Great Start Seventeen! Next I’d like to see someone who looks like me on the cover!
Some wonderful steps have been taken over the past few weeks to address the impact of airbrushed images of women’s bodies in teen magazine. Although I am sure many WATRD readers are already in the know about this victory I will just do a Cliffs Notes summary. 14-year-old Julia Bluhm presented Seventeen Magazine with a Change.org petition asking them to show girls real pictures of themselves and commit to featuring one unaltered image a month. The petition obtained a great deal of attention and was signed by thousands of other young women and individuals who care about them. The result was Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket announcing a new promise in the August 2012 issue: Seventeen Magazine will “never change girls’ body or face shapes.” In conjunction with this statement Shoket also shared the Body Peace Project- a major endeavor focused on positive body image. Part of this project is the Body Peace Treaty which girls can go online to sign, in doing so vowing things like I Vow “Not let my size define me. It’s far better to focus on how awesome I look in my jeans than the number on the tag” and I Vow to “Remind myself that what you see isn’t always what you get on TV and in ads — it takes a lot of airbrushing, dieting, money, and work to look like that.”
These are wonderful steps, and I want to congratulate all involved with the changes that Seventeen is making, and more so the young women who became transparent and vulnerable to speak on behalf of all women who are impacted by highly airbrushed images. I would like to now switch focus to the other side of this issue that has not seemed to have been addressed by news coverage of this recent event. I want to talk about diversity, feminism, and power. Airbrushing is one way in which women are oppressed- giving a voice to flawlessness and leaving “real” women isolated from each other. Magazines should not only address this form of deception but also the lie that is represented by “plus size style” receiving one page in a 150 page magazine; the lie that in order to be stylish you must be economically advantaged; the lie that all ethnicities are homogeneous in terms of what they like, prefer, value, etc. Seventeen does a better job than many- they attempt to be transparent in wrestling with some of these issues as evidenced in this post on analyzing the racial breakdown of “faces” in their magazine.
However diversity, although talked about or acknowledged is not diversity addressed. Although there has been greater attention paid to women of all racial backgrounds in magazines there are still a disproportionally large number of similar looking Caucasian faces (and bodies) gracing the cover of said magazines. When we start to look at other forms of diversity the representation drops even more. In terms of size diversity, to my knowledge there have been few, if not only one, plus size model on the cover of Seventeen Magazine. Whitney Thompson, America’s Next Top Model winner from season 10 of the show graced the 2008 cover. Whitney is a stunner, and reportedly a size 12-14 which is indeed considered plus size (many “plus size” models are smaller than a size 12). But what about women who are above average and plus size? I wonder if there has been a cover featuring a women size 18, size 22, size 26? It seems as though we, as a society, are comfortable with only going “so far” to embrace diversity or embrace positive body image. We can often make a statement or vow to be non judgmental towards our bodies or the bodies of others, but when it comes to putting a larger woman on the cover of a magazine it is hard to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. Why is that?
I could get into other populations, people groups; body types who are often not given a voice by media outlets but the list may be too long. Thinking out loud and sharing with the WATRD audience makes me want to start a Body Diversity Project in which black women, brown women, white women and all women, women with crooked teeth, in wheel chairs, with thin hair or with no hair, women with scars, women who shop at Wal-Mart or Goodwill, women with character and depth and the physical imperfections that are uniquely and beautifully perfect for them, are celebrated and affirmed and are given a voice. Not on page 83 but on the cover.