You Must Be Hungry

A food critic grapples with her daughter's eating disorders.

How Do I Look?

No really, how do I look?

Hooray for Julia Bluhm, the eighth-grader from Maine who recently met with an editor at Seventeen magazine to talk about girls’ body images. Julia presented a petition signed by 46,000 people asking Seventeen to “commit to printing one unaltered—real—photo spread per month.”

The answer was something like: No can do. But very nice to meet you.

Now, nobody is saying that young teenage girls go directly from the pages of Seventeen to anorexia and bulimia, and Seventeen is nowhere near as toxic as others of its ilk. It has its own petition, signed by 86,000, called the Body Peace Treaty. Here is where you can “join editors, celebrities, and other readers vowing to make peace with their bodies.” Among the vows are:

“Not let my size define me. It’s far better to focus on how awesome I look in my jeans than the number on the tag.” Hmm, not sure that’s so great. But this is good: “Stop joining in when my friends compare and trash their own bodies.”) Now a regular feature, “Body Peace,” singles out certain body parts for reconciliation, as signified by red peace symbols. A recent issue had pretty normal-looking girls making peace with their bikini bodies.

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Except, as was noted by a 14-year-old, they all have glorious, shiny skin. No freckles, moles or pores. Air-brushing, perhaps? http://www.change.org/petitions/seventeen-magazine-give-girls-images-of-real-girls

As Julia told the New York Times,

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/nyregion/seventeen-magazine-faulted-by-girl-14-for-doctoring-photos.html

which followed Nightline in doing a feature about the petition, “I look at the pictures and they just don’t look like girls I see walking down the street and stuff.”

Ah, Seventeen. What young teenage girl doesn’t subscribe to find a monthly reminder of our faults and how to fix them? I did, and so did my daughter, 30 years later. I didn’t develop an eating disorder. Lisa did, not because of Seventeen magazine, but it didn’t help.

As NEDA points out:

“Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a variety of factors, including physical, psychological, interpersonal, and social issues. Media images that help to create cultural definitions of beauty and attractiveness are often acknowledged as being among those factors contributing to the rise of eating disorders.” Media messages screaming “thin is in” may not directly cause eating disorders, but they help to create the context within which people learn to place a value on the size and shape of their body. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/nedaDir/files/documents/handouts/MediaBI.pdf

In 2009, when Lisa and I were writing Hungry, http://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Mother-Daughter-Fight-Anorexia/dp/0425227901/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336416704&sr=1-1  a cover story promised: "Your Hottest ABS, BUTT & LEGS in just 3 moves." In 2012, “GET FLAT ABS FAST.”

Those abs never listen.

Maybe abs hadn’t been invented when Seventeen magazine began, in 1944, with only these cover lines: Young fashions & beauty, movies & music, ideas and people.

In fact, Helen Valentine, founding editor-in-chief, planned a balance of all those topics, written for a teen audience of “whole human beings.”

It didn’t last. Kelley Massoni writes in Fashioning Teenagers: A cultural history of Seventeen magazine:

"Over time, consumerist content increased as Seventeen moved away from Valentine’s progressive model of service and citizenship and toward the more traditional model of fashion, romance, and homemaking."  http://www.amazon.com/Kelley-Massoni/e/B003ERJRT6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Next up: Body image clubs and programs in high schools.

 

Sheila Himmel is an award-winning food journalist. She and her daughter, Lisa, wrote Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Battle Anorexia.

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