Reasons Why I Will NOT Boycott Seventeen (Hint: It’s not why you’d think)

By Sarah Binning, Marketing and Editorial Coordinator
Art by Elsa Moseley, 15,Oklahoma

If you’re a feminist, teen girl, reader of Seventeen, or healthy media activist (or a friend/relative to any of the above), you’ve probably heard about the amazing group of teen girls who recently petitioned Seventeen. Their request? They want this teen-centered publication to print real photos of diverse girls—without photo editing or enhancement of the images. The campaign, started by SPARK bloggers Julia Bluhm and Izzy Labbe, led a group of teen activists to hold a mock photo shoot outside Seventeen’s New York office. Armed with posters reading: “The magazine is for me—make it look like me!” and “Teen girls against Photoshop!” the girls waited for a chance to speak with Ann Shoket, Seventeen’s editor-in-chief.

Last week, someone tweeted me the news about Seventeen’s response: @TeenVoices, Seventeen denies girl’s request to stop photoshopping. Boycott Sept. issue. Use #notbuyingSept17 hashtag. PLS. RT.

Was it true? Did Seventeen really deny 25,000 signatures (which has since grown to more than 70,000)? I immediately started searching for related news articles. My heart sank when I was finally able to find an article confirming that the tweet was indeed true. After retweeting the #NotBuyingItSept17 hashtag and after several conversations with colleagues, teens, and activists, I’ve reconsidered and decided I’m not going to boycott Seventeen

My decision isn’t for the reason you would think. It’s not because I believe Seventeen’s statements that their publication is diverse and they do not enhance their photographs. I’m choosing not to boycott Seventeen because:

  1. I’d rather see changes occur willingly. I want Seventeen to see the light. I want them to understand that girls worldwide are unhappy with the size-zero, light-skinned, zit-free, cookie-cutter models we see today in their magazine. We want to see real girls. Let’s open the door for continued conversations with Seventeen and brainstorm ways they can begin to create healthier media.
  2. There are so few magazines, and resources in general, focused on teen girls.  I don’t want to be divisive and undermine another girls’ publication. I’d rather educate them about the unhealthy side effects of this constant stream of negative media. Low self-esteem, eating disorders, and teen depression are just a few of the issues that girls face today. There are steps all publications can take toward creating healthier media. Example: In 2009, French Elle printed a “no-makeup” issue. And in recent news, Vogue said they’ll no longer employ underage or underweight models.
  3. Boycotts are generally short lived. If enough hundreds of thousands of people banned together, we could probably make a significant impact in Seventeen’s revenue. But for how long? If Seventeen can just hang in there for a few more weeks, they’ll find a way to smooth this over with some good PR. Eventually something else will stir up public attention. Society will move on to boycotting something (or someone) else.
  4. Seventeen is not unique.  Like most businesses, Seventeen is a company that financially supports itself through advertising. They’re always in a constant struggle to keep their advertisers happy. And the reality is that advertisers need girls to feel ugly and ashamed so that we’ll buy their products, which “guarantee” us beauty. This issue is larger than just one magazine. Seventeen isn’t the only publication that uses extensive makeup, lightening, and photo editing. The issue lies much deeper in the roots of our society’s standards. Objectifying women and making us feel poorly about our bodies on purpose is not okay.

I’m not saying I’m going to run out and buy a copy of Seventeen magazine. (I don’t, in fact, buy the magazine on a regular basis.) You may or may not want to yourself.  If you’re morally opposed to the content inside the publication, it’s okay if you make a personal decision not to purchase it. What I am saying is that rallying your sisters together for a full-fledge boycott is not a fix-all solution.

Instead, I pledge to:

