illustrations in order to adjust the positioning of my characters so that the actions looked more natural.

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Color Study

A healthy body is natural, and beautiful. Our bodies are products of nature, because of that, I decided to inspire my color selection on nature and ripening of fruits.

I explored color combinations with red and orange to symbolize a fully ripped and matured being. Using orange watercolor for my studies was a happy incident. Orange is warm and comforting. A saturated orange becomes energetic and inspiring.

I also explored paring the warmer color with blues and greens ad they are complementary to the oranges and reds. Using green reflects the idea that girls are still growing and developing - like a fruit before it becomes ripe. Green is also often associated with hope, and optimism.

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Type Selection

For ordinary people, typography goes unnoticed, it’s not something they really think about unless something feels wrong. Typography sets the mood of a product. Because of that, taking my project’s purpose and the target audience into consideration, it’s important that my type selection feels honest, trustworthy, knowledgeable, and calming.

I chose Greycliff CF Bold for headers. It’s geometric shapes and strokes with near even weight express a feeling of trust-worthiness. Different from other geometric typefaces like Futura, Greycliff has rounder conners and a lower cap height, which makes it less aggressive and more calming.

For the body, I selected Museo 300. Like Greycliff, its round shapes also communicate a feeling of comfort. Museo has some characteristics both of serif and sans-serif fonts which makes it seems knowledgeable while still being approachable.


Greycliff / Museo 300

Logo Development


The logo is composed of a word mark and an icon. It’s to be used only on the website headings, no social media profile pictures. The icon pulls elements from the illustrations to create an abstract G and an arrow. The wordmark is typeset on Greycliff CF Bold in lowercase in order to appear more calm- ing and to reflect simplicity.

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Website Development

On the website, target audience can read about more in- depth content and interact with it. Besides having the full blog posts, parents can also find information on the issue of society and media promoting unrealistic body standards, activities
to do with their daughters such as gratitude journals, and
they can also share their stories in order to help other parents through their own experience and to show that they aren’t the only ones.


The website’s design is focused on function. I want the website to be clean and simple so that the user can fully concentrate on their search and attainment of knowledge.

Illustrations play a big role in the website by telling the user a story and helping them navigate through the interface. The only moment where actual pictures are used is in The Issue page where the images are helping portray how the “ideal” female body changed historically.


Instagram Page

The purpose of the Instagram page is to provide parents shorter amounts of information that they can read during their quick breaks through their busy daily schedule. Because some posts are call outs to blog posts, if parents are interested in reading the full post but don’t have time at that moment, Instagram permits users to save posts so that way parents can reference to them later once they have enough time.

Instagram content is divided into two categories: insights from parents’ stories and general tips and information on raising confident girls. The images insights posts are quotes from parents’ stories typeset on Greycliff CF Bold in orange or green on a white background. As for the posts on general tips and informations, the images are illustrations on a white background, centered.


Capstone Exhibition

As part of the University of Texas at Austin BFA Design curriculum, this project was required to be presented in a class-wide senior design exhibition. However, because of the situation created by the COVID-19, the exhibition moved to an online platform.

The following are my plans for the physical exhibition, before it got cancelled.



With the objective to spread Girling Up's message and direct the exhibition visitors to the Instagram page, I created the following postcards for the visitors to take with them.

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