This morning on my way to work, I walked past two young girls who were dressed for… Clubbing? The beach? Undoubtedly, they were meeting a boy or two (confirmed by later sighting). One girl had Amy Winehouse hair, they both had overly decorated their faces with a ton of makeup, and their agreed upon uniform for the day included microscopic denim shorts, low-cut tank tops, and push-up bras. They couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13 years old.
Witnessing the effort and excess of these two young ladies helped me determine what to write about today. My first thought was “Why? Why are you dressed like that at 8:00 am on a Thursday??” But I know why. And if you’re reading this post, you probably know why, too. I’ve mentioned the MissRepresentation campaign several times on this blog. Starting with recommending their documentary before I’d even seen it. Now they’ve launched a Keep It Real campaign to encourage magazines to reduce or eliminate the practice of photoshopping their images.
The girls I encountered this morning struck me as the most vulnerable age group when it comes to magazine images. Yes, like other grown women I know, sometimes models still make me feel icky about myself. But if the goal is to empower women and shift cultural norms from awarding us for our looks to awarding us for our abilities and accomplishments, then we need to start when the questions start.
What I remember most about the transition from girl to teenage girl are all of the questions. Should I start shaving my legs? How do you put on makeup? Do I want to put on makeup? How important is it for me to “have a boyfriend?” Is it nerdy to still like school? Reading a teen magazine today feels more like a manual than a guide. They contain resounding support for all of the above – makeup, fashion, the pursuit of boys – and not much in the way of real help making choices. A quick glance at today’s Seventeen magazine online features revealed such helpful tips as “Sneaky Ways to Get His Attention,” and “30 Days of Hair Inspiration for School.” Because that’s what school is all about – how you do your hair.
If you look at the photoshopped elements of this image you see the difference between a perfectly lovely girl and a phony, sexualized version of that same girl, making her look more like a plastic Bratz doll than a real human being. With images like this filling the pages of teen magazines, the choices made by the painted girls I encountered this morning are no longer a mystery. It’s painfully clear that they were trying to look like plastic, impossible versions of themselves. The world is telling them it’s what they need to do in order to be seen as beautiful, and that being beautiful is the most important accomplishment a girl can aspire to.
In honor of MissRepresentation’s valiant efforts to conquer that absurd notion, I leave you not in frustration and anger, but in hope and action. A teenage girl named Julia Bluhm has started a petition to Seventeen magazine. She asks them for what sounds like a perfectly reasonable request: commit to one unaltered photo spread a month. Only once a month. Julia and countless girls like her want to see girls in magazines that they can relate to, not girls representing an absurd, impossible, and damaging ideal.
Sign Julia’s petition and spread the word. Girls need more than one answer to their questions. To become confident women, they need to see their potential as girls. So let’s start at the very beginning.