Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Open Letter To Seventeen Magazine

To the Editors of Seventeen:
This letter is a long time coming. But then again, so is the recent vow you made, a vow that Seventeen truly represent its readers and show girls as they really are.

Now, it's been a few years since I said goodbye to my teen years. When I was 14, no one had heard of Google, you were considered cool if you had an email account and everyone would be impressed if you created a Web site using something other than Geocities. It was a simpler time back then, indeed. With all the technology young women are inundated with today -- from blogs to Facebook to Twitter to magazines -- I can only imagine the pressure they must feel. Everyone is whispering in their ears. They're told how to act, how to dress, what to say, what to do and how to look. And, unless they fit into that perfect crafted cookie-cutter mold, well, there must be something wrong with them, right? They must change, right?

Of course not, and I'm glad that you're one of the first magazines that will stand up and say, "Yes, we need to do the changing."

After all, when readers recently voiced their concern that photos in the magazine had been Photoshopped or otherwise digitally enhanced, you could easily have (air)brushed it off. But you didn't. Instead, you listened to your readers. They rightfully feared that this retouching trend was going too far, was setting unrealistic expectations and sending negative messages. One frustrated reader who demanded change? Fourteen-year-old, Julia Bluhm, who began petitioning the magazine in April over its use of Photoshop and requested that it feature one unaltered photo spread in every issue. After some 86,000 signatures, you're (finally!) listening, Seventeen! "We want every girl to stop obsessing about what her body looks like and start appreciating it for what it can do," says Editor-in-chief Ann Shoket in her editor's letter in the August issue.
Thanks to Julia and other fearless readers, you also announced a new Body Peace Treaty that will be adopted staff-wide at the magazine. Now there's the power of young people. Julia got everything right, and I can't help but feel as though she represents the voice of the new generation -- a group of fiercely determined young women who aren't afraid to fiercely fight for what they believed it. They strive to be self-assured, and they want to see themselves in the pages of your magazine. They want to see all shapes, sizes, skin colors and disabilities (more on that in a bit...) celebrated every month.

Will it completely redefine and shift ideals of beauty? Probably not. But it will surely spark a dialogue that makes girls (and guys!) realize their full beauty and worth. I hope you will continue to emphasize girls' positive body image and encourage them to be happy and secure in their own skin. My only suggestion? When I'd read Seventeen as a teen, I often wondered why you never featured any girls with disabilities in the magazine. Any chance you could change that?

But really, thank you, Julia and Seventeen. I say this is a win for young people everywhere, don't you?


  1. I love this post, Melissa! Everything you said is right on and gives me hope for my daughters who will grow up in a very difficult and emotionally taxing world. But maybe not. Maybe body issues will be a thing of the past.

  2. It's true that the amount of pressure out there is huge, but I actually think added technology like blogs etc has taken the pressure off a bit - there was a time when ALL we had to look to was these airbrushed fashion magazines, now we have real girls with real flaws that we look up to anyway, and I personally think that is very liberating!

    Also, good on that 14 year old for taking a stand.

  3. I think that all beauty/lifestyle magazines like Seventeen need to change the way they are doing things. I have plenty of self image problems that I work very hard at overcoming, or at least being at peace with them...and I'll be fine but as soon as I slip up and purchase one of these type of magazines I'm back to the self doubt. Perhaps if they all started featuring real women and girls we'd all have better self esteem and NOT have to avoid these magazines.

  4. Julia is remarkable!!! I say this is a win for all people. We are conditioned at a young age to look a certain (nearly unachievable) way...Unfortunately, most of us continue to feel that pressure despite the supposed wisdom that comes along with age.

    I'm looking forward to see what other major publications besides Seventeen will jump on the bandwagon.

  5. If I could only do some things over again...but I can't so I am continually telling my nieces to focus on being themselves instead of being what they see in magazines or on t.v. Read, be educated, be good to others,see people for who they are-not how they look, get life that's pretty.

    Great post!

  6. that's true, Charlotte -- the Internet actually worked toward Julia's advantage with the petition. And so many voice can be a blog for change...

  7. Wendy -- readers are now targeting Teen Vogue!

  8. Right with you Ann! I hope every magazine targeted at teen girls and women take up the challenge.

  9. Altering photgraphs has been done since the very invention of the camera. Airbrush artist were able to erase wrinkles and soften rough features. Photoshop and digital manipulation simply make the process easier. Understand that in earlier years, photographs were not commonplace. Individuals wanted wrinkles minimized and warts removed.

    Beauty magazines are supposed to feature examples of perfection as something to aspire to. Here is an analogy. A drill sergeant changes his clothes between 6 and 8 times a day. It's rare to find a single wrinkle on his uniform. But he or she is the model that the recruits are expected to emulate.

    Magazines alter pics not only to camoflauge a model's shortcomings, but also to correct imperfections in the photoshoot itself. Redoing shoots are too expensive.

    Now if people are using Vogue/Elle/Cosmo etc. to measure their self worth, the girls need to understand that the mags only offer suggestions and tips. I don't think it's necessarily the magazine's fault for showcasing an ideal of perfection. Many times it's how you react toward it.

    Now showcasing people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and disabilities is fine but you have to consider the audience of the publication. How many white models do you see in Jet or Ebony? Anna Wintour has publically said she doesn't want overweight women reading Vogue. Therefore, you aren't going to see heavy models in her magazine. If you see only two black models and 48 white models in a magazine, chances are that some statician calculated the readership to be 90% Caucasian.

    Sorry for writing so much, but there is a definite, measurable justification for why magazines do what they do. It's a business model based on readership and advertising. And it all comes down to the almighty dollar.

  10. At the same time, Anon, part of the reason behind Julia's campaign was to show that readers want to see people like themselves in the magazine -- those with supposed "imperfections" -- and to know that those imperfections are beautiful and should be celebrated.

    True, some of it does boil down to business, but asking that the magazine include just one unaltered photo spread in each issue isn't asking too much.

  11. Actually, it ALL boils down to business. Since the issue of unaltered pics garnered so much attention, Seventeen ran with it and got itself some good publicity in the process. Triangle Communications, Seventeen's publisher, has been losing revenue for years. News Corp, Triangle's parent company, knows they can't recover the $3 billion they originally paid if they sold Triangle. The shareholders demand a return on their investment, and rightfully so. In the end, it all comes down to money.


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