Recently, 14-year-old Julia Bluhm presented editors at Seventeen Magazine with a petition signed by close to 25,000, requesting that the magazine start publishing just one non-Photoshopped spread per issue.
In response, Editor Ann Shoket scheduled a personal meeting with Bluhm, showered her with praise for her efforts, then essentially ignored the part where Bluhm had asked her to change the way Seventeen misrepresents its models.
Spot on, Shoket. Here is a whole contingent of young, moldable readers who just want to see what other girls their age really look like, and the adult response to that? A pat on the head and an “Aren’t you adorable.”
I’ll never forget how I felt when my then 11-year-old daughter (whose body mass was 20-percent rosy cheeks and 80-percent grizzle) pinched the back of her tiny thigh and told me she felt she looked “fat” in shorts.
I don’t know if I said the perfect thing, but I sure as hell didn’t say, “You’re right, sweetie. Better keep those things under wraps until they’re presentable.”
It starts young, the female obsession with physical perfection, and Seventeen apparently has no compunction about nudging it along.
Lately, I’ve been really loving the HBO series Girls largely due to the main character, 24-year-old Hannah Horvath. She is a size-12, wanna-be novelist/New York mess, and her three homies are also refreshingly human in various ways, emotional and physical.
Still, a recent promo shot for the show features the four ladies looking more like the cast of Friends than the lovable miscreants I’ve been tuning in for. Hannah (Lena Dunham), in particular, has been shrinky-dinked down to about a cutesy size 6.
What message does that send? “Dear Kim Kardashian, We get that you are about the most desired female in the Western hemisphere, but it’s not quite good enough. Keep working at it.”
How and when does the ridiculousness end? I don’t really know. I can’t cancel my subscription to Seventeen, as I don’t have one. And before Thigh-Gate, I’d never even heard of Complex. I don’t buy women’s glamour rags anymore either, yet they still thrive and shamelessly Photoshop the world’s most beautiful women over and over, issue after issue.
All I can really do is stop mentally Photo-shopping myself and encourage my daughter and everyone else to do the same.
If experience has taught me anything, it’s that generally, when you’re given an impossibly perfect image to live up to, the people responsible for that image probably don’t even come close to living up to it themselves.
The people sending you that image just want you to be drawn in by clean lines, flawless skin, and shiny baubles so that you will want what they’re selling. What are they selling? Our eyes, to advertisers. What are advertisers selling? More shit that’s supposed to make us look perfect, but won’t.
There’s nothing wrong with admiring perfection in the same way you’d admire a magic trick or a million-dollar engagement ring, but there is something wrong with buying it, absorbing it, and letting it make you feel like crap.
To her credit, Kim Kardashian posted the non-edited Complex photo side-by-side with the edited version on her own web site so that her fans could see the difference between reality and photo-fantasy.
Dear Magazine Editors: So far, a 14-year-old and Kim Kardashian are showing better judgment than you are. Not quite good enough. Keep working at it.
Caroline Burau is a freelance writer in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and author of Sugarfiend and Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat. You can also follow her on Twitter (@carolineburau) or www.carolineburau.com.