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Keeping it Real

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After a long-awaited response, 14-year-old Julia Bluhm received the victory that she was hoping for. Seventeen Magazine Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket published a body peace treaty in the latest issue, vowing to “never change girls’ bod[ies] or face shapes,” but she also affirmed that the magazine has never done that. She highlighted an existing Seventeen Body Peace Project that “is one of the cornerstones of [the magazine's] mission.” And, she agreed with activist Bluhm that “it’s crucial to represent girls of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones for their real beauty.”

With the support of SPARK, a girl-fueled activist movement, Bluhm started an online petition in April asking Seventeen to print one unaltered photo spread each month.

“The media is telling us that we’re not good enough if we don’t have a certain body type,” Bluhm said. “In real life, when you’re walking down the street, there are all kinds of…bodies…some people who are thin, some people who are bigger.” But, she argues that idealized images of tall, thin women with fair skin, light hair and no imperfections are featured in magazines. And, these digitally-enhanced photographs are creating self-esteem issues: “Girls want to look like those images that they see in magazines, and they’re striving for something that’s impossible.”

As a ballerina, Bluhm may be accustomed to self-criticism and the pressure to stay thin, but she says this feeling is not unique to these dancers. Many girls define beauty as being unrealistically thin and blemish-free because of what they read and see in publications. But, Bluhm won’t accept that.

After reaching over 84,000 signatures in May, she and other SPARK members visited Seventeen headquarters to hand-deliver the petition to Shoket. The petition now has 86,143 signatures.
SPARK, in collaboration with LoveSocial, Endangered Bodies, I Am That Girl and Miss Representation launched the three-day Keep it Real Challenge in June, requesting magazines to print one unmodified photograph per issue. Response from the magazine industry was overwhelming on Twitter. Representatives from Lucky, Marie Claire, Glamour and USWeekly replied, supporting the campaign.

Now, two other SPARK advocates have teamed up and are asking Teen Vogue to make the same commitment that Seventeen has. Even though Teen Vogue has said that it “feature[s] dozens of non-models and readers every year and do[es] not retouch them to alter their body size,” the two New Yorkers, 16-year-old Carina Cruz and 17-year-old Emma Stydahar, want this declaration in writing for magazine readers to see.

On July 11, SPARK gathered in Times Square to protest against Teen Vogue. Six girls rolled out a mock red carpet, and while holding signs with the hashtag “KeepItReal and the statement “all girls are beautiful,” they walked the runway.

Sixteen-year-old Selena Beaumont confessed that in middle school, she started skipping lunch to lose weight: “I had somebody that told me that it wasn’t right. They were like, ‘Here, eat lunch, please. You need to eat lunch.’ And I was like, ‘No, I need to be skinny. I need to be skinny.’”
Cruz has also struggled with her weight. Now, she’s become not only an inspiration but a role model: “To fight not just for myself but for girls all around the country is really a big deal to me.”

Cruz and Stydahar met with Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Amy Astley that same day, bringing their 28,000 signature petition. Upon publication, it had 33,028 supporters. According to the girls, Astley was with them for less than five minutes. Instead of talking about their request, Astley gave them copies of Teen Vogue to educate them about the magazine. On Thursday, Teen Vogue released a statement saying, “We are always open to readers’ feedback and were receptive to meeting with Emma and Carina to give them an opportunity to discuss their concerns.”

The setback, however, is not going to stop these ambitious teens. They’re still petitioning Teen Vogue and encouraging all to sign their appeal.

What do you think about the campaign? Have you felt pressure to look a certain way because of images in magazines? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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