Just as Vogue announced a ban of under-aged and thinspo-leaning models from its pages–a “triumph” according to Slate’s Libby Copeland–Seventeen magazine shut down 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, a ballet dancer who attempted to convince Seventeen magazine to hire “real” models instead of using photoshopped girls. Bluhm, who supplied Seventeen editor Ann Shoket with 25,000 signatures, was met with a canned response. Though Shoket told Bluhm that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their “authentic selves,” I’m sure she mostly means her models are authentic if, and only, their tummies appear flat in bikinis.
Vogue’s announcement is a landmark decision and quite a surprise–especially for a magazine that’s had a particularly bad year of showcasing young girls. Think back to 10-year-old Thylane Blondeau who creepily modeled in a Tom Ford shoot in 2011 and most recently, to Dara-Lynn Weiss who wrote about her “overweight” 7-year-old daughter and then allowed the girl to pose in the magazine. But forget those more extreme examples. It’s no news flash to say that Vogue has been using young, skeletal models for decades.
But Seventeen’s move comes as a shock. Seventeen is courting the every girl. And with the new eruption of thinspo and pro-ana material that’s crawling all over the web, anyone would assume that Seventeen might take this opportunity to push against stereotype and offer up girls of varying sizes and shapes. The National Association of Eating disorders say that “visibility” is one of the main factors that contribute to eating disorders. Skinny girl photos are why the thinspo world has taken off like wildfire–because girls use them as inspiration.
I could sway you with a list of daunting statistics, but this sticks out as the most disturbing: anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. So if nothing else, why wouldn’t Seventeen just make a simple commitment against photo-shopping or maybe offer some more realistic models? It would seem like a win, win.
Seventeen should take a cue from Rookie, an online zine heralded by teen superstar Tavi Gevinson, which might be the only real magazine that celebrates a “different” kind of girl. Case in point: Gevinson’s editor’s letter this month draws attention to her current mascot: a girl with a black Sid Vicious-inspired hair and draped by an old Joy Division t-shirt. The theme of the month: power. Rookie is filled with fashion spreads about the awkwardness of school dances, girls in 50s-style glasses and messy hair who are sometimes thin, but are captured in a more flawed depiction.
Sure, no one could expect Seventeen, which has always, even back in the 80s when I once read the magazine, to revel in the unusual. Even for its bad girl legacy–subversive writers like Lorrie Moore and Sylvia Plath both won Seventeen’s fiction prize–Seventeen’s girls are decidedly all-American and cheerful. They love the prom. They love their football teams. They’d never be caught dead in an 80s cast out photo shoot let alone like a model whose expression marked an uncertain future.
But it’s time for Seventeen to take a different approach, one that includes what’s happening with a darker side of their audience instead of sticking with the same old formula.
To sign Julia’s petition (she’s got over 60,000 signatures now) click here.