Following a well-organized and highly publicized protest by teenage women, Seventeen magazine has agreed not to Photoshop its models to unrealistic proportions and to use more realistic-looking models in its pages. Emboldened by their victory, teen girls from the same group that targeted Seventeen are asking the same of Teen Vogue.
Julia Bluhm, 14, drew attention from media outlets ranging from the New York Times to ABC News this week when Seventeen editor Ann Shoket agreed to her demands and unveiled the "Body Peace Treaty," in which the magazine pledged to "Never change girls' body or face shapes" and "always feature real girls and models who are healthy."
But next to that statement was the parenthetical, "Never have, never will." If they "never have" altered a model's face or body via Photoshop, what is the point of much of this "treaty"? Whatever that parenthetical padding meant, Seventeen is only one magazine, and the girls who mobilized to get it to change its ways know other media outlets will have to change their ways too for women's media as a whole to reform.
Bluhm is part of a network of young feminist activists called SPARK Summit, a collective of bloggers around the country fighting the sexualization of young women in the media. Two of her fellow bloggers, Emma Stydahar and Carina Cruz, both 17, have just launched the petition demanding the same of Teen Vogue on Change.org. They say they're targeting these teen magazines because they're the two big ones still standing after the recession, which saw the loss of a slew of print titles for teen girls (including Teen, Elle Girl, YM and Teen People).
Stydahar, who is entering her senior year of high school, said she read Teen Vogue from fifth through seventh grades. "I guess I was sort of looking for a passion and I thought maybe fashion would be that, but reading those magazines were really difficult," she says. "I just remember looking through the pages and thinking, I really wish I had her legs, I really wish I had a waist like that, I really wish my boobs would be that big — but it was never, 'oh she's pretty, she kind of looks like me.' Never."
Indeed, super-white, super-thin has been the ideal in the fashion industry — on runways and in magazines — for many years. Every so often, a curvy model like Crystal Renn becomes a star, but women like her are the exception to the rule. And you can pretty much guarantee that unless fashion magazines boast a certain spread contains "no retouching" that every image in there has been digitally altered in some way. "These Photoshopped images are extremely dangerous to girls like us who read them, because they keep telling us: you are not skinny enough, pretty enough or perfect enough," reads the Teen Vogue petition — which has nearly 15,000 signatures at press time. "We are demanding that teen magazines stop altering natural bodies and faces so that real girls can be the new standard of beauty."
Cruz hopes to get the media to change their ways before they leave another generation of young women with the body image issues she struggles with. "I've always struggled with weight and not having a role model to look up to in the pages of a magazine," says Cruz, who attends high school in Manhattan with Stydahar. She wishes teen magazines photographed more women like Queen Latifah, a "strong woman of color" whom she finds tremendously inspiring. "She's done all these makeup commercials," Cruz notes. "They obviously put her in this role because she's beautiful. And we don't get that a lot — a woman of color of her size."
Cruz said she knew Teen Vogue would be the next target after Seventeen. Both she and Stydahar applauded adult Vogue's recent "Health Initiative" pact across international titles not to photograph models under the age of 16 or who "appear" to have eating disorders, and cited it as a reason for not going after Vogue.
As of Thursday evening, neither Cruz nor Stydahar had heard from Teen Vogue. The magazine was unable to comment for this article Friday because editor-in-chief Amy Astley is out of town. Stydahar suggested that if Teen Vogue "doesn't comply" with their demands, they'll stage a protest similar to the one staged outside of the Seventeen offices in April.
And no matter what happens with Teen Vogue, it doesn't sound like this group of young, self-proclaimed feminists will stop there. Cruz said the Spark community had started talking on Facebook about Victoria's Secret: "Maybe we'll do a petition against that."
"A lot of people believe in this message that white and skinny is the most beautiful thing, and people continue to buy these magazines, and we need to get people to realize that this isn't right," says Cruz. "I've heard many times a publicist is like, 'That's what sells and that's why we put it in our magazines.' But people need to realize that just because it sells, that doesn't mean that it's doing good."