While I don't know if Lady Gaga still struggles with bulimia, I do know that she looks thin in magazines. Vogue’s depiction of her thin waist and hourglass figure in a skin-tight fuchsia dress, is what millions of young women around the world idealize as beautiful. Unfortunately, many rely on the same self-destructive eating disorders that I once did, to achieve this look. According to US News, 1 in 50 American women ranging from ages 15-24 is bulimic. Given that fashion magazines perpetuate unhealthy ideals of beauty, and are largely responsible for the high rates of distorted body image described below, I argue that they are inherently anti-feminist.
Two months ago the Huffington Post featured an article on Julia Bluhm, the courageous teenager who led a Change.org petition for Seventeen Magazine to portray girls truthfully. Bluhm, along with 84,000 signatories requested that Seventeen publish a single unaltered photo spread each month, as a true representation of what teenagers look like. To Bluhm's surprise, Seventeen's editor-in chief, Ann Shoket, announced the magazine's commitment to a Body Peace Treaty, promising to preserve natural body shapes and only rely on Photoshop for the occasional "stray hair, clothing wrinkle, errant bra strap or zit." Hold your applause ladies- there is a caveat: the magazine will continue to manipulate images, but feature before and after comparisons on Seventeen's Tumblr page for full transparency. I can't help but wonder how many more girls read the magazine than visit the Tumblr page.
While the images found on Seventeen's Tumblr may be free of digital doctoring, they certainly do not celebrate all the shapes and sizes that Shoket promised. Scrolling through the first fifteen pages, I identified only three women who appeared to don the average sized eight to ten pant and medium blouse. The rest were quite thin, among the likes of Kylie Jenner (of the Kardashian enterprise), Shay Mitchell (of Pretty Little Liars), and recently skinny Jordin Sparks, who shed fifty pounds in the last year. Regardless of any digital enhancement software, the images that Seventeen publishes on its website communicate one thing: skinny is desirable.
Despite her recent triumph, Julia Bluhm is no pioneer in the campaign against the distorted body image propagated by magazines and commercial media. In 2011, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy to encourage advertisers to work with organizations concerned with child and adolescent health, to develop guidelines for advertisements, especially those that are teen-oriented. But what about us adults? Despite my twenty-seven years of "wisdom," and my better judgement against the "beauty" portrayed in the latest Photoshopped Charlize Theron ad by Dior, I am by no means impervious to the subliminal effects these images have on my own perceived body image. It seems I am not the only one.
In 2009 Glamour Magazine conducted a body-image survey, recording 16,000 women's sentiments about their bodies. Glamour found that 40 percent of women surveyed expressed discontent with their bodies. The results of the poll are introduced with this statement:
We at Glamour think your body is fantastic. Tall and gangly, small and busty, muscular, curvy, soft or sinewy—we celebrate it all... Trouble is, too many of you don’t. Twenty-five years after our first major body-image survey, 16,000 women took our new poll—and admit they still have some issues.
I have a hard time accepting this statement as genuine from a magazine that has also published articles called: "Calling All Hungry Girls! 4 Healthy Foods That Will Keep You Full Longer," and "Experts Say Anyone Can Lose Weight on a 1,200-Calorie-a-Day Diet--But What Exactly Does It Look Like?" Keeping in mind that these articles are featured alongside the same Photoshopped images that Julia Bluhm protested, I am not surprised by the poll's results (assuming Glamour only polled its own readers).
In a nationwide survey by David Garner of Psychology Today, 56 percent of women indicated that they were dissatisfied with their appearance. Garner attributes this partially to the fact that "induction into our culture's weight concerns is happening... at younger ages." He also states that it is easy for young girls to look outside themselves to discover who they are, yet, they lack buffers to protect their psyches, which are vulnerable to the images on magazine racks.
At age eleven my grandmother admonished me for buying into the deceit of fashion magazines. She told me that me that since her own youth, women have bought magazines and condemned themselves for not being as beautiful as "that false haired Marilyn Monroe," when in fact they were just as stunning as Norma Jeane. I thought my grandma just didn't get it, but apparently neither did I. Grandma understood where true beauty resides, and it certainly is not behind the cover of Vogue, or any other magazine. Fashion magazines do not celebrate or empower women: instead, they break us down, cause self-hatred and instigate eating disorders. I'll be cancelling my subscription.