Wellness

Cleveland kidnap victims' makeovers send a clear message: We're doing OK

July 9, 2013 at 6:14 PM ET

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight
TODAY
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, the three Cleveland women who escaped in May after about a decade of captivity, shown in a thank-you video they released to show their appreciation to all the people who offered their support.


The three Cleveland women held captive for more than a decade spoke out for the first time today in a three-minute YouTube video, thanking people for their love, support and donations.

But the words of strength delivered by Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight weren’t the only message people picked up on. The trio’s new clothes, makeup and sassy haircuts also speak volumes about their journey from victims to survivors.

“You all look beautiful,” wrote one YouTube commenter. “We love your new hairstyles!” posted another.

Considering the gruesome nature of their ordeal, it may seem superficial to notice how put-together the women look two months post-rescue. But the messages we express non-verbally -- through our appearance, or body language -- sometimes say more about us than the words we speak. For these three, the fact that they do look strong and stylish is actually a healthy indicator that they’re on the road to recovery, experts say.

“These girls had no control and were helpless and powerless for long periods of time and they were, of course, abused, which leaves you feeling dirty and ugly and pretty awful about yourself,” says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., author and director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute. “It’s not surprising that one of the first things they’re trying to do is regain some sense of their body and express who they are -- because they couldn’t be who they were for so long. To try a new haircut, different clothes, to make a statement that ‘I’m no longer a victim, I’m moving on’ is a good first start.”

The three women were rescued in early May after being held in captivity; Ariel Castro is charged with holding the women hostage, and he is scheduled to go to trial next month. In the video, released early Tuesday morning by the crisis management communications firm Hennes Paynter Communications (who declined to comment on this story), the women did not talk about their abductor or give specifics regarding their ordeal, but instead thanked the public for their “love, support, and donations” and asked people to continue to respect their privacy.

Video: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight release a thank you video to show their appreciation to all the people who have offered their support.

According to psychiatrist Gail Saltz, who spoke about the video on TODAY, the women looked “really bolstered” considering it had only been two months since their rescue. She also brought up the concept of “fake it ‘til you make it” and said that that particular attitude was “really useful to them right now.”

“’Fake it ‘til you make it’ is a step in recovery,” agrees Kearney-Cooke. “There’s a lot more deeper work they have to do, but this is a start.”

Mainly, though, she says the video is a strong statement about the women’s emotional health and self-esteem.

“It’s a statement of ‘I was anonymous, I was abused and used and treated cruelly and had no identity, but I’m coming back now and showing that my body’s strong and I have a voice,’” she says. “The more we feel in control of our body, the more we feel in control in general and these are girls who had absolutely no control of themselves.”

So the fact they’re rocking new haircuts is a definite sign of strength.

“I don’t think it’s trivial to notice this at all,” says Kearney-Cooke. “These girls were silenced and abused but now have a voice. They’ve come out and shown themselves with a new identity. They’re not victims, they’re survivors and they’re expressing themselves with new haircuts, new clothes and a voice. They’re thanking people, they have boundaries, they’re not going to talk about what happened. They’re in charge. I think it’s awesome.”

TOP