Revolution: a: a sudden, radical, or complete change b: a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed c: activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation d: a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm…e: a changeover in use or preference…
It’s a big word, revolution. Sudden, radical, or complete change. Overthrow. Fundamental change. A paradigm shift.
It’s a word Girlfriend should never have invoked on the front cover of this month’s issue.
What appears in GF’s pages does not constitues a sudden and radical change to their previous approach to beauty, weight loss, dieting, body size and airbrushing. There’s some tinkering around the edges. But no revolution.
Girlfriend reminds us of its promises, which are part of its “strict body image policy”, flowing from the National Body Image Advisory Code (its editor sat on the board). We can “know when you look at an image in this mag it’s exactly how that person looks…”
But GF has failed to deliver.
Cover girl is Leighton Meester. “’I’m this way and that’s it.’ Why we heart Leighton” reads the text. On the front we get the one and ‘Reality Check’ disclosures about altered imagery: “Girlfriend received this image of Leighton Meester already retouched.” So, she’s not quite ‘this way and that’s it’ because her image has been doctored.
While it is good to be up front on these things, the disclosure reads as though GF had no choice in the matter. Can’t you request an air-brush free image, consistent with your own announced policy of staying ‘virtually retouch-free’? Did GF commission the image or did it just drop on the editor’s desk? This is important, because Sarah Cornish’s editorial stresses GF’s amazing new approach:
…there’s no doubt that more and more of you are telling us that you don’t feel great about your bodies and taking advertisers and media to task when they alter images to make them look unrealistic. So, we have decided to take a stand and say enough with the hating (of our bodies and each other) and take a positive approach. Girlfriend is committed to being 100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages and to staying virtually retouch-free, so you never have to feel that you need to look like a model to look good.
Sarah reiterates GF’s “new commitment to less models and less retouching.”
‘100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages…’
OK. Then why is there only one disclosure on retouching when there appear to be many airbrushed images of young women in GF’s August edition? And is advertising excempt from any disclosure at all? Don’t readers look at the ads as well?
GF says that for four years “we’ve been pointing out when an image in Girlfriend has been digitally altered (retouched) or professionally styled”.
I think this image below, illustrating the Love2Shop ‘bonus mag’ is one of the most questionable. No airbrushing/retouching/professional styling at all GF?
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps these women are naturally flawless. Perhaps they have just carried that pure newborn skin through to their adult years?
These are flaws?
In a section about loving your ‘quirks’, we are presented with four girls in a section headed ‘Perfection is boring’, which suggests they are imperfect. One has a gap between her front teeth. One has “curves”. One has red hair (though more strawberry than carroty in appearance) and the last girl has freckles. It seems to me that these are acceptable ‘flaws’. Actually young women tell me they think a gap between the front teeth is quite cute. I wonder where girls with acne or scars or facial deformities would fit in this lineup? Or maybe they wouldn’t?
177 thin girls. 4 not.
Positive body image ambassador Stephanie Rice is interviewed by GF. She says it’s “really important for teenage girls to know there isn’t just one stereotyped image for them to live up to.”
But apart from four non-normative, slightly larger girls, GF has pages of stereotyped girls, illustrating and supporting the thin ideal. A quick count came up with 177 images which would fit the normative, standard thin dominant ideal, a common feature of all women’s mags.
She may not be a model. But she can be made model-like.
It’s one thing to use readers, not models. GF discloses use of readers in photo shoots seven times. But are these girls your average readers? How are they selected? (and who isn’t selected?). How many hours has the girl spent in hair and makeup, were special lighting and soft focus lenses used? Because those things alter appearance as well. She may not be a professional model. But she can be made model-like.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t wear makeup and have their hair done for a GF photo shoot. What I am saying is how does selecting traditionally understood attractive girls and beautifying them radical?
To be positive for a moment, there’s an article, ‘7 ways to make friends with you body’, which is good. There are a couple of inspiring stories about troubled young women made good, and another wanting to end poverty through her work with World Vision. It would be worth expanding the ‘real story’ section, because it’s the only real counterpoint to the pages and pages of beauty, fashion and advertising. There’s a piece on ending bad friendships, an anti-bullying focus and assessing online relationships. There are no dieting articles. And adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg’s provides helpful advice to readers.
But I can’t get away from what is the bulk of the content.
All GF girls ‘love to shop’, which helps cement them into consumerist culture. They also like to check out ‘hot celeb boys’ and ‘eye candy’, including Justin Bieber, whose boyish self features in a poster for their walls.
How is all this “busting bad body image”?
While GF promotes a ‘Think. Do. Be Positive’ philosophy, there is significant emphasis on beautification, beauty preparation and being pretty. At this stage I’m not sure the positive messages will outway the standard messages about beauty, looks and grooming, as reflected in editoral and advertising which is designed to sell mass dissatisfaction. I suppose you could say GF is making an effort. But revolutionary it’s not.
I see that last year Girlfriend joined forces with Supre to promote a new initiative, national compliments day, to help cultivate positive self-image. I wonder if GF thinks Supre’s t.shirts for tweens, including ‘Santa’s Bitch’, ‘Pussy Power’ and ‘High Beams’ help girls feel good about themselves? (see earlier blog).
The editor asks for reader input: “Let me know what you think about your body and whether our campaign will make a difference to you: Email me at: GF_editor@pacificmags.com.au”.
Why not do that? And let me know too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.