Make Positive Change: In Defense of Seventeen

The recent outcry over Seventeen Magazine brings to mind two things: most people’s beliefs about magazines and Photoshop are more distorted than any retouched image and, worse, that preoccupation distracts many from the real issues. Women around the Internet recently created a stir by demanding that Seventeen Magazine publish an unaltered photograph each month. Their petition later declared: “Here’s what lots of girls don’t know. Those ‘pretty women’ that we see in magazines are fake.” Granted, I try to keep my hair, skin and nails in the best shape I can, as well as stay fit, but they are saying that I’m only a distorted unreal image of what girls “should” be. I’m not fake; I’m healthy and real.

I’ve had three shoots for Seventeen. In my experience, they were always supportive of a healthy body image, more so than most magazines. Even years ago, they were doing far more than this petition asked of them. The times I shot with them, they had “real girls” on set, which is to say girls who were not professional models. These were young women who had made contributions to their communities or were simply the friends of staff with no height or size standards. I remember clearly how excited they would be getting their makeup done for the very first time. I also recall the makeup artist asking if I had a picture of my four sisters back home to show the art director, since the magazine is always looking for girls who aren’t models. In a way, they didn’t treat me like a model either. To the crew, I was a person, not a “clothes horse.” On one shoot, a hair story, the makeup artist was actually sympathetic when covering my hives from an allergic reaction. Nobody demanded the impossible, or promoted anorexia. They even insisted that we eat the extra hamburgers that were left over from a food shoot. It was a great job. That said, this survey accomplished absolutely nothing but to defame a great company. While the intention to fight unhealthy body image is completely fair, it’s inappropriate to attack a group of people about something that isn’t the actual issue. 

The use of Photoshop is not as rampant as some seem to think. We’ve all seen the mistakes on or Jezebel, but most of the time, Photoshop is used to fix small things, exactly as Seventeen pointed out in its response: a stray hair, a wrinkled shirt, or a bra strap. The fact of the matter is that we want to fix as much as possible while we’re shooting, since Photoshop is expensive. The time they have budgeted for digital retouching shouldn’t be used on something I, as the hired model, can control. That’s why there are standards placed upon models to begin with. The real distortions happen when models aren’t used. When a pop star is selling a fitness product and has gained fifty pounds you can’t just cast her skinnier version. When a hard smoking, hard drinking rock goddess launches a new beauty line, you can’t switch her out for someone with whiter teeth. When it comes to the celebrities now dominating the magazines, Photoshop can get out of control. 

Not to say I’ve never been Photoshopped. The biggest alteration I’ve had was the addition of 20 pounds, to make me more relatable. Beyond that, most modifications to my image are done in the makeup chair. A talented makeup artist can do more for less time and money than software in most cases. More importantly, what those artists do is entirely possible, with some skill. I confess, I can’t do my own makeup that well, but any young girl with the passion and skill can learn. I suspect the real outcry isn’t because of Photoshop, but because of the portrayal of atypical girls. Many of us are tall with long limbs and big eyes; it’s our genes, not our diets. Yesterday, the lingerie model I shared a set with was wolfing down a king-sized box of Milk Duds and powering through Coca-Cola Classic (not even diet!) and I, for one, love chocolate more than everything but my boyfriend. For many, I think, it’s easier to say all models are just a Photoshop fantasy or just a trick of the lens, and therefore not exceptional. People who complain that every girl in a magazine is just a digital fiction want to believe that we’re cheating. In person, though, most models I know look even better than their pictures.

There’s a whole industry of people paid to look a certain way. Models are hired to sell a product, not to tell our stories. Most jobs, we’re not there to be real girls with a life and a background and all the scars, freckles, and pimples that brings. Magazines, catalogs, and advertisers show only what the consumers will buy. That’s why so many have started featuring fuller figured models lately. I’m constantly working with beautiful plus-sized girls. There are now more than there have ever been before, and a bunch of them with me at Ford. I’m not plus, but I’m also not exactly a straight sized model, and even I can see how many more opportunities there are for models at their comfortable size. If you want to promote healthy models in fashion, praise websites like The reality is that the industry has changed a lot and continues change in the right direction. We should celebrate (and purchase) the images we approve of, not attack companies eager to give us what we ask for. 

Food blogger / model Phylicia Jackson and me, Lucie B. in Seventeen Magazine, November 2010 

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