This week I’m taking part in the Keep it Real Challenge, hosted by Miss Representation , Spark Summit, and other partner organizations dedicated to changing media representations of women and girls. Inspired by 14-year-old Julia Bluhm’s campaign to get Seventeen to publish one unaltered spread of photos per issue, the campaign aims to get several mainstream print magazines to issue that commitment. Seventeen said no to Bluhm but the first day of the challenge – focused on tweets using the #keepitreal hashtag – was inspiring. The hashtag reached over 1.5 million people and specifically targeted the Twitter accounts of a list of mainstream women’s magazines and their editors. USWeekly, Glamour, and Lucky all tweeted interest in reconsidering their magazine’s use of Photoshop, and the editor of Marie Claire also reached out personally to Miss Representation to discuss the issue. It can be easy to get discouraged about the negative sexist things we can find on the internet, but this kind of mobilization shows that social media has enormous potential to bring progressives and feminists together to lobby for change and achieve it.
That said, there are still a bunch on the list of magazines that haven’t taken action. I’m personally really hoping for commitments from the teen magazines: Teen Vogue, Twist, J14, and Seventeen, as well as Women’s Health mainly because it strikes me as incredibly hypocritical to have a magazine about health that actually undermines it by promoting the idea that unrealistic, hyper-edited photos of women are actually achievable. For just a few examples of what I’m talking about check out GF contributor Sarah Jensen’s Pinterest board “Photoshop Disasters”.
But maybe I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. I wanted people to know why I’m participating in this challenge. The first most obvious reason is the stats on why this issue matters. The Keep it Real group has put together a list of some of the most startling ones (in easily sharable images, hint, hint), among them:
But it’s also because I remember reading these magazines. There was a time when my friends and I had sleepovers surrounded by piles of Seventeen magazines and sometimes Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair. I spent hours cutting pictures of celebrities and models out of In Style articles and ads and making poster-sized collages of what I thought beauty was. On one level it made me feel inspired to see female beauty but it also had an insidious impact of making me feel like those super skinny bodies and ultra white teeth and slick shiny hair were what success looked like. Because that was the only kind of beauty that was shown. And it didn’t occur to me until late in high school that those images were unrealistic and even digitally edited.
I was a little overweight in high school and I had acne and patchy eyebrows and eyelashes due to my trichotillomania, but that doesn’t even matter because there’s no way I could’ve looked like the women in those magazines. I was hopeless with guys and I began to believe at least partly through these magazines that getting a guy was the most important measure of my success, and that there was a universal equation that went girl + looks like that model in Seventeen = boyfriend. I didn’t develop an eating disorder but I did get very depressed. The magazines reinforced the message I got from bullies that I was a freak, that I was ugly, and that I was undesirable. I can’t count how many days I came home from school crying between grades 4 and 12.
Discovering feminism and learning about how these images were altered helped me quite a bit but it takes a lot to undo that damage. It takes a lot to rewire your reactions when your whole life there’s been all this photographic “evidence” that there is no way you will ever be beautiful enough to be in a magazine spread. That’s why I want to work to get these magazines to change. Is one unaltered image per issue really so much to ask? We have to start somewhere to show that there’s more than one way to be beautiful.
That’s why I’m involved. But it’s not too late for you to get involved too. You can still send tweets using the #KeepitReal hashtag, or post a blog post and share it using the same hashtag. Tomorrow the challenge is to take a picture and post it on Instagram using the hashtag #KeepitRealChallenge to share an image of what real beauty means to you. Check out the full challenge toolkit here for more info and ideas.