  1. Sign the petition, and talk about it with the teen girls in my life. Unlike my initial gut reaction to jump on board with the boycott, signing the petition and becoming actively involved (i.e. sharing and discussing this issue) has allowed me to truly think through and understand my personal viewpoint about this issue. I’ve digested the information and issue in a much deeper way than I would have had I just signed on for a boycott.
  2. Raise my voice to make my concerns known! Even by writing this blog, I’m getting my thoughts and concerns into the open. You can do the same. You can even write an Op-Ed for your local newspaper (or even The New York Times). If we leverage public forums, like blogs, twitter and petitions, we can hold our ground for much longer than if we were to just boycott. We can spark discussions, conversations, and maintain our momentum on the issue, not to mention, garner the support of tens of thousands of people easily. Being vocal about the issue will keep this healthy media issue in the spotlight.
  3. Tweet about the petition, and spread the word about how others can get involved.
  4. Share articles about the amazing work Julia, Izzy, and other girls worldwide are doing to promote more real images of girls, and healthy media, in general!
  5. Promote alternative magazines that already portray real girls without photoshopping them, such as Teen Voices. Our girls are gorgeous—just the way they are! But we also know that they are more than just their pretty faces, so we focus on their ideas and experiences, not just their looks.
  6. Become involved with organizations that empower teen girls and support healthy media and education for girls. To name a few: Teen Voices, SPARK, MissRepresentation, GRLZ Radio, Strong Women Strong Girls, Proud2BMe.org, Girl Up, Girl Scouts, and She’s the First.
  7. Be a conscious consumer of media. When I look at an ad or watch a television show, I’m aware that these models and actresses are wearing makeup, and have their hair styled by professionals. I know the advertiser has a mission to sell me something, and I’m skeptical and analytical of their advertising strategies before deciding how I feel about their company and products.
  8. Promote acceptance of a wide variety of images of women’s body types.  Let girls and women see that just as there are a range of skin tones, there are many body types in the world, and many ways to be beautiful—au natural.  I rarely wear makeup, and have learned to embrace the fact that my thunder-thighs, big nose, and goofy ears are here to stay.
  9. Practice promoting positive body images by giving out compliments to friends, family, and even strangers about the ways they are already beautiful—without enhancements. And be sure to include compliments that don’t focus on their appearance at all. Thank those you love for being honest and trustworthy. Congratulate your colleagues for their organizational skills, or creative thinking. Because when all is said and done, it’s really inner beauty that matters most.

I’m sure that other traditional women’s and girls’ magazines and advertisers everywhere are thinking: “I’m glad this happened to Seventeen and not to us! What a press nightmare.” But I hope they’re all paying attention because Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and Abercrombie, you could be next. You need to be a part of this conversation too. We all do.

3 responses to “Reasons Why I Will NOT Boycott Seventeen (Hint: It’s not why you’d think)

  1. I’m confused. You want Seventeen to change willingly but you’re not going to boycott a magazine you don’t even buy?! That makes no sense! Boycotting something that promotes values that you don’t agree with is the DEFINITION of being a conscious consumer! You’re right, there are only a few resources that cater to young women. But if all those resources are dreadful, body shaming, boyfriend/makeup obsessed, and racist, then we’re not exactly making progress, are we? And saying that Seventeen is not unique – does that make their portrayal of young women okay? It feels like you’re saying, “Well, everyone does it, and we can’t do anything to change the magazine anyway, so why even try.” Giving out compliments to family and friends or watching advertisements with a critical eye is fine and dandy. But if you’re not willing to spread your knowledge about the media’s portrayal of young women or demand change from anyone, than what’s the point of even bringing these issues up?

    • We’re definitely not saying “Everyone does it, so it’s okay.” Because you’re absolutely right—It’s not okay. And not all resources catering to young women are “dreadful, body shaming, boyfriend/makeup obsessed, and racist.” That’s where publications like Teen Voices come to the rescue!

      Sarah is very willing to spread her knowledge about media’s portrayal of women and girls, which is why she’s pledging to do the nine action steps at the end of her blog. We ALL have the power to affect change, but change cannot occur without first educating others. By making publications and advertisers everywhere (because Seventeen isn’t the only culprit here) a part of these conversations and discussions, we can start working toward some solutions. And change needs to happen on all levels, not just with the publications. Is it wrong for a magazine to body shame women, but okay for us to do it to ourselves or each other? No. Body shaming is wrong no matter whom it’s coming from. The grassroots approach to this can help stimulate societal change. If women everywhere stopped giving materialistic compliments, and focused on more interpersonal compliments, then we’d see a shift in society’s behavior too. But it’s something that we have to continue working on. Actually, even in our office here at Teen Voices, we are constantly reminding ourselves to give non-materialistic compliments. One of our editors the other day told one of the girls: “I love your shoes!” Then she quickly added, “But I also love that you’re smart and hard-working!”

  2. I very much agree that boycotting one issue of one magazine is akin to treating the symptom and not the disease. It would be wonderful if all media geared toward girls and women would drop the image and man obsession, but in order for that change to happen I believe we need to affect change on a deeper level first. As long as these publications are rewarded by advertisers for continuing these practices they will be resistant to change.

    My 12-year-old daughter has been in love with the fashion industry for almost half her life. She designs clothes and accessories. She plans to be a world-wide phenomenon in design, photography, and modelling. At the same time, she’s a brilliant musician, gifted actress, and honor student. She spends nearly all her time in t-shirts and her custom-designed jeans. She refuses to wear makeup or style her hair and laughs at the idea of kids her age dating. She knows that she is physically beautiful, but refuses to allow anyone to use that to limit her worth. If you want to call her pretty, you’d better preface it with some solid character compliments! She, and girls like those involved in starting this petition, give me hope for the future of women.

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