Woodland Regional High School senior Caitlyn Sousa knows that love is louder than the pressure to be perfect.
It’s a lesson she learned after struggling with body image and coming to terms with the unrealistic expectations of beauty perpetrated by the media.
Now, she is taking that message to her peers as part of her senior project.
“I’m not really a shy person, and I’d rather have my struggle to be out there and known. … I don’t mind at all having it be that open because I want to help other people,” she said.
Sousa hopes her story will help others who may be struggling with body image and is encouraging fellow high school students to share struggles they have overcome as part of the “Love is Louder” campaign.
Sousa said she was inspired to join the movement after reading about it in Seventeen Magazine. In the article, actress Demi Lovato spoke about how she overcame eating disorders and the pressure to be perfect. Actress Brittney Snow started the movement in 2010 in response to a rash of suicides among young people. She discussed her own battle with self-image and her crusade to let teenagers know that they are not alone in facing their struggles.
“That article kind of resonated in the back of my mind,” Sousa said.
Last year, Snow teamed up with the Jed Foundation, an organization that works to reduce emotional distress and prevent suicide, and MTV to launch a viral campaign on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Thousands of followers have posted videos talking about how they overcame their own hardships, photos of themselves with “love is louder than (whatever adversity they overcame)” written on their hands, and tweets with positive messages.
“It’s an online conversation, so that people who feel alone have the ability to reach out and have support,” Sousa said.
Sousa said she wanted to make a difference in the halls of her high school and decided to bring the movement to Woodland as a side project.
When she met with English Department Chair Michelle Papa to discuss the idea, Papa suggested making it Sousa’s senior project.
There was only one problem — Sousa already had done a senior project. She did an internship with the Waterbury Police Department last summer as part of her goal to study criminal justice and psychology in college next year.
At the last minute, Sousa had to throw out all her paperwork and submit a new project proposal the day before the deadline.
Working with Papa, who is also in charge of the school’s literary magazine, Sousa is putting together a winter edition with the “love is louder” theme.
Sousa’s advanced creative writing class and graphic design class are working on the layout and design of the magazine.
“I think it gives the kids a voice in terms of their writing,” Papa said.
Through Facebook and Twitter, Sousa asked her peers to think about what they were struggling with in their life and how they have overcome it or are working to overcome it.
She’s gotten over 50 submissions, including essays, poems, songs, and artwork, from both boys and girls in all grade levels.
“There’s a lot going into this,” Sousa said.
She said the magazine will also include a playlist of positive songs and a list of resources for students to get help.
“If they’re having a rough day, they can listen to the songs,” Sousa said.
Sousa said there’s a lot more going on in the student body than what students see when they’re walking to class.
One student wrote about how she dealt with the death over her brother. Another wrote about how love is louder than people who bring you down.
Papa said she likes the project because it encourages students not to talk about being bullied, but how they overcame it.
“It’s really looking at positive instead of negative,” Papa said.
In addition to the magazine, Sousa filled a display case at the high school with 80 pictures of students with positive messages written on their hands. She is also filming a video montage of students saying their quote on camera and selling t-shirts for the movement. Sousa is organizing a school-wide read where every student in the school will read about the Love is Louder campaign in their advisory groups.
“She is marketing this project and getting kids talking about it like I have not seen,” Papa said. “It’s growing faster than she can contain it.”
Sousa said a lot of students are excited about the project. Peers have stopped Sousa in the hall to tell her she is an inspiration to them for her positivity, she said.
“They’re starting to bring love is louder into everyday lingo,” Sousa said.
Recently, Sousa got the ultimate affirmation of her work. Snow saw Sousa’s tweets and tweeted back a message thanking her for bringing the movement to Woodland.
“Her project is incredible. The time and energy that Caitlyn’s putting in is just enviable,” Papa said.
Sousa said she has put in over 40 hours into the project so far.
“It doesn’t even feel like work to me because I enjoy doing it so much,” she said.
Sousa wants to gather any money she makes from selling the magazines and t-shirts for a scholarship for juniors and seniors. The details haven’t been worked out, but applicants would have to write an essay about something they struggled with in high school and the school scholarship committee would choose a winner.
Anyone interested in purchasing the magazine can contact Papa via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sousa at the high school. The magazine is $5 and the t-shirts will be on sale for $10 each.