(NEW YORK) — Long lean legs, a teeny tiny waist, perfect skin and glossy hair—these are the flawless features commonly found in fashion magazines. But who looks like this? Nobody, because while models have always been made to look beautiful, never before have they been made to look so skinny, so airbrushed and so impossibly perfect—and some say that can be dangerous.
Julia Bluhm, an 8th grader from Waterville, Maine, has recently become a crusader against airbrushed ads. The 14-year-old traveled to New York City Wednesday to lead a protest, which was set up like a mock photo shoot, on the doorstep of the offices of the Hearst Corporation, which owns Seventeen magazine, one of the biggest teen magazines in the fashion industry.
“We want to show Seventeen that we love our body just for who we are and we don’t need Photoshop to fix us … and we can be pretty without—we can take pictures of ourselves and be pretty,” Bluhm said.
Her campaign started two weeks ago when she taped herself asking her friends about airbrushed photos during lunch in her middle school cafeteria. That led Bluhm to start a petition on Change.org entitled “Seventeen Magazine: Give Girls Images of Real Girls”, asking the magazine to feature one un-airbrushed photo spread a month. It has over 25,000 signatures from all over the world.
Lynn Grefe, the president of the Eating Disorder Association of America, said she has seen firsthand the negative effects that airbrushed ads can have on young children. Grefe said kids are a “vulnerable population” who look at these ads and think “why don’t I look like that.” Some develop eating disorders even before they are teenagers.
Youth and beauty have graced magazine covers for decades, but what has made today’s images more dangerous is the cutting-edge Photoshopping technology. According to Sara Ziff, a former model and founder of the Model Alliance, in her business, a photo isn’t finished until it’s fixed.
“Pretty much every image in advertising is going to have some Photoshop and that’s not necessarily a terrible thing,” Ziff said. “But there are degrees of Photoshopping. You see people whose bodies have been really reshaped to look significantly younger or significantly thinner and I think that’s really the source of concern.”
Grefe said she is pushing for some controversial legislation that would require warning labels to be put on all images that have been airbrushed, similar, she said, to the tobacco warnings on cigarette packages.
“We’re not saying this image is going to kill you, even though eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness,” she said. “We want to educate quickly, which means that if a child can read, then the child can see that this is not a real photograph.”
In the meantime, Julia Bluhm’s protest earned her a meeting with Seventeen magazine’s editor-in-chief on Wednesday.
In a statement to Nightline, a spokesperson for Seventeen said, “We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue—it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers—so we invited her to our office to meet with editor-in-chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity.”
And Bluhm plans on continuing her mission.
“We hope it will be like a baby step to grow into something bigger like maybe it will influence other magazines to do the same thing [on] other pages and maybe even a cover,” she said. “That would be really cool.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio