NEW YORK, N.Y. - The girl crusaders held up signs in the drizzling rain with messages for Seventeen magazine: "Teen Girls Against Photoshop!" and "The Magazine's for Me? Make it Look Like Me!!"
Their leader, a 14-year-old ballet dancer from Maine, had gathered 25,000 signatures to present to the magazine's top editor, Ann Shoket, at Hearst Corp. headquarters on Wednesday.
"I love Seventeen and they do have a lot of stuff to promote (positive) body image," said Julia Bluhm, from Waterville. "But Photoshopped pictures can be harmful to girls when they compare themselves to the pictures and think that they have to look like those models to be beautiful."
Shoket met the girl and "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," the magazine said in a statement. "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."
The two camps agreed to stay in touch.
Julia's journey from smalltown Maine to midtown Manhattan began less than two weeks ago, when she took her cause to Change.org, an activist forum, and set up her petition online. She was joined by six other teen girls and young women affiliated as she is with SPARK, a national organization that pushes back against sexualized images of girls in the media.
Julia made her case in detail at the top of her online petition, saying unrealistic images "can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem":
"To girls today, the word 'pretty' means skinny and blemish-free. Why is that, when so few girls actually fit into such a narrow category? It's because the media tells us that 'pretty' girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin."
Altering photos in fashion magazines, especially those like Seventeen that cater to young girls, puts an unhealthy emphasis on a fantasy ideal they'll never achieve, said 17-year old Emma Stydahar, one of the protesters and a high school junior from Croton-on-Hudson near Manhattan.
"Basically, it's not real," agreed protester Natasha Williams, 17, of East Flatbush in Brooklyn. "It can lead girls to feel insecure about how they look, who they are. A lot of girls are struggling."