The old phrase goes: "You are what you eat." I also believe, "you are what you see." It's like those Liberty Mutual's "good deeds" advertising commercials: if you see good, you do good. But the reverse is also true: you see bad, you tend to do bad.
Both sayings are applicable to women young and old when it comes to their perceived "role models": often times women want to be who they see in magazines, and subsequently often have bad body image/eating habits.
Around 12 around the time that my body was catching up with society's messages: "this is what beauty looks like" I started buying Vogue magazine with my allowance money. I'd look at all those thin glossy girls, and could only see my chubby, dirty fingers turning the pages. In retrospect I was never extremely overweight it was just baby fat trying to level out. Nonetheless, I started a scrapbook that was filled with ripped out pages of beautiful girls and women I thought I should look like.
Consequently, I was mildly depressed during this phase; there was no way I'd ever be a size 2.
I refuse to buy those magazines now. Or if I flip through one in the grocery store aisle, I consider those self-induced wispy women with pity: they couldn't eat half the food I just bought.
It's no surprise that the fashion world (the media in general) creates a largely unattainable and unhealthy standard for women and girls. Consider the deaths of two models from apparent eating order complications in 2006-07. A change in what females see on pages of such prestigious magazines could change the image of what they would strive for. I was happy to read that in the past few months, healthy alterations are beginning to happen.
Last month Conde Nast International announced that the 19 editors of Vogue magazines around the world made a pact to project the image of healthy models, their statement being: Too young and too thin is no longer in. Starting with this past June's edition, editors will no longer work with models under the age of 16 (to ensure that young girls remain in school and are mentally prepared for an adult modeling career) who appear to have an eating disorder.
"Vogue believes that good health is beautiful," said Conde Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse in a statement. "Vogue Editors around the world want the magazines to reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers."
Perhaps more impressively, there are the thousands of teenage girls who are trying to have the same impact on younger generations.
Ann Shoket, editor of Seventeen magazine, will make an announcement in her editor's letter in the August issue that the publication vows to "celebrate every kind of beauty" and would only feature photographs of real girls and models who are healthy. The decision was brought on after thousands of teens started a petition demanding truthful images of young women.
Fourteen-year-old Julia Bluhm from Maine started the protest on Change.org with the petition, "Seventeen Magazine: Give Girls Images Of Real Girls!" which requested that the publication print one unaltered photo spread per month. In May, Bluhm and a group of other teen girls delivered the petition and its 84,000 signatures to the Seventeen's headquarters in New York City. The girls protested outside the offices with signs with slogans such as "teen girls against Photoshop."
In response the magazine promised to "never change girls' body or face shapes" when retouching images.
There have been brands trying to get this message out for years (i.e. Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign). While the beauty standards are still not ideal, these two examples represent an important step toward to a more positive, and realistic, portrayal of female role models.
Women should see healthy representations of themselves in all realms of the media so that they will eat healthier, and ultimately feel more confident when they look into the mirror.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com