A big victory is coming to the teen consumer culture, because of the activity of some strong-willed youth. Fourteen-year-old Julia Blumh from Maine, USA, started the fight with a petition from the popular youth magazine “Seventeen.” She was protesting the use of photo-alteration methods like photoshop and airbrushing, which change the way models look. Exposing youth to such unrealistic depictions of beauty create high expectations and make it impossible for girls to live up to them, causing low self-esteem. After it was launched in April of this year, it took only a few months to garnish over 85,000 signatures, and Seventeen agreed to change the way they produce their magazines.
The petition was well-written and described not just her own experience, but the issues girls face everywhere.
Girls want to be accepted, appreciated, and liked. And when they don’t fit the criteria, some girls try to “fix” themselves. This can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem. [. . .] To girls today, the word “pretty” means skinny and blemish-free. Why is that, when so few girls actually fit into such a narrow category? It’s because the media tells us that “pretty” girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin. [. . .]
For the sake of all the struggling girls all over America, who read Seventeen and think these fake images are what they should be, I’m stepping up. I know how hurtful these Photoshopped images can be. I’m a teenage girl, and I don’t like what I see. None of us do. Will you join us by signing this petition and asking Seventeen to take a stand as well and commit to one unaltered photo spread a month?
At the beginning of this month, the Seventeen editors responded with an even better solution. They promised not to alter girls’ faces or body shapes in its pages to celebrate beauty of all kinds in what they call the ”Body Peace Treaty.” Ann Shoket, Seventeen’s editor in chief, was concerned that girls thought they may have “strayed from our promise to show real girls as they really are,” so they evidently took this petition seriously. In addition to the vow not to make such alterations, they also said that they would post images of the photo shoots on the magazine’s Tumblr blog so people could see whether/how much the pictures change. Such transparency is a great idea.
In April, I mentioned that Israel was taking model-alterations very seriously, leading to their new “Photoshop Law” that had several provisions to protect the youth. For example, weight restrictions (you can’t be physically too thin), appearance restrictions (you can’t look dead in your photos, or underweight). Around half of the professional models in Israel were underweight, meaning that they could not legally work until they reached a BMI of 18.5. Also, Israeli magazines have to disclose whether or not a photo has been digitally altered.
Barbara L. McAnemy from the American Medical Association would surely agree that these new measures are steps in the right direction. She said ”We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software.” Canadian psychologist Linda Papadopoulos, who has researched the topic, says that the science is clear in its demonstration that seeing altered images lowers girls’ self-esteem.
After the success of Bluhm’s petition, some other activists started petitioning yet another popular youth magazine called “Teen Vogue.” The petition is also well-written, ending like this: (bolds are from the original)
This year, Vogue pledged to not work with underage models or models who appear to have eating disorders and to encourage their designers to provide more realistically sized samples for models’ outfits. This is a great first step, but now we’re asking Teen Vogue to take a bigger leap.
Teen Vogue: Follow Seventeen’s example and pledge not to alter any model’s body or face and to celebrate beauty in all its forms.
It’s time for an end to the digitally enhanced, unrealistic “beauty” we see in the pages of magazines. We are demanding that teen magazines stop altering natural bodies and faces so that real girls can be the new standard of beauty.
An official statement by Teen Vogue said: ”Teen Vogue makes a conscious and continuous effort to promote a positive body image among our readers. We feature healthy models on the pages of our magazine and shoot dozens of non-models and readers every year and do not retouch them to alter their body size. Teen Vogue pledges to continue this practice.” I’m not sure if this is their way of saying “we’re not going to change anything,” but I imagine this is not satisfactory to consumers.
Though the victory of Seventeen directly affects America the most, I believe that the more people who get onto the anti-perfection bandwagon, the easier it will be to change the industry. In fact, Seventeen’s “Body Peace Treaty” have given the activist youth some great momentum with which to make some lasting change.