Sunday, May 6, 2012

The true purpose and real meaning of magazines

I am in a caffeinated twist about a story I just read in my beloved NYT, about a 14-year old New York girl's vendetta (my word) against sweet little Seventeen magazine. The "real girl", Julia Bluhm, started a petition against it for retouching or photoshopping its fashion spreads and for using actual gorgeous models in same. She calls for Seventeen to do one spread a month using "real" girls.

The impulse to protest Seventeen's publishing policies arose, apparently, in ballet class where Bluhm was weary of hearing would-be ballerinas complaining of having a "fat day", or lamenting blemishes, or pronouncing themselves disgusting which may in fact say more about ballet and the endless mirrors these girls face but never mind. Instead we take on a fashion magazine.

Now, in fairness to Seventeen, and you can tell I'm going to be very fair, there is a monthly column called Body Peace, illustrated with a peace sign to go with a story of a girl's acceptance of a body part she's now okay with. As a very aged woman who has yet to make peace with her thighs I find this a stroke of editorial genius.

As well an article in the current issue is illustrated with photos of girls' melanoma scars, and the editor claims the magazine makes a point of celebrating all kinds of beauty in any colour, shape and size.

I am reminded of my brother's diatribe in what had to be the 1970's, long before Bluhm was born, when Sears catalogue got inclusive and included pictures of people in wheelchairs, maybe people who were less than perfect in some way and not just on the "husky sizes" pages. He went off the deep end, sweet thing, howling "no one wants to look at that!" Now, set aside the deep political incorrectness but his follow up argument was this showing of the less than perfectly lovely was exactly not the point. "It would be like me going to a record company and saying give me a contract. But you can't sing they'd say, and I would be like, hey, equal opportunity. Support my disability in singing."

If this point isn't enitrely clear let me make a related one. Magazines are actually NOT real life, dear Ms. Bluhm. They are intended to be inspiration, not reality; they are meant to tell you what could be in the same way novels do, and movies do, and television does. They are escape, they are eye candy and sometimes there's an article or two that will tell you something useful that you didn't know already.

We live in a highly fragmented world, media-wise. We have lots and lots of options other than Seventeen, we can create our own media if we want, at the very least through Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Youtube. You can read Rookie, for that matter, which is an excellent and most real online magazine for your age group, written by your peers. My observation is kids today rely on each other for media and distraction far more than they ever read magazines like Seventeen, and your friends, surely, look and act pretty much just like you do. So if Seventeen over-burdens your imagination and forces you into body dysmorphia I would suggest you simply put it down and read something else until you feel better. It is not the ubiquitous Bible it once was. In fact, I bet it is struggling for survival and grasping to get your attention.

And guess what? People didn't actually look the way they do in oil paintings no matter how figurative. Photos are taken in a split second and that image, even un-retouched, didn't exist as long as it takes to look at it on a page. It was fleeting. This is a world of images, not reality, and it's good to keep that straight.

Stop blaming magazines for being anything but what they are, collections of pretty pictures, some of people who hit the gorgeous lottery whose images touched up by someone gifted a Photoshop. No more and no less.

Don't let me do all the talking. Here's the story of Julia Bluhm's stand against flawlessness:

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