When her art class was charged with the task of creating a poster that promotes positive body images, Meghan Cain, a sophomore at Notre Dame Prep in Towson, went right to the source.
In her poster, which was chosen from nearly 285 submissions as the winner of Sheppard Pratt's statewide "Love Your Tree" poster competition — and will be printed on all of the Center for Eating Disorders' marketing materials this year — she used words cut out from Seventeen magazine as the foundation of her poster.
By creating a backdrop of phrases like "pressure to be perfect," "I'm too skinny," and "I feel ashamed that …" Meghan, who lives in Homeland, aimed to show the pressures that media aimed toward teenage girls could create.
But in stark contrast with the black-and-white magazine clippings, Meghan's poster featured a tree, shaped like a woman's body, that she said was symbolic of a young girl protesting those stereotypes.
And with the creative touch of colorful, single letters clipped from a magazine, the text sprawled across the tree reads, "my body is … enduring."
"It was just my vision for it," she said.
On Friday, Feb. 24, when she and her classmates spoke about the project while beginning a streetscape perspective painting, Meghan had not yet learned that she won the contest — the formal announcement was scheduled for Feb. 28 at a reception at Sheppard Pratt — but her teacher, Anne Walker, still had plenty to say about Meghan's entry.
"Her use of the words concept was really strong, and the fact she used collages was really different," said Anne Walker, who teaches the studio art class that participated in the contest. "She touched on something they see every day. They see those words, and she chose ones that hit home."
Meghan's submission is the second winner from Notre Dame Prep in the six years since the contest began.
Walker said one student participated on her own in the program's first year, and every year since, it's been a project for her sophomore art class.
To prepare students for the project, Walker does a lesson on poster art and design.
In previous years, the school's guidance counselor had that honor, but this year, a representative from Sheppard Pratt spoke to the class about body image issues.
"Body image is such a huge thing for girls this age, from middle school on up," Walker said. "It's nice for them to have a venue to be able to talk about it. Everyone's doing it, and we talk about it in an open way."
Dr. Steven Crawford, associate director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, said Meghan's poster captured "the very real body image pressures that students are faced with on a daily basis ... in a way that we haven't seen before."
"We know from research that 70 percent of people who spend even just three minutes reading fashion and beauty magazines feel significantly worse about themselves and their own bodies afterward," Crawford said. "Meghan's poster portrayed a feeling of hope that, despite these negative messages and their potentially toxic effects, one's self-esteem and appreciation for their body can endure and prevail."
And though only one could earn the top honor, Meghan's classmates submitted plenty of thoughtful, creative interpretations for the contest.
Taylor Williams' offering showed a girl in her Notre Dame uniform making a heart with her hands in front of a tree-trunk.
Towson resident Annie Kozak, 15, Megan Sudek, 15, of Bowleys Quarter, and Grace Geary, 16, of Hunt Valley, all made the words the focal points of their posters.
"Everybody is different" stood out in shiny blue letters before creatively colored trees on Megan's poster.
Annie wrote "your tree is beautiful" in the margins around her tree branch, which featured leaves from many different trees to show that even if you aren't the same as everyone else, you're still beautiful.
Grace surrounded a girl with a foliage-filled ponytail in her poster
Lucy Darlington, 15, of Timonium, showed tree roots and branches stemming from each letter of the words "love your tree," to convey the message that "everyone's different, but perfect in their own way."
Jenna Rayman, who Walker said won the middle school division of the contest a few years ago, drew a tree being hugged next to the words "be you" with colored pencil.
Bridget Thompson, 16, of Towson, drew three different girls standing before different paths and different trees to drive home the idea that everyone has their own unique life and personality.
Overall, the girls seemed uniform in their understanding of the posters' purpose and meaning.
"I just learned that its OK to be different," Kozak said. "Even if you're different, you're beautiful in your own way."