Here’s the second entry in our weekly post series, “The Pitch.” This post, written by our very own Sami Main, analyzes the broader impact of Seventeen Magazine’s recent “Body Peace Treaty.” Find her on Twitter over here.
It happened once. Can it happen again? It’s the stuff of really great TV shows: A few months ago, 14-year-old Julia Bluhm led a petition against Seventeen, a magazine whose audience is primarily young girls. She wanted editors at the magazine to adopt healthier Photoshopping habits and to use models that look more “realistic” to actual people. What happened next (hint: look at the picture above) has some wondering if Bluhm may have started a real trend. ShortFormBlog’s Sami Main analyzes the cultural impact of Bluhm’s simple idea with a wide reach. Read more after the jump.
A simple petition, a big impact
- 84,000 signatures on Bluhm’s petition
» The end result: The magazine’s editor-in-chief Ann Shoket effectively gave into the petition — while claiming “we never alter the way the girls on our pages really look,” the person in charge of the magazine made a promise to her readers. “Our Body Peace Project is one of the cornerstones of our mission,” she wrote in a note responding to the petition. “We want every girl to stop obsessing about what her body looks like and start appreciating it for what it can do! And while we work hard behind the scenes to make sure we’re being authentic, your notes made me realize that it was time for us to be more public about our commitment.”
The reaction to the message
Now, it’s great that Seventeen has come forward, after some pressure, in order to be more open and honest about its policies. (It’s also a big victory for an activist group, SPARK, which has been fighting to limiting sexualized images of young girls in mainstream culture.) Magazines that have a younger audience have more of a responsibility to their readers who are still developing their self-image. Overall, reaction to the message has been positive, though some cultural commentators disagree with the motivations behind the idea. “If you want to use ‘real girls,’ Shoket, go for it,” argues Slate writer Hanna Rosin, citing the model used in the photo accompanying the “Body Peace Treaty” image. ”That might make for a really cool photo shoot. But this is not it.”
Previous cultural context, in Barbie form
- While Barbie’s trademark nipple-less, mountainous, hard-plastic breasts are being cut down to size and that itty-bitty waist is getting bigger, her hips are also set to slim down with the new model, making her not so much more healthy and realistic as simply pubescent.
- Mother Jones writer Lisa Jervis • Discussing a 1997 change to Mattel’s iconic Barbie dolls, which changed their waists and bust size. But the changes Mattel made didn’t come from the same motivations as Seventeen Magazine’s recent changes: Mattel’s change to conform to the “reality of fashion,” where Seventeen’s change came more from a place of compassion and understanding. source
The next target: Teen Vogue
Next up? Another magazine: With one victory past them, another petition was started by Carina Cruz and Emma Stydahar, two of Bluhm’s friends, against Teen Vogue. “It’s time for an end to the digitally enhanced, unrealistic ‘beauty’ we see in the pages of magazines,” reads the petition. “We are demanding that teen magazines stop altering natural bodies and faces so that real girls can be the new standard of beauty.” Teen Vogue, however, might be a tougher nut to crack.
- 32,000 signatures on the newest petition source
» The magazine’s reaction: It looks like Teen Vogue might be a tougher nut to crack. “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,” Erin Kaplan, the magazine’s PR rep, said to AdWeek. Some media outlets, like Gawker’s female-oriented Jezebel, reacted to the magazine’s statement negatively.
So what’s the next step, anyway?
One step forward, one step back. It seemed like there was a good amount of momentum toward a healthier age of magazines when Seventeen announced its support. Teen Vogue may not be as body conscious as other publications, but young readers still look to its pages for advice and guidance; that’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The fact that it has ignored such a request from its readers is a little disheartening. Maybe once it sees the effects of the positive press Seventeen received, Teen Vogue will change its tune. Beyond the magazine world, is there something popular culture can learn from Seventeen?
Sami Main is a ShortFormBlog staff writer who’s big on BuzzFeed. Contact her @samimain.