Let me introduce myself. 

My name is Anya. I have a great passion to work against all forms of appearance-based judging, or what I call “appearance-ism”.

I am honored to be a recipient of the 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank Award, conferred by the Anne Frank Center USA.

Anya, means “other” and “oppressed” (in the ancient languages of Sanskrit and Aramaic). True to my name, I am compelled to fight the ways that people get designated as “Other”, and are oppressed. The ways they are deemed to be of less value, or disposable, or dispensable. 

My work in relation to racism and hate-crimes has been featured on ABC-TV’s Someone You Should Know, in a front-page story in  The Washington Post, in USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Chicago Public Radio, Tolerance.org—the web publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in an exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society, and elsewhere. 

Comments from those who have participated in my workshops, heard me speak, or read my book include:

“You inspired me to change my first impression of people.”—An eighth grade student 

“Your work is awesome and commendable. You should be cloned.”—An adult participant

In workshops, lectures, and forums I share a wealth of information and a unique, personal, and inspirational story that transforms preconceptions relating to what we call “race”, preconceptions relating to appearance, to body hatred, to bias and intolerance. From a beauty-obsessed teen I grew up to be riveted by the subject of how specific groups get designated as ‘Other’, and, most importantly, what we can do about that.

Racism, hate-crimes, self-hate, body hatred, eating disorders, etc. are all linked to appearance-ism. War and genocide also depend on dehumanizing the enemy, often by denigrating appearance. Wars always involve characterizing the enemy, as well as innocent civilians, with acutely negative names and images, making it possible to justify destruction.

Intolerance based on appearance-ism can be directed toward ourselves or toward others. Sometimes, we hate ourselves for our natural appearance, or we hate parts of ourselves, or we think of parts of our own bodies as “other” and as disposable. We may starve ourselves or engage in eating behaviors to try to dispose of our own substance. We may even—if we can afford to—have parts of ourselves surgically removed or changed.

Racism and prejudice direct the negativity upon whole groups of people. These judgments can lead to discrimination, exclusion, hatred, destruction, murder, even genocide. They can allow us to sanction violence—in the name of various causes—toward whole groups of people, sometimes excusing it as “collateral damage”.

Years ago I made an exciting--seemingly obvious--discovery. Everyone lives their life from inside a body. Everyone knows how it feels to be judged based on appearance. Everyone knows from personal experience that there is something unfair or mistaken about how they are seen from the outside, versus who they truly are on the inside.

Even those who are considered great beauties in our culture feel that they are treated as valuable objects, as "its", instead of as humans. Therefore, we all can appreciate the injustice of racism, or of any form of appearance-based judging or any stereotyping. Imagine a culture in which everyone's appearance was valued, as-is, in which each of us felt intrinsically worthy. Our personal longing for such a world is a key to compassion for others and for unlocking the very heavy gate that shuts so many out, on the basis of appearance or some other quality.

Just when I was making this discovery, I wrote Race: An Open and Shut Case, a small book with a big mission. It is an illustrated double-sided fable, for children and adults, that turns presumptions about “race”, differences, and appearance-based values, upside-down, literally—through the stories of the Open and Shut families and how they deal with an apparently simple question.

I was asked to present this book as a Gift of Service to the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions, in Cape Town, South Africa (where the history of oppression through apartheid exemplifies the horrifying destruction I am determined to fight). It has been translated into Spanish, and reprinted in Kenya, Africa.

As I was planning my trip to South Africa, a black neighbor, out walking with his children in our lovely suburban neighborhood, was murdered by a white supremacist on a killing spree, the weekend of July 2, 1999. This appearance-based hate-crime further galvanized my resolve to fight racism and appearance-ism.

The events of September 11, 2001 led me further on the path of my work. After the tragedy, there was a wave of attacks against innocent Arabs, Muslims, South Asians and others, in acts of vandalism, assault, and even murder. I am a Jewish woman. I didn’t know any of the victims. Yet I felt compelled to stand against this irrational hate-backlash, this terrible injustice.

I founded the Campaign for Collateral Compassion, to support the families of those who were murdered. I had incredible encounters with remarkable people on this journey, particularly the families of Sikh and Hindu victims. My unique story is available as an audio essay, on CD, called In Search of Collateral Compassion, An Untold September 11th Story.

In the CD, I explain how I became so passionately involved in this issue, and the story of my own early obsession with appearance unfolds. My tale leads listeners to discover their own righteous indignation and passion around the topic of appearance-based judging and all discrimination. I share a wealth of information, not commonly in the news, about the terrible threat of polarization and intolerance, in these challenging times.

My journey has certainly been healing to me. And I acknowledge that, to some extent, my work is healing for the families who experienced these tragedies, and for those in the marginalized groups who hear my story, rather than increasing, the anger and resentment that could be a natural consequence (though I never witnessed anything but exceptional grace and goodness in the people with whom I became close). I am proud to be part of the overall solution to hate and intolerance, not part of the problem.

One listener wrote about the CD: "It really is a remarkable work and I felt rather transformed by the end." Women, teens, minorities, and those who are most affected by the tremendous emphasis and value that our culture puts upon appearance have found this CD truly impactful. Jewish listeners also find this narration profoundly moving, inspiring, and galvanizing...in an unexpected way.

By the way, if you are wondering about the illustration on my home page, here’s a little background. My book, Race: An Open and Shut Case, is the story of the Open and Shut families. The drawing is one of the wide variety of babies born to the Shut family, and it represents me, the baby with the lopsided lip and the rather peculiar belly button. These were just a few ways I felt like a book with the wrong cover.

My mother said that when I was born, I kicked and carried on, so the doctor “messed up” when he was cutting the umbilical cord. It was clear and irrevocable. I was flawed. Not only that, but it was my own fault—at just a few minutes old!

What a double-bind; being blamed for one’s natural behavior, appearance, size, shape, color, age, etc. You might say I’ve been “contemplating my navel” ever since. But instead of keeping me self-absorbed, it’s led me on a fascinating adventure and an ardent quest.

My journey included my teen years, when my deepest yearning was to be a super-model, to the time when I realized that the beauty-obsessed culture was oppressive (and that I was oppressing myself more cruelly than anyone), to when I finally made the connection that any hatred of natural appearance was a terrible injustice which leads to untold suffering and destruction.

Once I realized the connection between appearance-ism and racism, I had to work against the oppression of both. The aftermath of September 11, 2001 crystallized my passion further, extending my work against the virulent hatred now directed at Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. Not only does my righteous indignation push me to this work. My practical understanding tells me that injustice and polarization do not heal, but instead exacerbate anger and impulses toward retaliatory violence, feeding ongoing spirals of destruction—at a time when war and terror are all too real.

Having read Anne Frank as a teen, and having asked myself, “What would I have done if I had lived then?”, I knew that, as a Jewish woman, I had to stand as an ally to anyone being devalued and targeted. It was certainly not OK with me that innocent people were being attacked because someone irrationally associated their appearance with terrorists, or linked the wearing of turbans (as Sikhs do in their religious practice) with a stereotype.

Not only has this journey led me to reclaim myself, it has led me to incredible people, experiences, and relationships. It has enabled me to feel that, to some extent, I am part of the solution to a violent, polarized world. It is much more gratifying to work to change the world, instead of pouring my resources into changing my own appearance.

It has led me to discover and embrace many extraordinary individuals; to realize a profound sense of belonging to the whole human family, like the Open family in my book .

In addition to my work on these issues, I am a certified practitioner of Rubenfeld Synergy, an integrated mode of therapy that incorporates our innate body wisdom, along with our emotions, our intelligence, and our spirit, in our exploration toward wholeness and healing.  Pioneered by Ilana Rubenfeld, it interweaves the therapeutic modalities of Gestalt therapy, Feldenkrais body awareness, and more.

I am also a member of the board of directors of the Open Studio Project in Evanston, IL, an exceptional not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting creative process for adults and youth.

Contact: info@anyacordell.com or 847-331-6022


Also visit http://www.appearance-ism.com