Somebody needs to go on a diet and it’s not us. It’s the media. Their current regimen? High in digitally deceptive additives (ahem, photoshop), low in nutrient rich reality and diversity. The cure?

Same model, with two different published ads from October 2009.

We want real. Not retouched. That is why About-Face is honored to join the frontline of the three-day social media Keep It Real Challenge alongside powerful forces like SPARK Summit and Miss Representation.org. The collaborative initiative runs June 27th – 29th and targets mainstream magazines, asking them to publish one unaltered image per issue. Whether it’s trimming tummies, lightening skin, or removing kneecaps, these images are harmful.

Here are my favorite ways to “Keep It Real” amid a world of pixelated perfection.

1. Educate To Empower: Our media reflects and influences our society, and what we see is rarely reality. Corporations are powerhouses driven by profit that push this unattainable ideal. If we are striving to achieve something that doesn’t exist, we’ll never cease purchasing their products and services, or reading their counterfeit content. The success of these industries is contingent upon consumers believing physical perfection is attainable.

Magazines have a vested interest in producing articles that support the ads paying for production. Everyday, the 20 billion dollar beauty industry exploits our insecurities for financial gain. We fight back when we learn how to consume media responsibly and bring critical media literacy skills to our daily lives. This begins with awareness. Notice all the brand name booty given out on talk shows or featured on reality TV like Extreme Home Makeover? Surprise! They are all corporate sponsors that fund the programming. We take back our power when we expose the industry’s motives. About-Face is already doing this in the San Francisco Bay area where we hold media-literacy workshops on body image and self-esteem.

2. Know Thy Value: We are subjected to millions of messages growing up that each equate our worth with our appearance. We become desensitized to media images and accept impossible ideals of beauty as real and attainable. We buy into a culture that discards us as people with unique gifts and personalities. Our appearance is not our value. Knowing that advertisers make money off of deceiving us can be empowering. I don’t know about you, but I take pride in knowing that I’m on to the media.

We need to change our thoughts, not our bodies, and find real role models that embody what strong and empowered means to us. Listen closely to your internal dialogue. Curiously question where any demeaning messages originate from, but don’t judge yourself for them. Chances are they are internalized messages from society and past experiences and not a part of you. Talk to yourself from a place of self-acceptance, not appearance-driven evaluation. Our worth is immeasurable and we deserve lives beyond our reflections.

3. Ask Questions: Ask questions about the media you ingest. Photoshop and the ubiquity of advertising have changed our standards of comparison. My formal education is in marketing, and I am here to confirm that marketers and advertisers exploit our insecurities when they market products and services. They sell lifestyles, ideals, dreams, etc. that are driven by culturally concocted fantasies. They actually use psychological methods to lure consumers to make purchases. The Proctor and Gamble brand Pantene showcases their hair products with models tossing impossibly shiny manes. Subtext: Want this shiny hair? Buy this shampoo. Ask questions! Think critically about what is being depicted. What is it saying about this person/group of people in society? What idea is being sold beyond the actual product?

4. Be part of the solution, not the problem: Personal responsibility is key. We already know the images we see in magazines are not real, but we need to begin developing healthy relationships with our own bodies. Are we contributing to “fat talk”, disparaging body conversations? Are we complimenting others solely on their appearance? How many times have you heard or been involved in connecting with others over body size/shape? How is our relationship with our bodies affecting our siblings, children or loved ones? Our own attitudes are powerful and potent and can have a great effect. We have to harness this to help, not hurt.

Use social media to call out companies and read up on the tools of persuasion and target audiences as related to advertising. Change conversations that contribute to body shame and stay alert for the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the promise of confidence/empowerment if we do x, y, or z. We must respect the bodies we have and not resort to unhealthy or punishing behaviors to look a certain way. We cultivate meaningful relationships with others when we’re not connecting over negative body image. We are best able to serve the world in this fight if we are at peace with ourselves and embracing our own imperfect, human beauty.

Taking back our power from the perilous hands of the media means pushing back against problematic portrayals and alienating beauty ideolology. We need more diverse depictions that celebrate all bodies, races, and ethnicities. We deserve accurate and honest representations, redefined standards of beauty and real role models. Will these powerful media outlets heed the requests of real women? This remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: we have the tools to do our part in keeping it real.

Help us fight back by tweeting this article, sharing it on Facebook, capturing your own pictures of beauty, and bidding adieu to photoshopped phoniness.

Heather