Seventeen’s Pledge: Do You Buy It?

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seventeen.JPGJulia Bluhm is one of my heroes. Recently, the 14-year-old took on Seventeen magazine, armed only with an online petition and a passion for seeing the mag publish more authentic photos of young women. And she seems to have won that battle. At least that’s the impression we got this week from articles in the mainstream media. But before we claim a slam-dunk victory here, it’s worth taking a closer look at the specific vows made in Seventeen‘s new “Body Peace Treaty.”

First, you may recall that this all began when Julia expressed concern that girls in her ballet class complained of feeling fat. She connected the dots to teen magazines, which are notorious for retouching photos in order to present an idealized image of adolescent attractiveness. So Julia asked Seventeen to publish at least one undoctored photo in each issue—a brilliant request! After all, the easiest response for Seventeen would’ve been, “We already do that.” End of discussion. But the editors didn’t say that. Why? They couldn’t. This left editor in chief Ann Shoket with a PR crisis and some explaining to do. Plan B: Seventeen’s “Body Peace Treaty.”

So let’s analyze the eight-point pact published in the magazine’s August issue (bold emphasis theirs), both what it says and what it doesn’t say. “Seventeen vows to…”

1. “… Help make your life amazing! You have big dreams and we want you to achieve every single one of them!”

Translation: “Trust us. We’re not out to deceive or manipulate you. We’re on your side. Keep reading Seventeen!” This may be sincere, but it also reads like ad copy for anything from a new car to retirement planning services.

2. “… Never change girls’ body or face shapes. (Never have, never will.)”

I’m willing to take Shoket’s word for it. Now let’s consider what she isn’t saying. By focusing on “shape” here, plenty of other details fall outside of that pledge. Fuller brows? Thinner brows? Eye color. Whiter teeth. And what about improving a model’s complexion by removing blotches or pimples? (How many adolescents do you know who can show up to a photo shoot with perfect skin on any given day?) It’s not uncommon for magazines to Photoshop everything from smile lines to the tint of a model’s makeup—all without changing the contour of her body or face. So I think there’s some hedging going on here.

3. “…Celebrate every kind of beauty in our pages. Without a range of body types, skin tones, heights and hair textures, the magazine—and the world—would be boring!”

Agreed, and I hope this diversity becomes the norm. I’ve read that the typical model is 5’10” and 108 lbs soaking wet, while the average woman is 5’4″ and 144 lbs. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see more representative young females featured throughout each issue? Keep in mind, context is everything. It’s one thing to run a human-interest story about, for example, a plus-sized teen. It’s another to have someone with that body type modeling fashion or representing one of the magazine’s sponsors. That’s right, advertising matters, too. To have any impact this needs to be a cover-to-cover commitment.

4. “… Always feature real girls and models who are healthy. Regardless of clothing size, being healthy is about honoring your natural shape.”

Again, kudos. This is a terrific goal. Ultimately, however, most women’s magazines end up preaching a very different message. Several years ago, Girls Inc. cited a study indicating that 75 percent of the covers of the leading women’s magazines teased readers with at least one message about how to alter their appearance. If Seventeen is serious about making girls feel confident in their “natural shape … regardless of clothing size,” we should anticipate more articles and cover blurbs about self-acceptance rather than self-improvement.

5. “… Be totally up-front about what goes into our photo shoots. You can go behind the scenes on our Tumblr (seventeen.tumblr.com) and see the whole shebang!

This should be interesting. Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect Seventeen to reveal the tinkering done to every photo it runs—way too much work. Therefore, they’ll need to choose which examples to post. Based on the “before” and “after” images published alongside the “Body Peace Treaty” (above) we’d be naïve to expect to see the more extreme examples. A flyaway hair? A rogue bra strap? Maybe in this pic, but other photos are guaranteed to get more extensive touch-ups.

6. “… Help you make the best choices for your body—food that fuels you, exercise that energizes you—so you can feel your absolute best each day.”

