How To Not Be This Barbie

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Have you seen the Savior Barbie meme?

It’s a simple but effective one that spoofs the news feeds of volunteers in developing countries. I could describe it, but the images speak for themselves–

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In our excitement to share our experiences doing good, we must be careful not to patronize people

The big problem with these sorts of posts is that it often robs the people featured in them of their dignity. Nobody really wants to have to rely on the help of strangers. 

When the way we help only reinforces the image of someone we’re serving as helpless or inferior, it causes social and psychological harm. Even referring to “the poor” as a broad category can be dehumanizing when paired with a picture of someone you’ve met.

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I use a simple rule of thumb when I share pictures from service-related visits

I do a lot of travel to developing countries with non-profit supporters. I also take a ton of pictures, and it’s literally my job to edit, caption, and post them. I know that when stories are told well they can have a tremendous impact, but so often I see posts that look like, well, Barbie’s.

I have several guidelines I try to follow to make sure my storytelling is helpful and not harmful or even just rude. Here’s the question I ask myself before I hit post.

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What if the people in the post saw it on Facebook?

After all, as the world gets more connected, this just gets more and more likely. In many countries, Facebook is more accessible than financial institutions or even clean water. It’s not too farfetched to imagine friends from Southern Africa looking through my profile to see pictures of themselves.

In fact, this happens very often. Knowing it does makes me very glad that I’m kind of strict with myself when it comes to telling stories that show honor.

Philippe Lazaroblog, blog18