In a society bent on compartmentalizing people both physically and mentally, Amy Paraskeva has chosen to break those barriers and empower women in the process. Paraskeva, a senior Graphic Design major at Pratt Institute who recently landed a job opportunity with the creative agency Universal McCann Worldwide, Inc., grew up in a multicultural, conservative household, where she often felt confined by the expectations set for women. She was forced to grow comfortable with contradictions regarding her role as a woman, which led to her developing a sense of anxiety and discomfort in her own skin.
While searching for a truer feeling of self-identity, she discovered that she was not alone in the struggle to find balance between her expectations for herself and society’s expectations for her. Inspired by this search for self-understanding and the similar struggles of those around her, Paraskeva created a website, Beautype, in May 2016, to “demonstrate the features of women of all ages, shapes, colors and sizes and their journeys through self-care and acceptance, to exude that there is no specific beauty type, only your type of beauty.”
I was able to speak with Paraskeva about how her website has grown since its inception, as well as how she plans to harness her passion for advocating for acceptance in the future, particularly through a creative outlet like her website.
Sierra Emilaire: How would you say your upbringing and background have influenced your passion for empowering women?
Amy Paraskeva: I was born and raised in New Jersey, in an overprotective Christian household where the women in my family believed in maintaining tradition and the restrictions it promoted. I grew up with rules that included no moving out till marriage, no nightlife, boyfriends were out of the question, no bright nail polish or overdone makeup. I was often presented with contradictory ideas like, “Marry a man with a good job so that you don’t have to work as hard,” but also, “Go to school and make something of yourself so you depend on no one.”
I found myself spending time wishing I could express myself without restriction, but never following through and actually doing it. My family made me fearful of what the world may have had to say about me, rather than teaching me to live life happily and disregard what others think. I felt like everything was taken from me and I didn’t find a sense of independence till I went to college. It took the death of someone I loved to push me in the direction I find myself in right now.
I chose to create a website that embodies everything that I was never allowed to be growing up in hopes that I can encourage women of all ages to be everything they want to be right now. Even though I wasn’t raised to believe the ideals I represent now, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. If it wasn’t for my life being the way that it was, I would have never felt the need to create a platform that could benefit other women and allow them to feel comfortable in their own skin, because I wouldn’t have been aware of what it meant to be uncomfortable in mine.
SE: When did you decide to start Beautype? What led to it?
AP: Being raised in a multicultural household, you would think that in being exposed to not one, but two cultures at a young age would make me feel rounded. It didn’t. I spent the majority of my life being told I wasn’t enough of either ethnicity.
“You’re Dominican? No you’re not. You don’t speak Spanish fluently, you don’t make this like a Dominican and you don’t dance like a Dominican, etc.”
“You’re Greek? No you’re not. You’ve never been to Greek school, you don’t speak the language and you’re not Greek Orthodox.”
That’s what’s wrong with this world. I would love to think that society will one day progress past this narrow-mindedness, but we’ve spent years and years placing people in stereotypes. We don’t know how to just let people be people.
I was tired of being told who I was, and years with that mindset had started to make me feel physically inadequate. I hated my hair, my body, my facial structure. No one was like me, looked like me or was even the same racial mix I was. I spent hours on the internet looking for women, like YouTube bloggers and beauty bloggers, with my hair or skin or body shape but found no one to relate to.
Although I couldn’t find people that related to me physically, I knew there were women who related emotionally. I wanted to create a platform for these women, all of whom were also going through these emotional struggles, by allowing women of all colors, shapes and sizes to tell their story. Many women feel like they have to fit into a specific mold to be beautiful, and in developing Beautype two years ago, I wanted to challenge that idea.
SE: At the very core of your website, what is the point? Why do you do this?
AP: Because there is no specific beauty type, only your type of beauty. I can’t change the world, but I know that I can shake it enough for someone to feel it. I wanted women of all kinds to be able to come to our platform and feel at home. There aren’t many places out there that can look at a person and tell them, “You are beautiful beyond what society may tell you.”
We do this because honestly, we aren’t perfect, and contrary to what we speak about on our site, we don’t have it all figured out. I’ve been told that Beautype inspires people to be better versions of themselves, but I don’t think people understand how much they inspire us to be better individuals as well. We are stronger, more empathetic women because of those we interview and embody. Without this movement and those who walk beside us, it would be nothing.
SE: Your “About Us” page is signed by the Beautype team. Who makes up this team and how did you come together?
AP: I was very aware about three posts into the launch of Beautype that I would never be able to do this alone. I was not capable enough to handle booking or going to interviews, transcribing and editing, while also doing the photography, graphics and web design all by myself. So I brought on board a few people I thought would help Beautype move forward. We are in the process of setting up a renovation of the “About Us” page to do a big reveal of our team, so stay tuned for that.
SE: Where would you like to see your site go? What are some of your goals?
AP: Beautype is all about integrating the then and now. Meaning, how can we be relevant to a broad spectrum of demographics, but also educate them without compartmentalizing information for today’s short attention span. Anyone that creates something would of course want to see it grow into something bigger. I can’t necessarily tell you where I would like it to go, but I can tell you that I don’t ever want to get so big that we begin to compromise our meaning or work.
SE: Walk me through how you introduce yourself to the strangers featured on the site. How do people know to work with you?
AP: Some of our interviewees are friends, acquaintances, complete strangers even. We don’t want to be subjective or artificial, so we don’t have a distinctive choosing process, but it usually starts with a simple conversation. If I am attending an event in which I am invited to speak on behalf of the blog or our values, people tend to gravitate and ask questions. You can see the interest and the curiosity in their eyes, some of which will express their interest in speaking on the platform. But there is no set plan to how this works, unfortunately; it’s not as calculated as people would like to think. There is no checklist. If I am speaking to someone and they want to tell their story, I give them my card and offer them a platform to tell it.
SE: I personally hate this sort of question, but being a minority often brings out a different perspective that I find valuable. How has your womanhood influenced your desire to lead a movement like this one? Have you run into any troubles because of it? How is your gender/ethnicity an advantage/disadvantage?
AP: As a woman, as a Dominican/Greek woman, I have never really felt discriminated by my features in the way others’ ethnicity groups have. But I have been treated differently, looked over and, in some cases, disrespected because of my gender.
I don’t want any woman to ever feel like her voice is non-existent, whether it be with a man or woman. I created a platform not from anger but from love. I wanted women of all shapes, colors and sizes to come to Beautype and know that someone out in the world relates to them in some way. These stories, even though they’re about beauty, are the furthest from superficial.
I cannot express all the advantages or disadvantages. But what I can say is that I take what I can get, and I give when I have. I don’t use my femininity to get what I want or blame every situation that doesn’t go my way on the fact that I am a female. If an unfortunate event happens based on my gender, then that situation made its way to the surface and I must handle it.
Everyone has disadvantages—everyone. There is no exclusion for the wrongs that happen in the world. Do I wish that the world could be this utopia where equality isn’t an issue? Yes. If it were that easy, yes. But I appreciate the fight. It makes for a good story.