WOMEN

Rowan Blanchard: 'White Feminists Forget That Feminism Means Equality'

So much wisdom packed into just 14 years on earth. What did her parents feed her?

Teenagers everywhere: listen up. Actually, humans of all ages: listen up.

Disney star Rowan Blanchard made a name for herself this year (and earned a spot on Time's 30 Most Influential Teens of 2015 list) for her thoughtful comments about feminism and equality. In June, the 14-year-old spoke at the UN Women’s annual summit about her personal connection to feminism: "When I was in preschool, I played catch with the other kids and I was told I threw like a girl. I've identified as a feminist ever since."

In August, she published an essay about the importance of intersectional feminism in a three-part Instagram post (see parts two and three here):

Part 1. By me

A photo posted by Rowan Blanchard (@rowanblanchard) on

The posts went viral, garnering more than 97,000 likes on Instagram -- and the platform took note. This week, Blanchard joined Instagram in Los Angeles to co-host the launch of Instagram's new initiative, #MyStory, which aims to highlight powerful female voices on the platform. Twenty-eight women and their photos were selected for the exhibit.

HuffPost asked the young but seasoned feminist about the most problematic misconceptions the movement faces today. She said, "to treat it all the same or say all women are treated equally is not fair. The way that I experience sexist comments is different than the way a black woman experiences sexist comments."

The actress continued: "Race is such a difficult conversation to have in America because everybody is so afraid of talking about it. We don’t have to say we are colorblind. People have different experiences. To say you don’t see color erases the experiences of so many."

In addition to opening up about how young girls are taught to evaluate their own beauty, Blanchard also talked to HuffPost about race in America and what it was like to grow up with yogis for parents. Read highlights from our conversation below.

Both of your parents are yoga instructors. Did their work influence your relationship with body image growing up?

Yoga is knowing that you can try again and again. Yoga is so universal -- the feeling that it gives you. I didn’t really realize until I was much older that I could have a mind, body, spirit connection. I feel like I was definitely much more in tune with my body and in tune with not always succeeding partly because of them. I grew up with my parents teaching me yoga. My mom would donate classes to my school and teach everyone. But it was more embarrassing when my dad would do it because he likes to sing and embarrass me. Now I look back on that and that makes my dad my dad [laughs].

What is the importance of a platform like Instagram when it comes to conversations about body image and young women?

When I was younger, there were only white European princess dolls to play with. I would play with them and I loved them. The girls I would hang out with loved those princesses too. Now I look back, and there were no African American princesses. They were just European. It was a very specific type of beauty standard. When you’re little girl that loves princesses, you go to the store and you can be Sleeping Beauty, Ariel or Cinderella. That was the diversity. It makes you question, ‘Am I not pretty enough to be a princess?’ Looking back, I think that it must have had an impact on girls who didn’t look like that.

Do you think there are more ways to define beauty now because of technology and social media?

I do, especially with Instagram because it’s photo-based. You can take pictures of yourself and other people. I feel like you don’t have to be one type of beauty and you don’t have to fit somebody else’s standards of beauty. One of my favorite things about tonight’s event is that the [photos] are so diverse. I love that.

Do you think that as women, we are naturally drawn to want to look at things that are pretty? Do we care most about beauty?

I think society has taught us that our beauty is the only thing that is valued. That’s how we are measured. Women tend to gravitate towards questions of ‘Am I beautiful?’ and ‘Am I enough?’ because that is what we have been taught -- to evaluate our own beauty.

Do you think that needs to be changed? And how?

I think it needs to be changed, absolutely. I don’t think it’s fair that you have to base your self-worth on whether or not the cute guy likes you back. I feel like we can change that by initiatives like #MyStory that says you can be from this place or that place, or look like this or look like that. What matters is the message that you’re putting out there. The event is called My Story; it’s not called My Beauty.

Sometimes conversations about feminism can be polarizing. How do we make it more inclusive?

Unfortunately, a lot of white feminists forget that feminism means equality. It means equality for trans women and equality for black women. Even when people make comments like ‘Boys don’t have to worry about the way they dress’ -- actually, Trayvon Martin was killed because he had a hoodie on. I think it’s about acknowledging your privilege and looking at how you can help other people. Feminism can seem like this thing that polarizes people because the version of feminism that we most often see does polarize people.

I think it all comes down to recognizing your privilege and recognizing how to help others. So obviously a white man is more privileged than I am, but I am still more privileged than somebody else.

 

What is your hope for the future of feminism?

I think it all comes down to recognizing your privilege and recognizing how to help others. So obviously a white man is more privileged than I am, but I am still more privileged than somebody else.

Check out all 28 women selected for Instagram's #MyStory exhibit:

PHOTO GALLERY
28 Badass Women You Should Be Following On Instagram
CONVERSATIONS