I feel fat.
When I proposed writing about this topic, my (male) boss said, “You know how many happy fat guys there are who don’t give a sh*t how they look? Why are chicks still worried about that?”
I guess the answer is that the fashion industry has been slow to get on board the eating-disorders-aren’t-beautiful train. It’s become a cliché, I know, that girls’ suffer low self-esteem when they compare themselves to the super thin, super young, super beautiful models they see in every magazine and advertisement every single day.
I’m waaay past my teen years, and I still feel that way. I wish I didn’t. The truth is that many women my age still aren’t comfortable in their own skins, still hold themselves up against models and find themselves lacking, still don’t feel pretty enough. It doesn’t end at high school graduation, ladies. I wish it did.
But, there is a lovely backlash heading down Madison Avenue and it’s being led by, of all people, a 13-year-old girl. Eighth grader Julia Bluhm of Waterville, Maine, is taking her fight to Seventeen Magazine, and getting a lot of attention. Julia’s petition on change.org, “Seventeen Magazine: Give Girls Images of Real Girls!” asks the girls’ magazine to publish one unaltered photo spread a month. (You can sign the petition here.) She describes herself as a feminist who “wants to put a stop to sexualization and stereotypes of girls in the media.” More than 73,000 people have signed the petition so far, a number that caught the attention of Seventeen’s editor-in-chief Ann Shoket. Julia and her mother were invited to meet with Ms. Shoket on May 3 and she invited Julia to work with the editorial team on the forthcoming issue.
Seventeen said in a (somewhat defensive) statement, “We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue – it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers – so we invited her to our office to meet with editor in chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity.”
So, progress is being made. For instance, The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has been featuring “normal,” unairbrushed women of all shapes and sizes in its ads. And even the paragon of haute couture, Vogue, has made some noise about being more responsible and sensitive to girls’ issues. The magazine has vowed to ban models under age 16 and any models with visible signs of eating disorders. (I’m sure that both remaining models will be happy for the extra work.) Whether Vogue’s new policy is a result of health concerns or a reaction to recent PhotoShop scandals remains to be seen.
I’m happy that smart, strong girls are speaking out about these issues. I can’t help thinking that I would have saved myself a lot of grief and self doubt if, when I was 13, I had a BFF like Julia Bluhm.