On 2/20/15, slam poet Natasha Huey conducted a youth workshop that deconstructed ‘what you see’ versus ‘don’t see’ in advertisements as a means of inspiration for writing about what others ‘see’ or ‘cannot see’ about their lives.
The youth began the workshop with a check-in, where they described their mood by identifying with a weather condition. A youth in a good mood said their day was sunny. A youth with an ‘activity-packed’ day described feeling ‘windy.’
Around the room, Natasha had hung advertisements. One advertisement showed an image of Beyonce pushing a shopping cart filled with Pepsi, while another depicted a skateboarder in the clouds with a Red Bull slogan on the bottom. Natasha walked up to a Nike advertisement which highlighted the bottom half of a woman. She gave the example, ‘I see this woman running, but not where she is going;’ ‘I see her from the bottom down, and not her face.’ The youth entered the conversation, elaborating that the advertisement objectified the female by highlighting her curvaceous lower body.
Clear on their task, the youth went around to each advertisement and wrote what they did and did not see in one or two words. Then, Natasha read the youth’s analyses. Referencing the image of Beyonce, the youth said you could see her in the leotard from her music video ‘Single Ladies,’ looking like a ‘diva.’ You also never saw her drinking all that soda. This led to a conversation about sugar, weight gain, and the health risks associated with diabetes.
Each advertisement provoked conversations, especially concerning institutionalized discrimination against minorities. Looking at an image of three women in towels, the youth remarked how the skinniest woman was white while the largest woman was African American. The middle-sized woman was Hispanic. They found it insulting that the women were lined up lightest skin to darkest skin as well as skinniest to heaviest. It seemed to set up a comparison of racial stereotypes for beauty: the “skinny, white girl” versus “the curvaceous, frizzy haired, black girl.” The youth also felt the advertisement, for a cosmetic foundation, was telling them that a person’s naked beauty is a function of body size and skin color. The youth talked about how advertisements could make you feel you are not good enough in comparison to an ideal. A pop culture ideal pushed through advertising. They also understood the advertisements wanted you to believe your life could become better or closer to the ideal by buying their product.
Next, the youth transitioned into writing what you actually would see if you saw their lives. The youth poems discussed feeling disempowered by capitalism, poverty, racial discrimination and health, to name a few issues. All youth clapped and related to this particular poem:
What you see is: Prime currency
What you see is: Cradle of businesses
What you see is: Structure, Yeah that’s you
What I see is: A form of power
What I see is: A form of slavery
What I see is: The threshold of evil when it’s used the wrong way,
What I see is: Someone making money off of those without power, possession or a voice
What I see is: Family and friends robbing and killing each other over money
What I see is: A lack of necessities related to a lack of money, nourishment, education, housing, health care, transportation, Etc
What I see is: Destruction
What I see is: Depression
What I see is: Aggression
What I see is: Tragedy
What I see is: Catastrophe
What I see is: Struggle
What I see is: Trouble
What I see is: Racism
What I see is: Sexism
What I see is: Fear
What I see is: Tears
What I see is: Greed
At maximum speed…
A post-survey asked the youth to ‘disagree,’ ‘kind of disagree,’ ‘kind of agree,’ or ‘agree’ with remarks about the workshop’s design, content, facilitators, and results. The youth ‘agreed’ with these statements the most:
- Natasha gave me sufficient feedback during this training
- The difficulty of Natasha’s workshop was appropriate
- The pace of Natasha’s workshop was appropriate.
- Natasha was well prepared.
- Natasha was helpful.
- The studio atmosphere was comfortable for this workshop
These results indicate the youth connected with Natasha, and this relationship was one of the pieces of the workshop they valued the most. They thought the workshop was engaging and well designed.
The youth held the least consistent opinions regarding the statement:
- The studio provided all the materials I needed for this workshop
While almost 80% of the youth either “agreed” or “kind of agreed” with this statement, some youth felt the studio could have done more to create more space for the youth. On Fridays, YSA can have up to 35 youth participating in trainings, and it can feel quite crowded during our more interactive workshops.
Overall, the youth said the objectives for the training were clear, the activities held their attention, and the lessons from the workshop could apply to other areas of their lives.