Real women and girls everywhere are claiming one more victory in their campaign against unhealthy and unrealistic images as being standard in the media. Seventeen Magazine has joined what seems to be a growing grassroots drive towards authenticating what women truly look like and what is represented on the pages of magazines and other forms of media.
The policy change was initiated by 14- year- old, Julia Bluhm, who started an online petition pleading for Seventeen Magazine to print one unaltered photo each month in the publication. The petition originated in April and has accumulated over 84,000 signatures to date. Answering to the overwhelming response, in the August editor’s letter, editor in chief, Ann Shoket outlined their Body Peace Treaty in which the magazine took the proposal even one step further and promised that it will “never change girls’ body or face shapes” and will include only images of “real girls and models who are healthy.”
At face value, I say, good for them. I hope that they are sincere about celebrating “every kind of beauty” as they claim and not just providing lip service and benefiting from a media blitz patting them on the back.
As the mother of a stunning 13-year-old daughter, who, on most days looks like a photoshopped model, I think this means more to me than it does to her. Yes, she’s vulnerable and easily influenced and cries about zits and bad hair days, God help me, she’s a teenager. But does she understand the impact of perfection being perpetuated as a normal? Not yet. If her looks fade and she doesn’t match that expectation anymore, she may. If her waistline expands and she can no longer wear the designer jeans, she may. It is my responsibility to make sure that she understands that there is not one normal face shape, not one normal body size. It is my responsibility for her not to be defined by an ideal; an ideal that she may not always live up to, an ideal that most girls do not.
I know the feeling that I got when I first saw an ad from the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty“. A light had gone on. The flab hanging over my panties felt less like a shameful alien growth and more acceptable. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one. The necessity to sweat my ass off wrestling on a second pair of Spanx or finding a wrinkle cream that actually worked suddenly seemed less urgent. I wasn’t abnormal! And seeing that, the representation that women of all types in print and on TV, not hiding their insecurities behind moomoos, mom jeans, over-sized sweatshirts with appliques, but in their underwear! And they were smiling and having fun. In a word, it was liberating.
German Magazine, Brigitte, made an even more extreme change, banning professional models altogether in lieu of using actual women, all at the outcry if their readers’ dissatisfaction with “protruding bones” and unrealistic appearances.
The scope of beauty is too narrow and needs to be widened. Today’s perception of beauty is distorted and unattainable especially through impressive teenagers’ eyes, largely due to what is represented in the media. Exposure to a variety of looks, shapes and sizes is imperative to forming a society of girls comfortable in their own skin. Vowing to not photoshop out a bra strap or a flyaway hair isn’t going to boost self-esteem. It’s not going to magically decrease the rate of depression and eating disorders.
We still have a long way to go, but I am happy to see a dialogue and a movement addressing that change needs to happen.
image credit Seventeen Magazine