Well Being

Seventeen Magazine Promises To Change! But Probably Won’t Actually Change

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seventeen magazine airbrushing

A typical, not-at-all-airbrushed-because-they-said-so, highly diverse, self-esteem boosting swimsuit spread from Seventeen.

After mounting pressure from awesome teen girls like Julia Bluhm and organizations like SPARK to quit airbrushing teens (at least once per month) and use a more diverse range of body types and appearances, not to mention plenty of resistance from the magazine itself, it seems as if Seventeen magazine has finally started to listen. Or at least, that's what a letter from the editor in this month's edition says, according to Kaye Toal's article on Upworthy. But unfortunately, the letter smells an awful lot like Vogue‘s recent batch of empty promises, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be more business as usual. Bummer.

The letter, which Bluhm and others are considering a win, announces something called the Body Peace Treaty, a list of nice-sounding promises that Seventeen swears they'll uphold, accompanied by a list of vows they hope their readers will uphold, all of which is focused on body-positivity and promoting good self-esteem. Which is important because they're a magazine squarely aimed on the age group that is most impacted by imagery and potential self-esteem pitfalls, and it would be irresponsible not to celebrate diversity and show teens realistic role models, right? Right. Yay!

And yet…and yet….all of the promises are so vague. Almost as if they aren't planning on making any changes at all, but realized they could no longer dig in their heels and ignore the rising tide of teens and advocates who think it's unacceptable to sell perfection to teens.

The Body Peace Treaty declares that Seventeen will uphold their current practice of not editing faces and bodies (aside from “a few zits,” which anyone who's ever actually picked up the magazine will call BS on), as well as only cast healthy models, be “totally upfront” about what goes on at photoshoots (with a Tumblr?), and try to inspire teen girls to be healthy, from eating right to exercising. All of which are claims Seventeen has made before–including that they never airbrushed, ever, ever–but this time, they put it in a treaty, so they really mean business. But this feels very familiar. Where have I seen all of this before?

Oh right. Vogue. Who released a similarly vague list of promises, and then quickly decided that being “ambassadors for positive body image” was best achieved by using models, instead of female athletes to illustrate the Olympics, and nude, rail-thin “real” women, including one who was smoking. Also, cutting off a leg.

To be fair, the actual treaty itself, which is encouraging girls to hop on board the S.S. Body Positivity and is available on Seventeen‘s website, is a little better than what the magazine says it's going to do. Here's a snippet from it. It begins with “I Vow To…”

  • Notice all the amazing things my body is doing for me every moment I walk, talk, think, breathe…
  • Quiet that negative little voice in my head when it starts to say mean things about my body that I'd never tolerate anyone else saying about me.
  • Remind myself that what you see isn't always what you get on TV and in ads — it takes a lot of airbrushing, dieting, money, and work to look like that.

That's pretty great. But that last one–about reminding yourself that what you see in ads–rings a little hollow, considering Seventeen‘s treaty about what they vow to do does absolutely nothing to change their policies of using sexed-up full-page ads for Candies and L'Oreal. So what are they saying? “Hey, we're going to keep it up, but just remember, it's all a lie and try not to feel bad about yourself because of it?” I'm really not sure that's good enough.

Seventeen, it's cool that you realized there's no way you could continue to ignore the outcry. After all, in the end, it got much bigger than you expected, and it was nice of you to finally dedicate some page space to the issue, instead of whispering promises in the ears of your PR people. And I want to give credit where credit is due–at least it's a start.

But let's not let it end here, OK? Because our teens deserve better than a pack of promises and no real action.

Image of actual Seventeen magazine pages via Mommyish, who have been crushing it on this beat.