Julia Bluhm, 14, is an eighth grader from rural Waterville, Maine. She loves ballet and attends class six days a week. She is also gaining national attention as an activist who is challenging the media to take responsibility for the way it warps girls' self-esteem.
"I've always noticed how a lot of the images in magazines look photo-shopped," Bluhm tells Yahoo! Shine. She wants all girls to feel comfortable in their own skin. "Girls shouldn't compare themselves to pictures in magazines," she says. "Because they are fake."
Eleven days ago, she launched a petition to ask one of her favorite magazines, Seventeen, to feature one un-retouched photo shoot a month. "They have already done a lot to help girls improve their body image. Their Body Peace feature is great. I thought that they could take it one step further with an unaltered photo spread." This morning, she is leading a protest outside of Seventeen's offices in Manhattan which will include a mock fashion shoot."I'm a little nervous. But excited."
Bluhm started blogging about girls and self-esteem a year ago when she joined SPARK, a non-profit organization for 13 to 22 year-olds that calls itself a "girl-fueled activist movement to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media." One of SPARKS' recent accomplishments was to get a meeting to with top LEGO executives to discuss, among other issues, the LEGO Friends line of toys which they say are demeaning to girls. However, the petition is, as Bluhm puts it, "my first big action."
Her petition on change.org reads:
"To girls today, the word 'pretty' means skinny and blemish-free. Why is that, when so few girls actually fit into such a narrow category? It's because the media tells us that 'pretty' girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin.
Here's what lots of girls don't know. Those 'pretty women' that we see in magazines are fake. They're often photo-shopped, airbrushed, edited to look thinner, and to appear like they have perfect skin. A girl you see in a magazine probably looks a lot different in real life….I've been fighting to stop magazines, toy companies, and other big businesses from creating products, photo spreads and ads that hurt girls and break our self-esteem….I've learned that we have the power to fight back."
The American Medical Association (AMA) backs up Bluhm's assertions. In June 2011, they issued a press release stating, "A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems." Board member Barbara L. McAneny, MD, added, "We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software."
So far, in the United States, only Glamour magazine has responded to the AMA's call to action. In its March 2012 issue, the popular women's magazine told readers, "And while our policy has always been not to alter a woman's body shape, we'll also be asking photographers we hire not to manipulate body size in the photos we commission, even if a celebrity or model requests a digital diet (alas, it happens)."
Some stars are also refusing to "go under the brush." Notably, Jessica Simpson appeared without makeup or retouching for a Marie Claire photo shoot in 2010 and more recently, actress Cate Blanchett revealed her natural 42-year-old face for the online magazine morentelligentlife.com.
As of today, May 2, Bluhm's petition has nearly 24 thousand signatures. She is surprised how quickly it's taken off. "I didn't think it would get this big," she laughs. Even though she hasn't quite reached her goal of 25 thousand signatures, editors are already listening. Bluhm says Anne Shoket, the magazine's Editor-in-Chief, has reached out and asked to see the petition. Fittingly, the current cover features Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss Everdeen, the ultimate girl-power heroine, in the box office smash "The Hunger Games."
Meanwhile, the eighth grader from Maine plans to enjoy her first trip to New York City. "I want to do some sight seeing with my mom who is here with me," she says. "Maybe visit the Empire State Building."
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