At 12 years old, Jess Weiner struggled with self-esteem issues around things we all understand; like wanting to be liked and to feel beautiful. Now an author, speaker and social entrepreneur, she’s turned those personal struggles into a global initiative for girls’ and women empowerment. As the CEO of her own consulting firm Talk to Jess, she advises brands and organizations on issues facing women (from Barbie’s latest body evolution to Dove’s memorable Real Beauty campaign) and her work is changing cultural messages targeting young women and proving that confidence is ultimately a manner of traveling, not a destination.
How did the idea for your consulting firm, Talk to Jess, come about?
After spending 20 years working as an educator, author and expert in the area of women, girls and the media, I kept getting calls from companies who would say, “Oh, we have x business problem with our marketing. Or we have y challenges with our products. And my friend told me to call you. They said I should, ‘Talk to Jess.’” And so it inspired me to create a consulting and strategy firm where I could help advise brands and businesses on the issues impacting women and girls.
Why did you choose to help companies develop their messages about women, girls and confidence?
Growing up, I was obsessed with TV and the media, but I never saw girls who looked like me. I always wondered who was making the decisions to show only one kind of beauty or body image. It made me curious about the business of making media and advertising. That curiosity led me to a career. Through my experience working with brands like Dove or Mattel, I’ve learned that companies have an awesome opportunity to reach millions of people worldwide, and a majority of them want to do the right thing. I help them reach those audiences with messages that are empowering and inspiring. So that perhaps there is a little girl out there who doesn’t have to have the same experience I did growing up. Businesses can be incredible allies in making social change. You have to be willing though to go against the status quo, become innovative and risky in your work and challenge stereotypes. I’m happy to help companies do that.
Why is it important that businesses and global brands create a particular message for girls and women?
We want the brands we purchase to have purpose. We want them to align with our values and to be socially responsible. It’s proving to not only be good for people but good for business. It’s the way the global businesses need to operate now. For far too long, the images we’ve seen of girls and women in the media have been stereotypical, one dimensional and thereby leaving out a lot of women and girl’s stories. It’s time to change the narrative.
You have served as Dove’s Global Self Esteem Ambassador for the past decade. What does this role entail?
My job as Dove’s Global Self Esteem Ambassador is to help them extend the reach of their mission, which is to create a world for girls and women where beauty is seen as a source of confidence, not anxiety. So I’ve helped them create a self-esteem curriculum that has reached more than 20 million girls worldwide. Along with our team of excellent self-esteem educators and mentors, we work with schools, communities and partner organizations globally. These workshops are designed to reduce girls’ anxiety over their appearance and realize their full potential.
What do you think is the social significance of remodeling Barbie?
Barbie has had wonderful success in reflecting back to girls that they can be and do anything. Now that the doll herself has more variety in hair color and texture, skin color, eye shape and body size, she is more in alignment with what little girls around the world look like and see in their lives. Barbie is such a symbol of femininity and pop culture for many young girls and her evolution signifies inclusivity. I’m excited for girls to have more options to play with!
What inspires you?
I have so many sources of inspiration! Every single girl or woman who has written me a note or email inspires me to keep going with this work. My brand partners inspire me with their commitment to this issue, and my husband is my ultimate role model. He is the best partner for me and he is a fabulous artist and woodworker who creates beautiful pieces of art every day. Watching him do that inspires me.
What advice would you give to young women struggling with self-esteem?
Remember that confidence is a journey, not a destination. The reason why it’s a journey is because true confidence comes from knowing who you are. So it’s about investing in the relationship you have with yourself and letting that journey be messy as you venture towards self-discovery. Try not to airbrush away in your life the tough moments. Those are the times we learn the most about ourselves, and they will pass. You build self-esteem by doing esteemable acts.
Jess Weiner is living her dreams!