Seventeen Magazine: promise or cop out?

Mere days ago, the editor of Seventeen Magazine in the US agreed to stop using Photoshop to change the shape of models in the magazine. She was quite literally forced to do this as the result of aggressive and persistent action from a fourteen-year-old girl named Julia Bluhm. This amazing girl recognised that she was not alone in wanting to look at real bodies in magazines so she collected a whopping 84,000 signatures from others who wanted Seventeen to stop using Photoshop and presented them to editor Ann Shoket at a meeting.

Despite initial stalling, Shoket eventually caved and in the latest issue of Seventeen wrote a letter to her readers stating her commitment to lessen the use of Photoshop and be more transparent about photo editing in the future. It was a big victory for both Julia Bluhm and the 84,000 signatories, but it most certainly hasn’t solved the problem.

In fact, I am completely dissatisfied with what I read in the editor’s letter. Rather than an inspiring promise to try and help girls identify real bodies in magazines, it read more like a well-crafted piece designed to get her out of danger with her audience.

In her letter, Shoket claims that like any magazine, Seventeen retouches things like zits, stray hairs and curves in fabric. She goes on to say that they never alter the way a girl really looks. Well, sorry, but if you’re removing zits, then yes, you are altering the way that girls really look. Teenagers have zits and pimples, and blotchy skin and blackheads. It’s a fact of life. If you take a zit away it has the same negative affect on readers as slimming a model down from a size twelve to an eight. Removing a zit, however small it may be, does change the appearance of the person it’s removed from.

Even the other minor things Shoket mentioned, like the removal of bra straps and stray hairs, are enough to be harmful. Every girl I know has hairs that move out of place, particularly when she moves. By implying that magazine girls go running, shopping and to lunch without one hair slipping from its intended position is misleading.

But, the part about curves in fabric really annoyed me. What causes most curves in fabric? The body beneath it. All Shoket’s done is creatively say that she is removing the curves in bodies that create the curves in fabric, which means she is still changing the shape of the girls represented in the magazine.

The letter is not a promise for change, but a denial of any wrongdoing and an attempt to escape from the gaze of indignant readers like Julia Bluhm.

As part of the Brainwash project, I have established a similar online petition to target women’s magazines in Australia who engage in similar deception using Photoshop. It isn’t a big ask to have real girls shown in magazines – in fact, it cuts out a hell of a lot of time spent editing, cropping and beautifying. Magazines are mostly about people, yet the people in them aren’t even real. Click here to check out my petition, targeting Cosmopolitan and Cleo Magazines in Australia.

See these links below for more coverage on this issue from bloggers and media alike:

Jezebel

Miss Representation

Christian Science Monitor

Feministing

Up Worthy

Post Crescent

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