Teen Girls to Teen Magazines: No Photoshop. Just Real Girls, Please.

On July 11th, teenage girls of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones gathered outside Teen Vogue’s Time Square offices.  Their mission?  To protest the magazine’s habit of doctoring photos of women and girls to make them tiny, light skinned, straight-haired, and flawless — in other words, for promoting a very narrow, unrealistic definition of what teen beauty should look like.

As CBS News reports, the recent teen protest is part of a larger movement fueled by SPARK, a grassroots organization that is committed to combatting the sexualization of women and girls in mainstream media. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer recently interviewed Dana Edell, SPARK Executive director, and two high school members of the organization, Carina Cruz and Emma Stydahar.

Emma, who cancelled her subscription to Teen Vogue after finding it too depressing, hit on an image that is probably familiar to those of us who came of age in the era of teen magazines:

Well, I remember being in about 6th grade and flipping through the magazine and just thinking to myself, “Oh I wish I had her body, I wish I had her legs, I wish I had her hair,” and never thinking, “Wow, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” and feeling positive about myself.

She’s definitely not alone.  Lehrer mentioned that although publications like Teen Vogue sell over 1 million copies annually, 75% of teen girls feel bad about themselves after a few minutes of flipping through the glossy pages. Carina, who’s Puerto Rican, had this to say:

As a young woman of color, and dealing with weight issues and naturally curly hair, I’ve always had a problem trying to find, um, somebody to look up to in these magazines, and I know many other girls have…I’ve been part of that 75%, and–and it’s hard to find a girl who’s relatable to us, but we still keep going back because it’s still what society tells us to look like.

It’s not just the “going back” to these magazines that counts, it’s the fact that each time they do, teen girls receive more and more confirmation that how they look should be their number one priority.  Dana Edell:

We live in a world where we tell little girls, pretty much from birth, that the most important thing is what they look like…From the time they’re babies, they’re told they’re beautiful, pretty little princesses, and we focus so much on girls’ appearance from a very, very young age, that by the time they get to be teenagers, they do learn…that the most important thing is what you look like.

As one Brian Lehrer listener pointed out, teen girls have plenty of other worthwhile things to focus on. For many, high school’s a make it or break it time. The effort girls put into studying and preparing for college will have a much greater impact on their lives than the hour they spend in front of the mirror each morning getting ready for school.  So…easy, right? Girls should just focus on academics. We should all burn our fashion magazines, shatter our mirrors (despite the bad luck), renounce make-up and hair straighteners, and refuse to feel bad about how we naturally look! Hooray!

Not so fast. Dana Edell points out that it’s more complicated than that:

These are the images that we see 99% around us, and we live in a world now where the media is literally on every billboard, on our cell phones, on the internet. We are surrounded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — every single minute — we are looking at these images. So it becomes nearly impossible, despite how hard we try to…look at these images and look in the mirror and not see the differences between the two.

Given the omnipresence of media and advertising in our lives, something has to change. As teens like Emma and Carina have obviously already figured out, it’s not us — the real women and girls — that need a makeover, it’s the images we’re exposed to and those who manipulate them. Again, Dana Edell:

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, it’s when the definition of looking good is so narrow and so limiting, [it becomes] so dangerous to attain.

So far, SPARK — whose activism is driven by teenage girls themselves — has successfully convinced Ann Shoket, Editor in Chief of Seventeen Magazine, to publish a Body Peace Treaty.  The treaty, signed by all Seventeen staff members, promises the magazine will include models of various body types, skin tones, and hair textures, only feature models and girls that are healthy, and never use Photoshop to alter girls’ bodies or facial structure.  Apparently, Teen Vogue likewise agreed to feature healthy girls and varying body types in its publication. However, despite the 30,000 signatures on SPARK’s petition for the publication to follow Seventeen’s example, the magazine hasn’t committed to printing its promise.

Regardless of Teen Vogue’s decision, these girls deserve some serious kudos for refusing to accept a damaging, unrealistic norm and standing up to mainstream teen publications.

Well done, SPARK!


Related Stories:

Half of All Teen Girls Would Change The Way They Look

Domestic Violence: Teens Think Rihanna Deserved It?

UK Parents Learn How to Talk to Kids About Body Image

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr


Ben A.
Ben A.5 years ago

I saw a post over on MTV Voices about the need for diversity in the Fashion industry – in reference to using a wider range of models. http://mtvvoices.com/en/2012/08/fashion-check-one-size-does-not-fit-all/

Personally I think that people buy the dream when purchasing clothes and the models are part of that…
But I wanted to put it out to you all what do you think?? Would including a more diverse range of models increase sales?

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

Jessica Alba is not photoshopped. Just sayin'.

Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

Way to go girls!

Robyn Brice
Robyn Vorsa5 years ago

I refuse to buy those magazines for my 14 year old as I don't want her to judge herself by the ridiculous standards set by them. Beauty comes from within and physical beauty is fleeting. It is what's inside that counts.

Biby C.
Biby C5 years ago

It's perfectly normal to want to look good. People has been doing it since time immemorial. But I have one advice for you girls, young and old. Just remember that what you see on billboards and magazines are not real. They've been doctored to death. So don't get depressed over something that's not real! Get real! And by that, I also mean that you should admit it if you are obese and do something about it! One should cultivate a sense of self esteem and one can do that by good grooming. Trust me, I'm in the business. ;-)

Navpreet K.
Navpreet K.5 years ago

I think that we should accept who we are and not try to look up to these models.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Oh yes, I remember how inadequate those magazines made me feel as a teen. My mother had more sense and kept telling me all the pictures were airbrushed - how right she was!

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

I stopped reading magazines manufactured by mass media geared toward females because I got tired of it being all about pleasing males, shoes/hair/makeup etc or vainity stuff, and started reading things the enhanced my mind, not my closet.

Carole R.
Carole R5 years ago

Glad to hear some teens are looking into this. We need to start making inner beauty what is important.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

I understand why it would be depressing. I mean, try being the perfect cover girl when it's not even possible, because that's not exactly how the real cover girl looks like. It's Impossible! She doesn't even exist! And because these media people brainwash the young girls to want to look that way, it's also affecting the boys. Boys will want girls to look that way too and in the end, you're competing against some unrealistic perfect doll... Depressing.