Category Archives: images of women in the media

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,, 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.

Run The World: Kathleen Hassan On Women’s Power Source

By Jillian Martin, Editorial Intern

Last month, Teen Voices participated in NEDAwareness week, held by the National Eating Disorder Association. At the same time, the Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center mentor program held a self-esteem-building event featuring “Confidence Coach” Kathleen Hassan. The school’s gymnasium was packed with middle-school students, their parents, and their mentors and Beyonce’s girl power single “Run The World (Girls),” which kicked off the event.

Hassan teaches the girls where their power comes from: positive thoughts.

“There are girls in this room who feel like they’re not good enough,” Hassan began. “Some are starving themselves. Some would do anything to fit in.”

At this event, Hassan inspired the audience, teaching them where their power comes from—not from putting others down to build yourself up, and not from the media, which sexualizes women and portrays an unattainable image of perfection.

According to Hassan, 85 percent of women and girls have felt worse about themselves after looking at a fashion magazine and 86 percent of self-talk (thoughts) is negative. This happens because, to their detriment, many women and girls today tend to seek their worthiness and confidence from outside forces.

As a healthier model, Hassan teaches girls to get their power from within, instead of from the media, by choosing love over fear. She said, “Thoughts become things… wanted or not.” We emit energy with our thoughts; if they are negative, we will attract negative people and situations, and the energies will feed off each other, becoming more and more negative. On the flip side, if we emit positive and powerful energies, we attract powerful and positive people.

Negative images and energies infiltrate the thoughts of all young girls, but Hassan said we all have an emotional guide system that gives us the tools to “recalculate” those thoughts to something positive.

Hassan taught the audience two strategies to recalculate and achieve. Give them a try so that you, too, can feel confident and worthy and choose love over fear.

Soerny Cruz, a graduate from the program, "achieves" in the final part of the Body Prayer.

The first, Hassan calls a “body prayer.” She called four girls with big dreams to the stage to help out. The first girl was “dream,” and she laid her head in her hands. The next was “believe,” and she held her hands over her heart. The third was “receive,” and she held her hands out open to take in the positive energies. The final girl was “achieve,” and she flexed her arms, showing strength. Within minutes, Hassan had the entire auditorium dreaming, believing, receiving, and achieving.

The second strategy is the use of affirmations. Hassan suggested that everyone pick one affirmation from the list that she showed (these short sayings were accompanied by inspiring photos and the melodic voice of Bruno Mars singing “You’re amazing, just the way you are”) and repeat it every day for a month, as it takes a month to create a new habit. Here are just a few of the affirmations:

  • I choose LOVE over FEAR
  • I am fit, strong, and healthy
  • Peace begins with me
  • Happiness is a choice
  • I am strong

Readmore about NEDAwareness week and Teen Voices’ Artist of the Month Contest and vote on the March art—March’s theme was “Beauty is More than Skin Deep.” Learnmore about Mother Caroline’s adult education, shining star, and mentoring programs, including events and how to get involved.

Beauty is More Than Skin Deep

By Kate Szumita, Editorial Intern

Art by Mary Davis, 15

In the United States, it is estimated that more than 10 million people of all ages struggle with the adverse effects of eating disorders every day. While the causes of these disorders vary, the effects are potentially fatal, and the National Eating Disorders Association is determined to help eliminate, or at least reduce this statistic.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and access to treatment of disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. It strives to support affected individuals and their families and at the same time combat the causes. NEDA hopes to remove the stigma surrounding eating disorders through community-conscious activism.

For the past 25 years, NEDA has facilitated NEDAwareness Week, the collaboration of volunteers and experts in the fields of health, medicine, and social work seeking to create a nationally recognized support system. NEDAwareness week was last week, February 26th to March 3, and it helped spread the word that eating disorders are not a choice, but a disease, and there is help available. This year’s theme was “Everybody Knows Somebody.” Whether it’s you or someone you know who has battled an eating disorder, or if it’s something you’ve learned about and want to get behind the cause, NEDA wants your help in raising awareness of this widespread illness. Last year’s NEDAwareness Week recruited a record-breaking number of supporters spanning from all 50 states and 29 countries throughout the world

Like NEDA, Teen Voices wants you to love your body! In recognition of our proud partnership with NEDA, March’s theme for our Artist of the Month Contest is “Beauty is More than Skin Deep.” With the media’s perpetuation of the airbrushed, size-zero body as the standard for perfection, we realize that it can be hard to remember to “love the skin you’re in.” We’re dedicating the month of March to healthy bodies, healthy habits, and healthy attitudes in the hopes of raising awareness of body image and self-esteem issues and preventing eating disorders. Help us challenge unrealistic beauty standards and celebrate the things that make us unique—even the things we might consider “flaws.” Each month’s Artist of the Month Contest winner will be eligible to win Artist of the Year, with the prize of a full scholarship, including room and board, to the Pre-College Summer Art Studio in Boston a the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Find out how you can get involved with NEDA, participate in upcoming events, or contribute to our art contest in support of healthy, beautiful minds and bodies.

