Teen Girl Wins Photoshop Fight Against Seventeen Magazine

When Julia Bluhm scanned the pages of Seventeen magazine, she saw young women with perfect bodies. Glossy hair and clear complexions polished off skinny, tanned figures.

At 14 years old, Bluhm knew that teenagers with blemish-free skin, perfect hair and stick-thin physiques weren’t the norm. And she was sick of looking at the fakes. So with the help of SPARK Movement, she launched an online petition at Change.org asking Seventeen to include one unaltered, Photoshop-free spread every issue.

Bluhm wrote in the petition:

I want to see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me. For the sake of all the struggling girls all over America, who read Seventeen and think these fake images are what they should be, I’m stepping up.

Bluhm’s petition garnered more than 84,000 signatures, and this week Seventeen got the message. In the magazine’s August issue, an eight-point “Body Peace Treaty” vowed to “celebrate every kind of beauty,” and pledged never to change girls’ body or face shapes with retouching. Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket also promised to be more transparent with the photo shoot process by posting behind-the-scenes photos on the Seventeen Tumblr.

Bluhm declared victory on the Change.org website, thanking her supporters:

Seventeen listened! They’re saying they won’t use Photoshop to digitally alter their models! This is a huge victory, and I’m so unbelievably happy.

In her petition, Bluhm had talked about the endless reel of negative body comments in her ballet class. While ballet dancers are often the target of body-image issues, she said, “It’s not just ballet dancers who feel the pressure to be ‘pretty.’ It’s everyone.”

Magazines that feature unattainable and untrue representations of young women fuel that negative commentary. It’s a constant flood that inevitably gives young women more reason to feel inadequate and insecure. With embarrassing stories and guides to the best prom dresses under $100, Seventeen is a lifestyle magazine ostensibly for regular girls–markedly different from Vogue and other high-fashion magazines. Photoshopped models aren’t ideal in any publication, but they are especially damaging in a magazine geared to young women.

Bluhm’s victory is two-fold. Without digital altering, readers can see what real girls, like them, actually look like. Seventeen’s new pledge also shows teenage girls that if they don’t like something, they have the power to change it. Although the magazine hasn’t officially given Bluhm credit for their change of mind, it’s clear she was the catalyst. She’s proven that activism and commitment to a cause–at any age–can work. And she’s already inspired another petition, targeting Teen Vogue.

Young women read Seventeen and other teen magazines for ideas and inspiration. They look up to the women featured and, consciously or not, try to emulate them. Bluhm told ABC News that it’s crucial for young women to “see a reflection of what truly represents a teenage girl nowadays.” They’re awkward, sometimes, with the youthful uncertainty of changes and hormones and growing into themselves. But they’re beautiful in the way that only real girls are–unretouched and unedited.

Update:

There has been some speculation as to the seriousness of the changes to Seventeen’s photoshop policy. Though Bluhm declared victory and proclaimed her own satisfaction with Shoket’s “Body Peace Treaty,” the hot pink bullet points may not be all they’re cracked up to be. Upon closer examination, the “new and improved” policy may not improve that much upon its former iteration. The letter overtly confirms that Seventeen will continue to retouch photos. And Shoket still claims that Seventeen “never has never will” alter its models’ bodies–a statement that contradicts the very accusation Bluhm (and her 85,000 supporters) made with her petition.

Photo of Seventeen‘s “body peace treaty” from the magazine’s August issue.

Comments

  1. Make up your mind, Ms. magazine, about unrealistic expectations when you publish pro-porn articles.

    • Melanie says:

      What is wrong with porn? There is plenty of easily-accessible pornography of real, healthy women and real, healthy men doing real acts.

  2. Tucker FitzGerald says:

    It feels like a reach to hope that without Photoshop, ‘readers can see what real girls, like them, actually look like.’ 17 magazine’s main mission will still be to sell advertising via unattainable and shaming images of female beauty. Its not like 17 was photographing ethnically diverse, weight diverse, conforming-to-beauty-standards diverse teens, and then photoshopping them into white Barbies. They start with 1-in-a-million white Barbies who have unhealthy bodies, botox, surgery, six hours of makeup, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of professional lighting, and then further Photoshop them beyond that. Helping women become Photoshop literate is huge, and pushing media to disclose the role of Photoshop is important, but its only the icing on the cake.

  3. I’ve heard a lot of mixed thoughts about this issue. On one hand, people argue that magazines are selling an ideal and grapically altered images fit with that. If you don’t want to read/see content with photoshopped models, then don’t buy the magazine. On the otherhand, we have a nation/world, of people deluded in believing that these photoshopped images of BEAUTIFUL people is real. Even beautiful people don’t look like that in real life…

    Personally, I think photoshopped models are just a stone toss away from digital models that places like H&M use to display their clothes. No matter how I look at that, I don’t understand how that is acceptable. No one looks like that!!!

    Anyway, I think this moving toward the right direction and I’m proud of Julia for pushing so hard to get it through.

  4. zeldafitz says:

    Ms., i’m wondering if you even read Shoket’s letter about this at all? Seventeen is making no promises and in fact isn’t acknowledging that they ever have done anything wrong at all. they said they WILL NOT stop photoshopping their pictures because they do it to make minor adjustments, and claim that they have never altered the models themselves. so i guess Bluhm and all those people that signed the petition were just imagining things? clearly they have done it, and what they are saying now in “acknowledgment” of the petition is just an attempt to cover their asses when they do it in the future, oh, and get some good press for being all feministy in the mean time.

    i wish this would stop getting so much coverage, especially among feminist sites and publications! clearly this is not a “win” and you are only letting seventeen (and possibly future and other offenders) off the hook! this is not the end of this issue, and apparently we need an entirely new petition to call them out on their bullshit.

    please go find and read the actual letter – any person with reading comprehension skills can see it’s a cleverly-spun message to make the girls think they’ve won something.

    • I also feel the same way about Seventeen’s response. I was a little disappointed that the photo they published was still Photoshopped, albeit with indications. I am dissatisfied with the ambiguity of their feel-good response to the matter.

  5. zeldafitz says:
  6. Dyrinda says:

    How about just not buying Seventeen magazine at all?

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