In Her Words: BCAM talks to Hayley Darychuk

Outgoing intern, Hayley Darychuk, speaks to us about her five-month internship with BCAM’s youth campaign, FemmeToxic (FT). Hayley tells us about how FT has inspired her and why this BCAM program is an invaluable tool in engaging youth.

BCAM: Tell us a little about BCAM's FemmeToxic.

HD: FemmeToxic (FT) seeks to engage youth in social activism around toxics in cosmetics. We try to give youth the tools and inspiration to spread our message to their friends and communities. We encourage youth to use their voices to tell the government how Canada’s loose cosmetic regulations are hurting them.

This is important to me personally, because I think that youth are naturally interested in being a part of social change, and this interest is not nurtured enough, or in a positive way, by their parents, schools or communities. As a result, youth grow up to feel that change is impossible, and they become socially disengaged.

BCAM: So how does FT engage them?

HD: An amazing thing about FT’s volunteer team is that most of the women who have joined us said that they never thought they could get involved in a cause or in a volunteer role the way they are now. They never thought that they could actually feel like they could become a part of change, or ‘make change.’ One of our newest interns said that she looked at the BCAM website for years and rode the bus that passed by the office daily, but never thought that, one day, she could just walk into the office and get involved. A school project brought her to us three months ago. Now she is a dedicated part of the FT research team, doing work that she feels passionate about!

We’re trying nurture the hope that change is possible and give them the opportunity to be part of it by working with us on our mission to create a safer cosmetics market.

BCAM: Besides helping youth counter loose government regulations, how does FT address the issue of whether all these personal care products are really needed to “look good”?

HD: The other reason that this project is so important is that it encourages youth to adopt a lifestyle that is less dependant on cosmetics and personal care products. The overriding message of our workshops is not “Go home and throw away your cosmetics bag”, but “Less is more”! Though many youth know that 90% of images in magazines are photoshopped, pressure from the media and peers still leads them to idealize these images and use many cosmetics in the endless pursuit of perfection (the average North American girl uses 17 cosmetics products daily!).

It is important that the small voice in the back of their heads that critiques the washed out, slimmed down, white and bright images that they see—the wise voice that says “this is fake” or, “she looks unhealthy,” and “no real woman looks like that” should be encouraged to speak out. Our presentations seek to empower that voice and help young women critique the advertising that puts them under so much pressure.

BCAM: What are you doing for your internship for BCAM?

HD: I am working to grow the FemmeToxic campaign. Over the past five months, I have been conducting outreach to schools and community groups. Along the way, many other fabulous interns and volunteers have joined me! Our new volunteer team is in their third month of hosting events for the public to learn about safe cosmetics. At the beginning of my internship, you could say I was a “Jill of all trades” involved in outreach, coordinating volunteer roles, event promotion and social media. Now we have interns to fill all these roles and volunteers to support them. So exciting!

BCAM: What was your knowledge surrounding safe cosmetics and toxic chemicals in personal care products before your work with BCAM?

HD: I had virtually no knowledge! I have been wearing make up since age 12 and was a bit of a “cosmetics junkie,” so to speak. I had a lot to learn!

BCAM: Why is it important to work with the age group with whom FemmeToxic works?

HD: The campaign was targeted toward girls and women between 12 and 25 years of age. Why? These are the years in which youth become concerned with body image and explore cosmetics as a means to alter/enhance their image. It is also during this time that crucial hormonal changes occur in the body. It has been found that heavy use of cosmetics during these years is linked to a potential increase in cancer risk later in life, and in the short term may disrupt normal endocrine function, resulting in acne.

I think it is important that FT’s message be given to youth (girls as well as boys) in this age group because youth make great social activists. This campaign seeks to give youth tools to help make positive change on this issue. From my experience working with youth, I know that, with a little encouragement and support, youth have the innate passion, energy and creativity to create advocacy campaigns that soar.

BCAM: What do you think are some of the challenges young women face when trying to reduce their exposures to some of these chemical risks?

HD: The challenges of reducing exposure to bad ingredients in cosmetics are unique to each individual. I have spoken with young women who, sadly, feel that their only real identity is the one with their made up face in the mirror. For them, finding safe alternatives to all the products they use is sometimes a time consuming process. For other women, geographic location can be an issue. Many “safer” products are frequently available at alternative health or environmentally responsible retailers, of which there may not be many available, depending on the community you live in. Certainly cost is a barrier for many women seeking to have a healthier cosmetics routine. This is one reason why FT now offers workshops in which we teach girls and women to make their own products from affordable food items and natural extracts.

Personally, I think one of the main barriers that prevents all young women from seeking healthier alternatives to mainstream cosmetics is the rhetoric out there that these products are “hoaky” or less effective in some way. I know It certainly is hard to turn the corner, past the extravagant, glossy billboard photos of poreless models clutching their lipsticks, to the darker, scentless health food store where I buy my products. There are no models lurking over me, edging me to buy coconut oil to use as a moisturizer. But I know it works; we just need to let others know that, too.

BCAM: You arrived at BCAM with a background in social work. How have your studies helped you with the work that BCAM does?

HD: During my Bachelor’s of Social Work, I learned a great deal about community organizing. This has helped me immensely with my internship. I still had a lot to learn about volunteerism and working on an advocacy campaign coming into this stage, and I’ve had some great teachers at BCAM.

BCAM: Finally, your internship is winding down. You probably have more perspestive on the work you've done over the past few months. If you had all summer—and even the fall—what would you like to pursue at BCAM’s FemmeToxic program?

HD: I think FemmeToxic has a lot of great things in store for it in the coming months—and years. I would have liked to be part of its expansion by teaming it up with other women’s and youth groups in Montreal, and other provinces, to spread our message further. I also would have liked to take part in our exciting upcoming fundraisers! I will, however, stay involved from afar. I am moving to Toronto in September where I will be looking for interested organizations that would like to host FemmeToxic Toronto chapter. Watch out!

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