The XX Factor

Seventeen Pledges To Show Real Girls

Actress Madeline Carroll fixes her hair

Photograph by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

In the August issue of Seventeen editor Ann Shoket has drafted a “Body Peace Treaty” in which she promised  to “celebrate every kind of beauty” and stick to the magazine’s earlier promise to show “real girls as they really are.” The magazine also promised to feature only “models who are healthy,” publish at least one untouched photo in every issue, and most importantly, “Help make your life amazing!”

That’s a whole lot of promises, so let’s break them down one by one. We can all agree that the trend of starving underweight models is disturbing, which is why several countries (and even Anna Wintour at Vogue) have pledged to stop using them. We can also probably deplore that a 13-year-old who embodies a kind of “fierce fragility,” in Libby Copeland’s phrase, has lately become the fashion ideal not just for teenagers but for regular grown women.

But showing “real girls as they really are?” This is the province of art, or Facebook, or snapshots, or maybe Lena Dunham. It is the province of the zillions of blogs that have sprung up over the last decade showing real girls (and boys) rocking their own homegrown styles. It is not really the province of fashion magazines that are by nature aspirational and airbrushed. Just because I don’t want the models in Seventeen to look like heroin addicts does not mean I want them to look like my preteen daughter when she is slouching her way to school on her crankiest morning.

Look at the example of the untouched photo Shoket includes as a sample of brutal honesty and self-policing. It is true that the “before” shot is not touched up but nor is it a photo that should ever appear in a fashion magazine. The model’s shirt is wrinkled, her hair is escaping and her pink bra strap is showing. These are flaws someone would fix on Madeline Albright if she appeared on a talk show, not the shackles of teenage girls.

In any case failing to touch up this photo has made this model’s beauty no more attainable to the average reader of Seventeen. In the untouched photo she is still really pretty, really skinny, and wearing red lipstick and a really short skirt. She just happens to have her bra strap showing. If you want to use “real girls,” Shoket, go for it. That might make for a really cool photo shoot. But this is not it.

Now what about the amazing life part? Seventeen’s pledge was inspired by a 14-year-old girl who wrote in because everyone in her ballet class was complaining they were fat. Julie Bluhm started a campaign asking the magazine to publish one unaltered photo. Tens of thousands of people signed it and she was invited to the offices of Seventeen. Yay Julie Bluhm. That’s an incredible thing to pull off for someone so young. Yet I am guessing that the atmosphere in ballet class is not going to yield all that much. For that, you’ll have to try Martha Graham.