America Ferrera is No Dummy—She’s Inspirational!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Assistant
Photos by Max Tsekhanaovsky, Courtesy of The Mass Media

On Tuesday, January 31st, award-winning actress and political activist America Ferrera visited University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she was met with great warmth from the community. The reason for her visit? She was slated to speak about how race and class have affected her career. But in the end, America did much more than that. In recounting tales from her life, she heightened and inspired an entire ballroom of people.

Beginning on a humbled note: “Wow, I‘m sure there are a million other things you could do tonight. I‘ll try to make this worth your time!” Ferrera began to speak. She recalled how when she was nine years old, she used to daydream about having a life where the water in her house would never get shut off and the electricity would never go out. She dreamed of a life of fame, and wealth, and diamonds. She wanted to be a famous actress. America revealed that she caught the acting bug when she played the role of the Artful Dodger in a school production for Oliver Twist, and from then on, she just couldn’t stop. She appeared in a plethora of films and TV shows from a young age, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Touched by An Angel, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, How to Train Your Dragon, and most prominently, Ugly Betty.

But America did not fit the cookie-cutter image of an actress; she was not blonde, thin, or wealthy. She was quite the opposite of that, and that made her life difficult. America described, for example, how an ex-manager had once told her that she had “inflated ideas of what she could accomplish as an actress.” After that, all of a sudden, self-doubt began to constantly infiltrate her thoughts. She reported: “Like many other young people, I didn’t appreciate what made me unique.” This sentiment plagued her for years.

It wasn’t until she got to college and experienced what she calls her “pre-quarter life crisis” (a period in her life when she nearly quit acting) that Ferrera says her perspective of herself and her life changed dramatically. Fresh off the success of her movie, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, America decided that she would go back to college and study international relations. After a semester of learning about the existence of sweatshops, deformed baby alligators, and young girls forced into prostitution, America was utterly shocked by her ignorance. Growing up, America was academically gifted—she graduated from high school as the valedictorian—and was constantly told by teachers that she was “smart.” But after coming to college, Ferrera decided that she was “stupid.” She lamented: “I mourned the discovery of my stupidity. How could I be a dummy? But I didn’t know about the world; I didn’t know how to ask the right questions.”

At that point, America Ferrera looked upon her long-held passion and love for acting as a “frivolous, useless activity” that would not help people. She decided to quit acting. But luckily for her (and us!), America decided to speak to her professor/mentor, Mr. Anders, and ask him whether she was doing the right thing. In response, Mr. Anders told America about a young inner-city girl that he was mentoring. This girl had always held him at arm’s length, but one day she asked him if he really wanted to know what her life was really like. He answered, “yes,” and then at her request he took her, and a few of her friends, to see the film Real Women Have Curves. The movie was about a Mexican-American girl named Ana who is an accomplished student, but also works in her sister’s dress shop, and who, despite her mother’s old-fashioned perceptions of how a woman should behave, dreams of going to Columbia University. The movie portrays Ana’s struggles in dealing with both her traditional mother’s views, and her own self-image issues. Mr. Anders told America that because of that movie, he was able to open a dialogue with the young woman he was mentoring, and to tell her parents about her dreams of attending college, a dream that she was eventually able to fulfill. It was because of this movie, Mr. Anders told America, that this girl’s life was changed for the better. For those of you who don’t know, the role of Ana in that movie was played by America Ferrera.

All of a sudden it hit America that her passion for acting actually had the potential to help others. She realized, “I didn’t have to give up what I loved doing in order to help people.”

Ferrera referenced the many times over the course of her acting career that she was looked over for a role because she was “not Caucasian enough, or not authentically [Mexican] enough.” It hurt, but she realized that regardless, she needed to love herself. “I was fat, brown, poor, and ethnic…but my so-called faults made me perfect for [the role of Ana].” Likewise, in her role as the titular character in Ugly Betty, America felt that she was able to help people deal with the very same problems she went through growing up.

Ending her talk with a quote from Steven Levitan (the co-creator and executive producer of Ugly Betty), Ferrera stated, “[As actors,] we’re not just making people laugh, we’re making them more tolerant.”

And with that, the entire ballroom erupted into an uproarious standing ovation!

The Bride Wore Plastic

By Sarah Binning and Jessica Moore

According to Time‘s pop culture columnist, James Poniewozik, the train wreck reality show known as Bridalplasty is the worst TV show of 2010. We can’t say we’re upset!

If you haven’t read about the show, brace yourself. While bridal reality TV shows are not a new phenomenon, E! has gone to the extreme. Bridalplasty features brides going head to head in a series of wedding-themed challenges. The winner of each challenge earns … a honeymoon? No, that’s been done. A wedding cake? No, too practical. Plastic surgery? Ding ding ding!

That’s right. Women are competing for head-to-toe plastic surgery makeovers. The contestants, who range in age from 20 to 32, create a wish list of procedures they would like to have done before her wedding. Win a challenge, pick a surgery. One by one, contestants are voted out.The last bride standing reveals her new face and body to her fiancé as he  lifts her veil during their wedding ceremony.

