In April 2012, a 14-year-old eighth grader named Julia Bluhm drew up a petition through change.org asking Seventeen magazine to print one unaltered (non-airbrushed) photo of a girl in each issue of their magazine. Together with a handful of friends, her mom and other interested girls and women, they then protested outside Seventeen’s headquarters in New York City, holding signs that read “Teenagers Against Photoshop” and “This is What a Real Body Looks Like.”
After Bluhm landed a CNN interview and 84,000 petition signatures, Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket invited Bluhm and her mom to meet to discuss the concerns.
At the time of the meeting, Shoket who listened intently, gave the woman a tour of the offices and served refreshments –cupcakes– yet insisted the magazine celebrated teen girls for their authentic selves and portrayed real images. Yet by the July 2012 issue, Shocket backpedaled saying many readers had contacted her with concerned messages about the airbrushed images of teen girls on their pages.
As a result, Seventeen published the Body Peace Treaty reminding girls not to focus so much on how their body looks but by what it can do, vowing they never alter the way the girls in their pages really look. While they didn’t commit to publishing one unaltered image of a girl each issue, they did agree that manipulated photos would be reserved for a stray hair, wrinkled clothing, an odd zit or wayward bra strap.
Inspired by these results, another group of young women, 17-year-old Emma Stydahar and 16-year-old Carina Cruz tackled Teen Vogue, again with a petition asking even more—stop the airbrushing of young women in the magazine and end all digital manipulation of images so they can see the real standard of beauty portrayed in the pages. They too staged a protest outside the Teen Vogue offices and held a mock fashion runway show using “real girls.” They too scored a meeting with a mag representative.
But this meeting went differently than the Seventeen sit down. Here, editors were not so nice. They basically pulled out back issues of magazines covered in yellow Post-its documenting the diversity of models in their magazines. Mostly the reps said that the girls hadn’t done their homework and that Teen Vogue was a great magazine that was being unfairly criticized.
Worse, Teen Vogue’s Senior Public Relations Director, Erin Kaplan, said in a statement: ‘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.’
So herein lies the rub: If all these magazines aren’t altering young girls bodies—or their faces—what the hell would anybody have to protest about in the first place?
In other words, if bodies aren’t slimmed and faces aren’t smoothed, if ideals aren’t airbrushed and standards of teen beauty aren’t sexualized—then why all the hullabaloo, huh? Why the protesters? Why the petitions? Why the bands of young girls and women coming together to take a stand if nothing is amiss in these teen magazines?
Anyone want to tackle that one? With or without cupcakes!