Conventional Beauty Standards is a hot topic in today’s society. Young girls and young boys, women, men, and gender non-conforming individuals have all dealt with some sort of insecurity at one point in time.
I, Kelli Hayes, founder of TogetherWeLink, had the opportunity to share my personal story with Buzz Feed on my take of conventional beauty standards from a female athlete perspective. When I was a young girl I possessed a low self-esteem about my body and not having a “womanly figure” like my peers or the females I saw on television. As I got older my low self-esteem began to diminish as I gained more personal confidence in myself and eliminated comparing myself to my peers, what I saw in the media, and changed the way I thought of myself.
“If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be”
UCLA senior Kelli Hayes, whose 6.6 points per game ranks just sixth on the team, is considered “the glue” of a Bruins team looking to make a deep run in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. (Jessica Hill/The Associated Press)
By THUC NHI NGUYEN | email@example.com | Daily News PUBLISHED: March 16, 2018 at 12:23 pm | UPDATED: March 16, 2018 at 4:35 pm
LOS ANGELES — Five in the morning. That’s when Kelli Hayes does her best thinking. On a particular day in October, she had an especially important idea strike her at dawn.
Let’s link arms.
The prior day, the UCLA women’s basketball team had a long discussion about what to do during the national anthem at games, one of many discussions happening across the country at the time. Some players wanted to kneel. Others wanted to stand. Some wanted to stay in the locker room. None could agree.
“So I was like, ‘OK, what can I do?’” Hayes said.
The senior guard pitched her idea of linking arms then took it one step further by starting Together We Link, a foundation that aims to help uplift, unite and understand people by “redirecting the focus of separatism towards a gray lens of perspective.”
When the No. 3 seed Bruins link arms during the national anthem on the Pauley Pavilion floor before Saturday’s NCAA Tournament first-round game against 14th-seeded American, it’s their way of projecting Hayes’ message that amid the differences that often divide society, there is common ground. That’s where a team can reach its collective goal.
“Everyone on the team is an individual and has different beliefs,” Hayes said. “Linking arms is significant for our team, showing that we have this strength and unity.”
On the No. 9 team in the country, senior Jordin Canada is the superstar, pushing the ball up and down the court in a blue-and-gold blur. Monique Billings is the dominating low-post presence.
But Hayes, whose 6.6 points per game ranks just sixth on the team, is “the glue,” Canada said. She is the link on a diverse team of free thinkers. “She’s just able to connect,” Canada said. “Just to have that one person on the team that can do that and get to everyone, it’s very special.”
Hayes comes from the intersection of several cultures. Her mother is an immigrant from the Philippines. Her father hails from South Central L.A. She was raised in San Jose, the youngest of five kids.
Looking back on childhood trips to the Philippines with her family, she didn’t appreciate the experience for exposing her to a different culture. It was dirty, loud and busy, she thought at the time.
A high school mission trip to El Salvador helped change her perspective. She lived with her host family for two weeks in a one-room home for the family of three: a mother, a son with cerebral palsy and a daughter. The room had two beds and one hammock. The kitchen was the size of a closet and the bathroom was an outhouse.
It was a far cry from the spacious five-bedroom house she and her big extended family shared.
But as she got to know her family, Hayes understood how grateful they were for what they had, the same feelings Hayes had toward her own privileges. It was a similarity she found by appreciating, instead of magnifying, a difference.
“We can simplify things, but in our society, we make things more difficult than they have to be,” Hayes said. “And that’s what I’m trying to do: Keep it simple. Uplift, unite, understand.”
With Together We Link, a foundation still in its infancy as Hayes finishes her UCLA career, she hopes to hold workshops and seminars spreading her message. It has a broad scope as she hopes to speak about handling all dichotomies of difference — from race and gender to perceptions of beauty and mental health. She is open to speaking to any group, from elementary schools to college student-athletes.
When UCLA’s season ends — after a lengthy NCAA Tournament run, Hayes hopes — she will dedicate more time to building her foundation. She will set up a
pledge on the website TogetherWeLink.org
Until that time, Hayes will focus on helping UCLA continue its streak of NCAA Tournament success and perhaps push past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999. Despite mostly identifying as a slasher early in her career and a mid-range artist in high school, the 6-foot senior has drained 47 of her 128 shots (36.7 percent) from 3-point range this year and provides the necessary shooting to take pressure of Canada and Billings.
“Teams that make deep runs or win national championships are ones that have players that have always put the team first, that have stayed ready and were ready when their number was called,” head coach Cori Close said, “and I think Kelli is one of those people for us.”
Hayes’ impact on the court this month will be some of the final pieces of her basketball career before she hopes to make an even bigger mark in her next venture.
“Maybe me playing basketball in the long term isn’t something I want to do anymore, but I’ve created something else that I want to do in the long run because of basketball,” Hayes said. “I’ve really figured out that I’m a humanitarian and that I care about all people and all things and just want welfare for everyone.”
First round: No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 14 American
How they got here: UCLA (24-7) at-large Pac-12 bid, American (26-6) Patriot League champions When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Pauley Pavilion