One assumes that the groom already loves the woman he is about to marry. He has professed his love. The couple has decided to spend their lives together, come sickness, poverty, or — worst of all, the show suggests — wrinkles and cellulite. Yet these brides show a desperate need to improve their physical appearance. The messages to women and girls: You must continually “improve” your looks to remain competitive in love. You must look a certain way (light-skinned, skinny, and flawless) to be worthy of love. Oh, and you must be willing to undergo dangerous surgery to “perfect” your looks.

As with so many “reality” shows (Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, The Bad Girls Club, The Real Housewives of Name-Your-City), the women fight, backbite, connive, and generally make themselves ugly — on the inside — to win a “prize” they don’t need and shouldn’t want.

Nobody should be shocked the next time they read statistics on girls and women suffering from low self-esteem, bruised self-confidence, and eating disorders.

The good news? Bridalplasty‘s ratings are almost as bad as its premise.

Symposium Gives Voice to Gender and Sexuality Issues

By Sarah Binning

For 35 years, the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) has worked to promote female leadership and to achieve female economic and educational equality. On Saturday, WCW gave voice to the road blocks we face in our struggle for diversity and equality at their Reflections, Conversations, New Directions Symposium.

Teen Voices’ Executive Director Jenny Amory attended the Gender and Sexuality panel, which featured panelists  Deborah Tolman (author of Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality), Linda Williams (UMass Lowell professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology), and Jean Kilbourne (co-author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids). Wellesley College Director of Studies of Gender Policy in U.S. Jurisprudence, Monica Driggers, moderated the discussion.

Amory says that the compelling presentations and discussions ranged on topics from the commoditization of sexual agency in girls to mainstreaming of pornography to the ways that violence is intertwined with sexuality and power.

Following the session, she said, “The research on these topics so clearly points to the need for organizations like Teen Voices that promote girl-generated media and support girls’ voices  in the mainstream media.”

For more information on the Wellesley Centers for Women and the symposium, please visit their website.

Photo of Jean Kilbourne courtesy of Wellesley Centers for Women

Let’s Make Halloween About the BOO — Not the Boobs

By Michelle Golden and Jessica Moore

Word to the wise: When firefighters put out a house fire, they’re usually wearing pants, not booty shorts. When most of us see a bumblebee or ladybug, we don’t usually think, “Wow, that is one sexy insect!”  So we’re wondering why, when we go shopping for Halloween costumes, the options for girls and women run the gamut from sexy to…sexy, and often involve professions and objects that have nothing to do with sex.  There’s even a sexy candy corn costume floating around out there. Really? ‘Cos candy corn? Not really doing it for us.

Halloween used to be about going trick-or-treating with friends and family, watching Casper the Friendly Ghost, and stuffing your face with witch-shaped sugar cookies.  Costumes included innocently clothed Disney princesses or the usual black cat outfits. But recently, Halloween has made a terrifying transformation into a night where girls  turn into mini-porn stars and sexualized children’s storybook characters.

The kids’ section in your average Halloween store looks OK — the Snow White costume actually looks like Snow White’s outfit in the Disney film. Then  you hit the teen section, and Snow White’s dress gets shorter – much, much shorter. Her top transforms into a corset, her waist is thinner, and the “appropriate” shoes to wear with the outfit are black platforms or pumps. We’re pretty sure Snow White couldn’t have escaped from the evil queen wearing those shoes.

The women’s outfits add a whole other element to the story: Sexy Little Miss Muffet and Alice in Wonderland costumes for grown women are disturbing for the way they reduce women to children, encouraging boys and men to fantasize about images associated with little girls.

Now, we’re not saying everyone should wrap themselves from head to toe in toilet paper or spend Halloween dressed in a sack. What we are saying is that it would be great for girls and women to stop and think about why they want to look like they just jumped out of the pages of Playboy. Is it for male attention? Is it because that’s how the girls on America’s Next Top Model or The Girls Next Door dress? Why are we all so eager to look like cheap fantasies? We should also think about who is selling these pre-packaged sexy fill-in-the-blank costumes at every Halloween store in the country — and why they are all benefiting so well from our nationwide desire to take sexy over the top.

These overly sexual costumes imply that it’s only our physical appearance that matters –and we all know we have more to share than cleavage. We’re open-minded, individual girls who should be wearing creative, innovative costumes – and that doesn’t mean giving the impression that our one goal in life is to become a stripper or Hugh Hefner hanger-on when we grow up.

By all means, we should all go out and have a good time. Be safe and responsible. But before you slip into that corset and booty shorts, think about better ways to get the attention you’re looking for. Think about the 7-year-old you’ll pass on the street, and the way she’ll look up to you in your chosen costume. Why not go against the norm this year? Heck, you might even find an outfit that’s a bit warmer.

What’s your costume, and why did you choose it? Comment below and let us know!