Beauty, Body Image and Eating Disorders: Why Keeping It Real Matters
Posted June 28, 2012

It all started with a simple request to Seventeen magazine by 13 year old Julia Bluhm: to print one unaltered (i.e. non-Photoshopped or airbrushed) photo spread per month. Through an online petition, Julia gained over 30,000 signatures in support of the challenge to the magazine and hand-delivered the signed petition to the Seventeen offices in New York City.

“I look at the girls, and a lot of them, like, they don’t have freckles, or moles, anywhere on their bodies,” she said. “You can’t, like, see the pores in their face, they’re perfectly smooth. Their skin is shiny. They don’t have any tan lines or cuts and bruises or anything like that.” –Julia Bluhm, as quoted in the New York Times

In a statement issued to the website Jezebel.com, a spokesperson for Seventeen stated:

“We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue — it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers — so we invited her to our office to meet with editor in chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity. “

While a diversity of sizes, shapes, skin tones and ethnicity is important in print magazines (and media in general), accurate representation is just as vital. Dove was heralded for their “Campaign for Real Beauty” featuring women who were not models, but rumors circulated that the photos were indeed altered via Photoshop. What is the benefit of representing “real beauty” if it is still altered and not truly real?

There’s been much discussion during the Keep It Real Challenge about images of beauty in the media and how they can impact body image. Individuals with a negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss (National Eating Disorders Association).

Our film “Someday Melissa: the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope” was created after Judy Avrin lost her daughter Melissa to an eating disorder in 2009; throughout her battle with bulimia, Melissa struggled with negative body image issues and lack of self esteem. After Melissa passed away, Judy discovered , dozens of celebrity photographs on her computer, some posed and some candid shots. Juxtaposed to these were pictures of Melissa in similar poses. Here was Melissa, comparing herself to those unrealistic images of beauty as the bulimia took hold and eventually took her life.

It is unrealistic to expect the media to completely do away with the practice of altering images in order to promote a particular standard of beauty and body image. However, representations of both men and women – without retouching – is a step in the right direction. Every effort to “Keep It Real” matters, no matter how big or small, in the fight against a negative body image and eating disorders. We hope that through our film, educational materials, and the non-profit organization we founded to increase awareness of eating disorders and support their early detection and treatment, Someday Melissa can shine some additional light on this ever- growing problem.

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