When I think back to my youth, I realize that a lot of my body dissatisfaction began in adolescence (if not earlier). I remember leafing through magazines and feeling depressed at how fat I thought I was compared to the models or featured celebrities, and I know I’m not alone in this reaction.
In fact, over the years, many studies have been conducted to gauge the effect of the media on impressionable young girls. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing called "Adolescents’ perceptions of popular teen magazines" concluded that that teen magazines send the message of perfection ‘by portraying models with perfect eyes, teeth and bodies.’
The magazines provide ideals of thinness which are presented in a seemingly attainable fashion. Participants stated that magazines suggest that adolescent women need male attention for protection and companionship, in order to achieve fulfillment. Being healthy or whole seemed to be dependent on the adolescent reader embracing and becoming the ideals portrayed in teen magazines. (Abstract from Blackwell Synergy)
Although it seems to be a no-brainer that being bombarded with images of perfect beauty and thinness contribute to girls’ negative body images, studies such as these may be finally prompting some teen magazines to start becoming part of the solution.
Seventeen Magazine’s new ‘girl’ as of January 2007, Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket, may be a refreshing new influence. Shoket, who posts daily on ‘Ann’s Blog’, is launching a ‘Body Peace Treaty’ aimed to encourage teen girls to make peace with their bodies. On a recent entertainment news segment, Shoket said that it was probably too much to ask girls to ‘love their bodies’, but that she hope the treaty will help girls to stem their self-criticism.
The idea for the Body Peace Treaty came to Shoket who overheard a conversation by two teens trying on jeans dressing room. "’They make my butt look big’," Shoket overheard one girl lament. "It was such a heartbreak for me." The treaty, which will be online and in print, asks girls to vow not to obsess over their body shape, but rather "respect it for what it can do, treat it well and feed it well."
Shoket hopes to get a million girls to sign the treaty. However, it remains to be seen if this new approach really have any positive effect on teen girls’ body image or ends up just being cosmetic good will gesture. The inherent problem of introducing such a treaty is that it does little to counteract the overall emphasis on beauty standards. For instance, Shoket doesn’t say that the magazine will balance images of ‘perfect’ models with more realistic portrayals of women. And, notably, the August issue of Seventeen Magazine features an article on "The Best Jeans for Your Butt—And Budget!" Will articles such as these help those teens from the dressing room to stop obsessing about their bodies? Even if the treaty is a step in the right direction, a consistent message of body acceptance in both print and pictures is probably the only way to make a real – and lasting – difference.
By Laura Brooks