From Dove To The White House: Jess Weiner’s Story Of Hope, Body Positivity, & Advocacy
When Jess Weiner graduated from Penn State in 1995, she had no idea where her career would lead her. One thing was certain, though: She loved Penn State and knew it was the right place for her.
Today, Weiner is an advocate for body empowerment and equal access to education for women and girls through working with brands like Dove, Disney, Aerie, Netflix, and Warner Bros. Her advocacy efforts can be traced back to her time as a theatre student at Penn State.
“I loved my time at Penn State. I feel like my whole passion for activism, arts, and media was born during my time studying there,” Weiner said, noting Happy Valley was far different than her home in Miami. “I remember visiting the school as a prospective student during springtime and anyone who knows how gorgeous Happy Valley can be in springtime will understand why I fell in love. But I also fell in love with the people, the community, and the folks who make this school an incredible place to be.”
In 1994, Weiner was selected to appear in a new show that MTV was launching called “MTV Unfiltered.” The program would send cameras to young people who wanted to expose or share something going on in their lives.
Weiner chose to film and expose a Penn State tradition as old as time: The Mifflin Streak.
“My freshman year of school, I was walking back to my dorm in East Halls from the library during finals week and I was caught up in the Mifflin Mob — my breasts were grabbed, my butt was grabbed, I was terrified,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on. I soon found out that this tradition that started as the Mifflin Streak had turned into the Mifflin Mob, and thousands of people, mostly men, were running through campus and screaming for women to strip in their dorm room windows.”
“It was a terrible tradition and one that I found to be institutionalized at the time because instead of stopping it, the administration gave us these paper shades to put in our windows that literally said ‘pull the shade on harassment’ as though we were the ones responsible for stopping this oppressive behavior,” Weiner continued.
Weiner was sent two MTV cameras to tell her story about her experience with the Mifflin Mob. She jumped head-first into planning a protest to shed light on such a serious issue seemingly ignored by the university administration.
Word spread quickly about the protest and camera crews filming the event, and for the first time in almost 20 years, the mob stopped. Weiner said that since phones and social media didn’t exist much at all back in the 1990s, a crew who was engaging in such acts really didn’t want to be filmed and wasn’t used to being filmed, so the fact that her crowd was there deterred the mob.
Weiner says problems like institutionalized sexual harassment and the stigma surrounding mental illness are some of the biggest issues students today face. It proves that sometimes, the most serious issues facing young people today are the ones that are silencing them the most.
“I think this pandemic is forcing a big academic regression for college-aged students because a lot of people’s studies have changed or halted due to COVID-19. But, ultimately, I think this generation is struggling with mental wellness and feeling more anxiety, depression, and loneliness than ever before,” Weiner said. “The great news though about this generation is that they are reducing the stigma around this and so we are talking about mental wellness more, getting help, and prioritizing our health.”
Advocacy and empowerment were a central theme in Weiner’s work during the time she was a Penn State student, and are just as critical to her work today. After spending nearly 26 years as an entrepreneur, Weiner has had a lot of time to reflect on some of her biggest and most impactful projects.
Some of those projects include helping to launch Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, an initiative that aims to build self-confidence in women and young children. The campaign aims to celebrate diverse body types and redefine what typical, mainstream media and news defines as beautiful.
So far, it’s been wildly successful. Dove’s sales eventually skyrocketed to a profit of $4 billion.
“Helping to launch the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty will always hold a special place in my heart because it kicked off my career of working with brands to help make social change around beauty and body image issues,” Weiner said. “I personally had struggled with my self-esteem and body confidence growing up and actually was able to partake in group therapy while a student at Penn State (thank you, CAPS), and all of this helped me to channel my creativity and interest in advertising and media and work with brands to help them use their platforms to raise awareness.”
Weiner hoped that, through this campaign, girls everywhere would recognize that the images they see in advertisements and media are airbrushed, retouched, and unrealistic. She’s also extremely passionate about educating specifically young girls about these unrealistic stereotypes, and how the pressure to appear perfect and to confine to a certain standard of “beauty” can be really dangerous to one’s self-esteem and body image.
Weiner has worked to consult with brands like Disney, Barbie, and Mattel on making their products more inclusive and representative of all body types. In 2016, she partnered with Mattel to create a line of Barbie dolls with more diverse bodies. In 2019, she helped the company launch its first gender-inclusive doll line. All of this work has helped millions of people around the world feel heard, seen, and represented in ways that they had never been before.
“I choose to work with the world’s biggest brands because they have such an awesome platform to help people. So when I work with a brand like Barbie or Disney Princess, I know I am getting a chance to help change a beauty or gender stereotype that can impact the way a young person sees themselves,” Weiner said. “I’ve seen firsthand how my clients not only become more profitable when they become more inclusive, but they also help change the way the next generation feels about their lives and their identities.”
Weiner’s work has been groundbreaking in helping brands become more inclusive and diverse. It’s helped to quite literally pave a brighter future for young people all over the world to feel heard, represented, and seen.
Her work has even managed to get her an invite to serve on the White House Council for Women and Girls under the Obama administration.
“I feel incredibly blessed that I had a chance to work with the White House Council for Women and Girls under the Obama administration, and I specifically helped create a gender stereotype summit where we gathered the world’s biggest toy and entertainment brands for kids and the leading academic researchers of gender stereotypes. We held a forum where we could learn and talk to each other about the impact that gender stereotypes have on self-esteem, academic success and opportunities for career advancement,” Weiner said. “It was such a powerful meeting of brands and business leaders that were all focusing on how to do their work better.”
And despite working so hard for so many years, Weiner still believes her work is nowhere near close to being done. Currently, she’s working on her third book. She’s also gone back to her entrepreneurship roots, and in just a few days, will be releasing a new podcast called “Dominant Stories” in partnership with television producer Shonda Rhimes.
Still, through all of this work, her mission remains the same.
“I will spend my whole life trying to make the world a better place for women and girls to be seen and to see themselves,” Weiner said.
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