It all started with a simple request to Seventeen magazine by 13 year old Julia Bluhm: to print one unaltered (i.e. non-Photoshopped or airbrushed) photo spread per month. Through an online petition, Julia gained over 30,000 signatures in support of the challenge to the magazine and hand-delivered the signed petition to the Seventeen offices in New York City.
“I look at the girls, and a lot of them, like, they don’t have freckles, or moles, anywhere on their bodies,” she said. “You can’t, like, see the pores in their face, they’re perfectly smooth. Their skin is shiny. They don’t have any tan lines or cuts and bruises or anything like that.” –Julia Bluhm, as quoted in the New York Times
In a statement issued to the website Jezebel.com, a spokesperson for Seventeen stated:
“We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue — it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers — so we invited her to our office to meet with editor in chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity. “
While a diversity of sizes, shapes, skin tones and ethnicity is important in print magazines (and media in general), accurate representation is just as vital. Dove was heralded for their “Campaign for Real Beauty” featuring women who were not models, but rumors circulated that the photos were indeed altered via Photoshop. What is the benefit of representing “real beauty” if it is still altered and not truly real?
There’s been much discussion during the Keep It Real Challenge about images of beauty in the media and how they can impact body image. Individuals with a negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss (National Eating Disorders Association).
Our film “Someday Melissa: the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope” was created after Judy Avrin lost her daughter Melissa to an eating disorder in 2009; throughout her battle with bulimia, Melissa struggled with negative body image issues and lack of self esteem. After Melissa passed away, Judy discovered , dozens of celebrity photographs on her computer, some posed and some candid shots. Juxtaposed to these were pictures of Melissa in similar poses. Here was Melissa, comparing herself to those unrealistic images of beauty as the bulimia took hold and eventually took her life.
It is unrealistic to expect the media to completely do away with the practice of altering images in order to promote a particular standard of beauty and body image. However, representations of both men and women – without retouching – is a step in the right direction. Every effort to “Keep It Real” matters, no matter how big or small, in the fight against a negative body image and eating disorders. We hope that through our film, educational materials, and the non-profit organization we founded to increase awareness of eating disorders and support their early detection and treatment, Someday Melissa can shine some additional light on this ever- growing problem.
Recently there have been numerous news stories about the increasing rates of eating disorders among populations previously thought to be largely unaffected by ED: women of color, Orthodox Jews, men and older women. There is a misconception that ED doesn’t occur in a particular group or community if it isn’t widely discussed, or if being thin isn’t the standard of beauty by which bodies are judged.
One of the challenges in estimating the prevalence of ED in a particular group is that the stigma may be quite strong, thus discouraging individuals from seeking treatment or speaking out. For example, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) exact numbers of the prevalence of ED among women of color are not known due to a lack of research on this group. However, it is now clear that their rates for reporting and seeking treatment are indeed increasing. The singer/actress Brandy made headlines in April when she revealed that she had suffered from an eating disorder while shooting on the sitcom “Moesha” when she was in her teens.
The good news is that as awareness of ED in these populations is increasing, so too are those who are speaking out and educating others. Organizations like Men Get Eating Disorders Too and individuals like NEDA Ambassador Vic Avon are working to shatter the myth that men don’t suffer from ED. Others like Stephanie Covington Armstrong are fighting for visibility of ED in the African-American community. This year’s NEDA Conference is also addressing the subject, with a specific track on diversity and special issues, including underserved populations.
Every voice speaking out about ED is helping to shatter the stigma and educate, but it is especially vital that the voices come from a range of backgrounds and experiences. ED doesn’t discriminate and can impact individuals, families and communities from all walks of life. Speak out and make the myth of “ED is not in my community” disappear.
From our YouTube channel, an interview with Karla Mosley (actress and eating disorder survivor)
The first day of summer doesn’t arrive until June 20th, but here in New Jersey the temperatures are already soaring past 80° F. Even before the mercury began to rise, certain signs of summer were already prominently front and center. Not blooming flowers, not lush green grass, not clear skies with the sun shining bright. No, these signs of summer were in advertisements- the warnings that “swimsuit season” is approaching. Without fail, each year these ads begin to pop up with messages that summer requires a specific type of body that can only be achieved with their products.
One of the worst offenders of this is the cereal brand Special K, which has managed to push a dieting agenda in ads all year round. However, the ads leading up to summer are particularly egregious. This year, the ads feature a woman walking on a beach and wearing a cover-up; suddenly, the wind whips the cover-up off her. Her expression is first one of shock and horror, then contentment. The voice-over states “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you can. Take the Special K challenge… lose the cover-up and show off your confidence.”
The message of the ad clearly articulates that the only time that it is socially acceptable to not be shrouded in a cover-up at the beach (or pool or wherever) is if the body meets the standards of society, i.e. one that has lost weight by using these diet products. The message itself is even somewhat misleading because if the part about taking the Special K challenge is removed, the message has a positive spin: “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you can…lose the cover-up and show off your confidence.”
Not everyone has the confidence to lose the cover-up, regardless of their size or shape. Perhaps the message should be “When is it ok to lose the cover-up? When you want to.” It’s not about whether others approve of your size and body in a swimsuit, it’s about your own perspective on your body. Maybe one day you will want to lose the cover-up, maybe other days you won’t. Let’s leave that up to ourselves and not Special K to determine that.