Great decision. When it comes to diet and exercise, I trust Seventeen to do a decent job of educating teens. In other areas, however, this mag and its peers have not helped girls make the best choices for their bodies, particularly when it comes to sexuality. I remember getting a letter from a 13-year-old named Katie who was disturbed by a Seventeen article titled “Sex: Dealing with Pressure, Guys and What You Really Want.” She had concluded, “They have a totally wrong perspective about love, and say the only way to feel like you have fulfillment is to have sex. They also encourage condoms and say that it’s safe sex when ‘safe sex’ is waiting until you’re married.” Something to keep in mind before turning teens over to the magazine’s resident experts and advice columnists.

7. “… Give you the confidence to walk into any room and own it. Say bye-bye to those nagging insecurities that you’re not good enough or pretty enough—they’re holding you back from being awesome in the world!”

How could anyone argue with cheerleading like this? It’s true that girls rock. I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I’m all for empowering young women. Sadly, however, the brand of girl power historically advocated by magazines such as Seventeen would make a lot of parents uncomfortable. For a better sense of what that entails, I recommend Lindy Keffer’s article “Teen Magazines and the New Feminism.”

8. “… Listen carefully to you. If something in the magazine confuses you or makes you feel bad, we want to hear about it. You can e-mail us anytime at mail@seventeen.com or reach out to me directly at ann@seventeen.com.”

This is a nice parting thought and invitation. An even better way for girls to process media messages and appreciate how truly valuable and beautiful they are is to listen carefully to God, realizing that He designed them, knows them inside out (Psalm 139) and loves them more than they can fathom (John 3:16, Ephesians 3:16-19). The Creator of the universe wants to hear from them, too, and is available 24/7.

I’m excited for Julia Bluhm and the strides she’s made. Maybe her success will inspire other teens to make a difference in their culture. More than anything, I hope that Seventeen‘s promises to its readers are more than a slick PR move by a publisher backed into a corner by one savvy 14-year-old.

Who wrote this?

Senior Editor for PLUGGEDIN.COM. In addition to hosting the weekly “Official Plugged In Podcast,” Bob also writes reviews, articles and Movie Nights discussion guides, and manages areas of this website. He has served at Focus on the Family for more than 20 years. Since 1995, Bob has penned “High Voltage,” a monthly column that answers children’s entertainment questions in Clubhouse magazine. He has co-authored several books, including Chart Watch, Movie Nights, Movie Nights for Teens and, most recently, The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions. Bob is also co-host of “The Official Adventures in Odyssey Podcast.”

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Leticia Quezada More than 1 year ago

Ms. Valencia, You seem like a good Mother that Really cares about her daughter. Yes , these magazines are ABSOLUTE GARBAGE. I have seen a few of this trash in my classroom and Yes I take them away and shred them and Use the scraps for mulch in my garden, Good For the Earth, Good Riddance  to this waste of paper. I have had One Mother as like you have done , bring the rest of her daughter trash for us to dispose of. It's nice to know that there are Mothers out there that see these magazines are. The devils plaything and  is such damaging to Young Women. God Bless U and Continue being strict with Veronica re. the trash. Don't allow her to have any of it in your house.

Ms. Quezada

Ana Valencia More than 1 year ago

Hello, My Name is Ana Valencia and My daughter Veronica, is Obsessed with these trashy Fashion magazines (Latina,Glamour,Cosm, and Yes Seventeen), She even calls them Her BIBLES. Well I have Had enough of these Trash. Another problem with this garbage is she brings them to school and read them when she is supposed to be paying attention to her teachers. I have received phone call from her school saying that her teacher had to confiscate her magazines because she wouldn't put them away when asked to do So. Her teacher asked me what I would like done with them and I told her to tear up them and throw them away because I'm not gonna bother to come pick them up.  She also told me that Veronica called her the name that rhymes with Witch when she Took up her Latina magazine the other day. So I gathered up all of Veronicas magazines, threw them in a garbage bag and brought them to her school, Met with her teacher and my daughter. I pulled out  all the mags and asked her teacher " My I use Your Shreder" and proceeded to shred up all the mags in front of my daughter and Explained there will be no more of this trash in my Home. I AM GOING TO CHECK YOUR BAG AND PURSE BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR SCHOOL ANY MAGS i  Find are gonna be thrown away. When this 1st occured I told Veronica I AM GOING TO DO SOMETHING WITH HER MAGAZINES THAT SHE WON'T LIKE If these problems keep happening.

Thank You for listening and how would you have dealt with this problem?

Ms. Ana Valencia

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  jminnesota:

i grew up that the body is somethin special and only one that should see you nude is the person you marry cause its special and seems like magazines and tv shows want kids to think that to be cool you need to dress in ways to show off your body and have sex before your married and its just the wrong message. I pray that parents and such will start showing there kids what love really is and how special they are and they are beautiful the way god made them. it is ok to have fun yes of course.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  jminnesota:

other day i was in the doctors office waiting to be seen and they have a magazine table and 3 of them were teen type magazines and of course some are older dateded but anyways on cover of one it said 10 tips to look good in bed with your guy another said how to make your breasts look good etc. and it is like do teens really need to know all this. i mean i wish instead it would have stuff like why its good to wait til your married to make love and how god would want you to save yourself. girls should know that your beautiful the way god made you and you should not change just to get guys to notice you.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Windy :

I don't believe Seventeen. They can just outsource their "artwork" and plead ignorance.If you don't know what to look for it is hard to see anything but the most inept photoshop chop jobs.I also notice this is only an issue re young women? Young men are also susceptible to such photoshop lies, with photos of male models bulked up with abs painted in.As for Seventeen wanting to sell a product, why is it ok to lie sell a product?. We aren't trying to trick anyone into a confession, so why lie to the readership?This response and pledge by Seventeen to not do this anymore is all a public relations ploy. We would be better served to stop buying magazines that manipulate pictures like this, but that would entail not buying any magazine until they got the message. That might take a long time.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Rye:

I understand that you believe that, and I'm not attempting to convince you otherwise. I just wanted to try to address your statement that "it doesn't make sense [for Christians] to criticize them for not saying what they don't believe."

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

Using the word 'understandable' or 'okay' makes no difference to me. It's saying the exact same thing.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Rye:

It's understandable that they encourage safe sex, in the same way that it's understandable that the ancient Aztecs ate and sacrificed multitudes of people on a regular basis. Understandable does not equate okay.

Here's the issue:

Because Christianity deals with ideas of objective truth, from the Christian perspective it does not apply solely to people who hold those beliefs. In the same way that gravity applies to you even if you don't believe in gravity, Christians believe that right and wrong apply to all human beings whether or not they believe in Christianity. Jumping off of a cliff will leave you a skid mark on the rocks below, even if you firmly believe that you'll simply float into the stratosphere.

People are not being criticized here for "saying what they don't believe." They're being criticized for violating an objective standard of morality. You may not agree with that standard, and you may not believe in its foundation, but you can hardly say that it's nonsensical for people who believe in objective morality to hold others to that standard of objective morality. It's called objective morality because it applies to everyone. It's nonsensical to expect anything else from Christians.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

I'm sorry, but it is not okay for them to encourage sex outside of marriage, regardless of what they believe. The point is that the Bible (and by extension, God) say it is wrong, therefore, it is wrong. There is no way of getting around it.

And honestly, signing a petition may not help shut the whole thing down, but it may encourage just one girl to put down that magazine and focus on her worth in God's eyes. To me, that makes it worth it.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

But we're talking about a secular magazine. It is okay for them to encourage safe sex. That is what they believe. It doesn't make sense to criticize them for not saying what they don't believe.

Anyway, my point is that signing more petitions wouldn't change anything. I've never read any of these magazines; never have, never will. I just ignore them and move on.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

Exactly.

@kateIt sounds like your saying because it's not a belief that everyone shares, then it can't be right. But by that logic, not everyone believes in Seventeen's attitude towards sex. Why is it that the Christian attitude seems wrong? Becuase not everyone likes it since it interferes with the way they want to "live" their lives.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Rye:

And you're talking to a Christian who is discussing things from a Christian viewpoint on a Christian website.

What point are you trying to make here?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

It's wrong according to christian beliefs. It's not wrong according to their secular beliefs.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

I never said that. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't write off what they do as okay for them and just ignore it. Seventeen's view of sex may be the norm, but it's still wrong.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

Surely, you don't expect Seventeen to suddenly start proclaiming christian values. It's a secular magazine, they proclaim safe sex because they believe sex outside marriage is okay. Of course, the readers agree, that's why they keep buying the magazine. There's nothing shocking about any of this.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

I feel like your basically saying since this is the worldview about sex, there is no point in dwelling on their viewpoint on sex.

I believe that since Jesus loves us all equally, He also holds us to the same standards. It's a hard truth, but I don't think we should excuse non-Christians for the way they behave simply because they are ignorant. Whether or not they are Christians does not cancel out the fact that sex outside of marriage is not what God wants. While I cannot change the way that many people in this world view this, I can do everything I can to allow God to use me to show them what God wants for their lives.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Anon:

To the people above that are criticizing Seventeen magazine's viewpoint on sex.

1) Seventeen magazine is not a christian magazine, it is secular and thats like criticizing anything secular for not having christian values.

2) What about girls that are not Christians that read the magazine? They are taught the same thing by their parents, their teachers at school and their peers, doctors, media and pop culture. Safe sex is normal for them and Seventeen magazine's articles on the matter wouldn't change what they already previously knew.

3) Lastly if a person is not a Christian who does not have Christian morals and values then why would should you criticize them for doing exactly what they are expected to do?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Bethany:

@ kate

Note that he didn't say magazines were the only reason why girls have body image problems. Sure, we can blame the parents for all this but the fact is that oftentimes parents aren't with their children enough to teach them these things anymore. That's a whole other subject, though.

What cannot be ignored is the incredible number of girls who dislike their bodies and have self-image issues. Whether it's been said aloud or not, every girl has somethign they dislike about themselves and magazines do indeed challenge/provoke that.  You'd be surprised how many teens will "listen" to what they're told through regular media. It's a critical stage, and it's very sensitive, because teens will take in what they see. Heck, my mom read seventeen when she was a teen, but the magazine was way different then, apparently.

I wasn't ever allowed to subscribe to Seventeen or any fashion magazine of that sort, but that didn't stop me from reading them at school or at the library, unfortunately. When I would read them, I didn't necessarily feel uncomfortable with who I was, I just wished I were thinner, had more makeup products, had a larger *ahem* "womanly" features, and so on and so forth. I just turned 18 not too long ago and I avoid fashion magazines like Allure, Cosmopolitian, and yes, Seventeen. I remember very well how I thought and felt after I read those magazines and they weren't ever really positive.  Besides the way females were expressed in the magazine, it also heavily encouraged sex and consumerism. It encouraged wastefulness. That was, to me, fool's gold. It looked nice but it was fake.

Sure these magazines can't and won't affect everyone the same way, that's impossible. But they still do effect you, one way or another, and, in general, it will be in a negative way. Whether or not you notice touch ups doesn't matter. Subtlety does far more than one will expect and that is a tool the general market has gotten far too familiar with. The bottom line is that god warned us before fashion magazines to guard our hearts. It is a waste to read the magazines, but you can't assume that they don't just do nothing for girls, because they do. One way or another. 

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

It was being used as evidence that Seventeen is not looking out for girls' best interests, because they glorify sex (as long as you use condoms) and it doesn't matter if you're not married.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Bob:

"They also encourage condoms and say that it's safe sex when 'safe sex' is waiting until you're married."I think I am reading this wrong. It seems like it reflects a Christian viewpoint that sex is for marriage, but the article says something otherwise. Someone please explain this to me?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  godsgrl:

Agreed. I used to read that magazine when I was younger. Now, I find it a waste of paper. I'm not sure I believe that they will stop touching up models, and frankly, I'm not sure if many people will recognize additional touchups if they do.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  kate:

Whether I believe Seventeen will keep to their pledge is beside the point. I think it's irrational to accuse fashion magazines of causing eating disorders because of airbrushing. They're fashion magazines, their job is to sell stuff and make money. They're not guidance counselors or therapists.

Frankly, I never understand why people read these magazines in the first place, it's the same advice/tips over and over again. If a teenager is having body image issues, I would blame the parents.

I don't even know why Seventeen is bothering with any of these ''pledges''. Many teenagers will have body image issues regardless. The ones with low self-esteem and that are very impressionable.People should stop petitioning these magazines. They don't care that teenagers are having body image issues, and in my opinion, they shouldn't. It's not their job.