An End to Airbrushing

July 27th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

One teen speaks out against photo retouching and starts a revolution.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Mental health professionals, academics and the media have had plenty to say about how to help young girls win the battle for a healthy body image, but it was a 14-year-old girl’s ongoing campaign that truly helped to affect change.

This past spring, eighth-grader Julia Bluhm and her teammates at SPARK – which stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge – earned extraordinary media attention after collecting more than 84,000 signatures via an online petition against airbrushed models. In particular, Bluhm protested Seventeen Magazine’s practice of retouching photos of its models – erasing their blemishes and whittling away their thighs and middles.

According to The Boston Globe, Bluhm received an invite to the Seventeen Magazine offices to discuss her objections following a press tour that included interviews with CNN and The New York Times. Shortly thereafter, Seventeen announced a Body Peace Treaty: the editors promised to “never change girls’ body or face shapes,” and vow to feature “real girls and models who are healthy.” Plus, they say they’ll give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the magazine shoots and edits photo spreads.

The Globe noted that the policy change was a major victory for the two-year-old SPARK organization, which is overseen by seven adult advisers but comprised of a team of more than 20 girls and young women, ages 13 to 22, across the United States. For Bluhm, a young ballet dancer, joining the SPARK campaign was a way to counter the negative comments she was overhearing young girls make about themselves. As she told the Times, in her ballet class, girls often complained that they were having a fat day, or that their skin was pimply or that they looked disgusting. Her answer, she said, was, “Are you crazy?” 

SPARK has also sent anti-airbrushing petitions to 20 other magazines, among them Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair. They’ve also launched a “Keep It Real” Facebook page to help spread the word. In an age where younger and younger people can have an influence through the power of social media, it seems appropriate that the power to affect change – at least with one magazine – started with a group of young girls fed up with an impossible beauty standard. What’s your take on Bluhm’s accomplishment? Where else would you like to see the influence of organizations like SPARK?