August 6, 2012 — The media often promote distorted depictions of female beauty, leaving many feeling helpless against the ubiquitous misrepresentation of women. Jenna Herman, our current summer intern at Catalyst Canada, shares her reflections on the motivating story of a young girl’s decision to stand up against the magazine industry’s troubling portrayal of young girls. —Deborah Gillis
As girls become young women, and seek a sense of comfort in their own skin, they are constantly confronted with impossible beauty norms. Flipping through magazines, they compare themselves with pictures of models who have been digitally reconstructed and airbrushed to have perfect skin, impeccable hair, and ultra-thin bodies. But how can we change the media?
Julia Bluhm, a 14-year-old girl from New England, recently spoke out against the unrealistic and harmful images of women that dominate women’s magazines. After hearing her ballet classmates agonize about their weights, Julia created an online anti-Photoshopping petition targeted at Seventeen magazine, calling for a more natural representation of young women. Seventeen responded by announcing a Body Peace Treaty which appeared in the magazine—a promise to “never change girls’ body or face shapes.”
What is most inspiring about this story? Is it a young girl’s drive to have her voice heard? An individual challenging conventional stereotypes of beauty? Or the magazine’s response to the public’s concerns?
I think the most important message is that we all have a responsibility to be active participants in the media. There is much that we cannot change about the words and images that inundate us every day, but there are many things we can—and should—challenge.
As consumers, and particularly as women, we have the ability and the responsibility to engage with what we read and influence its content. We have the power to bolster those companies that foster healthy portrayals of women, and to challenge companies that do not. Social media in particular offers powerful tools for people to engage with corporations, publications, and advertisers, both as individuals and collectively.
Interning this summer at Catalyst has reminded me of the importance of actively confronting the ways in which women may be limited or disadvantaged. Whether at work or at play, each of us can act as a catalyst to influence the depiction of women.
Julia Bluhm reminds us that if we want to have a certain conversation about women, sometimes we have to start it.
Do you know—or have you been—a catalyst for change? Tell your story in the comments section.