By Erin Fuller
Like many of us, I subscribed to Seventeen magazine as a teenager. It was from Seventeen that I learned the necessity of a fedora, shaker-knit sweaters and the optimal wearing of many brooches (it was the 1980s), as well as how best to crimp my hair (again, the 1980s) and have "the best prom ever." (This desire, I believe, may be timeless.)
I remember looking at the girls in the pages – they were always pretty, often beautiful – but they still felt like girls, my own age (a range from probably 13 to 17) and they seemed accessible in the same way that some of the girls in my high school – those that came to school in perfect outfits with perfect hair with perfect, varsity-sport playing boyfriends – did. I knew that would never be me, but I could handle the degrees of separation.
These images have changed over the years – models have grown younger, taller, and impossibly beautiful. We live in a time where being a girl is, as always, difficult, made more so by a culture that over-sexualizes any number of things, and a media stream that seems to always, in the words of a friend with three teenage girls "serve up a 24-hour news cycle demonstrating that other people are always doing something cooler than you are right now." I think about waiting for a call on the one land-line in my house (which we just called "a phone") and the passing of notes in high school hallways... and think it was probably somewhat less complicated to be a teenager, the amount of time spent on creating some very large hair notwithstanding. (Not to mention the sock layering and jean-pegging. Seriously, what were we thinking?)
So, I greet the recent decision by Seventeen to no longer use digitally altered photos of women and girls in their pages as a major victory, an incredibly bold move within an industry that has grown accustomed to creating absolute perfection, and a demonstration of phenomenal and fearless leadership. I serve with Seventeen's editor-in-chief, Ann Shocket, on the Healthy MEdia Commission and shouted this news from the rooftops (well, via Facebook) when it was announced.
Kudos, praise and mad props to Ann and Seventeen –it is hard enough navigating the path from childhood to adolescence to womanhood without being bombarded by images of unreal and unfair perfection. If I had a daughter, I would buy her a subscription right now – and totally sneak looks at the prom dresses worn by real, beautiful girls when she wasn't looking.
Erin M. Fuller is the president of the Alliance for Women in Media.