I’ve been a feminist since I was a teen (remind me to tell you the story of how I yelled, “My parents paid the same amount of money as yours did, giving me just as much right to be here as you. Only difference is I’ll probably get better grades than you!” to the 7th grade boys who came by the girls dorm at my expensive New England boarding school summer program to ask us to do their laundry), and have pretty much been working to improve girl culture (meaning primarily the cultural messages that target girls, tweens, and teens) ever since.
So I’m finding it affirming of my life’s work to chart some pretty significant changes in the past few weeks. First, I stumbled across an article titled, “Un-thin-spiring: Super skinny stars like Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole are a turn-off for dieters”, which alleges that today’s women are put off by images of crazy thin celebs. The article details how three quarters of women believe there is too much pressure on women to be slim and how 90 percent of women don’t believe celebrity dieters who say they’re able to eat whatever they like.
That’s great news—because it shows that women are wising up to the fact that celebrity-level thinness is really only possible when you lead a celebrity-style life, which includes access to professional coaching and hand-holding through extreme fitness regimes, non-stop childcare (so you have time to rest up for said extreme fitness regimes and have someone to hold Bébé while doing and recovering from said extreme fitness regime), A-list stylists, and astronomically-priced beauty innovations. In other words, a life that is increasingly out of touch with most people’s reality.
Another amazing recent example is the phenomenal petition started by 14-year-old Julia Bluhm of Waterville, Maine. Sick and tired of hearing girls diss themselves with comments like “It’s a fat day,” and “I ate well today but I still feel fat,” Julia believes that such comments are the result of media pressure for girls to look “impossibly thin with perfect skin.” So she decided to ask Seventeen magazine, one of the most powerful media brands that targets teens, to show its girl readers more common body types—and got 72,243 supporters to stand with her.
The third recent rumbling of change comes from beauty and fashion arbiter Vogue magazine, which declared that it will stop using under age (meaning less than 16 years old) and ultra thin models in all 19 of its international editions.
When I spoke to the Associated Press about this, I cautioned that it seems like Vogue is grandstanding by making a small, easy concession that will placate its readers who are tired of seeing images that they know reflect a life so rarified that it doesn’t even apply to well, almost anyone. I stand by that quote, but of course I also hope that somehow, someway, sometime Vogue’s proclamation will pave the way for change in the long run.
So, is change really on the horizon? Will these examples result in immediate and tangible differences? Sigh. Tough to say, because it’s always a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process.
But I do know that 20 years ago, when I started my own journey on this path, women were caught up trying to emulate the supermodels of the 80s and 90s, a 14-year-old girl probably couldn’t have gotten a major magazine to sit up and take notice of her complaints with their editorial content, and the world’s fashion bible didn’t have to prove it prioritizes women’s health and well-being over its artistic direction. So yeah, maybe things are looking up.
–Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty