A 14 year-old girl from Maine, Julia Bloom, collected 84,000 signatures on Change.org to ask Seventeen to show at least one unaltered photo in each issue of their magazine. The concern here is to lessen the exposure of young girls to unrealistic images of female bodies, images that affect their judgments of themselves and how they look. The magazine denied ever altering the appearance of the face or figure of their models but they offered a Body Peace Treaty spelling out an agreement to only use Photoshop to alter objects, such as fabric wrinkles or stray wisps of hair.
In the old days, people could only see their reflection in a pond, shop windows, or on the surface of a shiny object. But nowadays, we're exposed to the continuous media images of other people's bodies, and instant cell phone snapshots, and video footage of our own. It's hard not to feel that these reflections are telling us "you are not thefairest of them all. Infact you're old, fat, and ugly."
Art Work by Gavin Dobson
Young girls seem the most vulnerable to distortion, like the skinny African American girl in my InterPlay class at the Boys and Girls Club. She had no curves yet since she was only nine years old. But when we did a dance that involved moving our hips she said, "I can't do that. I'm too fat."
Known as our body image, these feelings and judgments about our bodies can affect our self-image and our self-esteem. And this isn't limited to teens and young adults, or to girls and women. Whenever the body changes its shape or look, which it does throughout our life, it can be a threat to who we think we are. Having to wear glasses, or hearing aids, or use a cane can challenge who we think we are. A man's receding hairline and eventual baldness involves him being seen sometimes as older than his peers. When I was pregnant, my body didn't feel like my body, and though I knew it was temporary, I didn't feel like myself.
So bodies change, and our image of ourselves sometimes has trouble keeping up with that. A common thought when people go to high school reunions is, who are all those old people? They can't be the same age as I am?
Through the years the image looking back at me in the mirror has changed and I sometimes wonder who that woman is. She has my father's eyes, so I'm reassured she's at least a relative of who I used to be. I think I can keep a Body Peace Treaty with her.
Sheila K. Collins © 2012