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August 24, 2007

Body Image: Seventeen Magazine To Introduce 'Body Peace Treaty'

When I think back to my youth, I realize that a lot of my body dissatisfaction began in adolescence (if not earlier).  I remember leafing through magazines and feeling depressed at how fat I thought I was compared to the models or featured celebrities, and I know I'm not alone in this reaction.

In fact, over the years, many studies have been conducted to gauge the effect of the media on impressionable young girls. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing called "Adolescents' perceptions of popular teen magazines" concluded that that teen magazines send the message of perfection 'by portraying models with perfect eyes, teeth and bodies.'

The magazines provide ideals of thinness which are presented in a seemingly attainable fashion. Participants stated that magazines suggest that adolescent women need male attention for protection and companionship, in order to achieve fulfillment. Being healthy or whole seemed to be dependent on the adolescent reader embracing and becoming the ideals portrayed in teen magazines.  (Abstract from Blackwell Synergy)

Although it seems to be a no-brainer that being bombarded with images of perfect beauty and thinness contribute to girls' negative body images, studies such as these may be finally prompting some teen magazines to start becoming part of the solution.

Seventeen Magazine's new 'girl' as of January 2007, Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket, may be a refreshing new influence.  Shoket, who posts daily on 'Ann's Blog', is launching a 'Body Peace Treaty' aimed to encourage teen girls to make peace with their bodies.  On a recent entertainment news segment, Shoket said that it was probably too much to ask girls to 'love their bodies', but that she hope the treaty will help girls to stem their self-criticism.

The idea for the Body Peace Treaty came to Shoket who overheard a conversation by two teens trying on jeans dressing room.  "'They make my butt look big'," Shoket overheard one girl lament. "It was such a heartbreak for me." The treaty, which will be online and in print, asks girls to vow not to obsess over their body shape, but rather "respect it for what it can do, treat it well and feed it well."

Shoket hopes to get a million girls to sign the treaty.  However, it remains to be seen if this new approach really have any positive effect on teen girls' body image or ends up just being cosmetic good will gesture.   The inherent problem of introducing such a treaty is that it does little to counteract the overall emphasis on beauty standards. For instance, Shoket doesn't say that the magazine will balance images of 'perfect' models with more realistic portrayals of women. And, notably, the August issue of Seventeen Magazine features an article on "The Best Jeans for Your Butt—And Budget!" Will articles such as these help those teens from the dressing room to stop obsessing about their bodies? Even if the treaty is a step in the right direction, a consistent message of body acceptance in both print and pictures is probably the only way to make a real - and lasting - difference.

By Laura Brooks

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Going with the theme of making peace with your body, I wanted to share this recent email I wrote to my boyfriend of three years. Through this email I was able to make peace with my insecurities and stand up for my body! I hope it can help others.

"Today I was looking at some of the old text messages you sent me. One says, 'I love your acceptance.' You know, for someone who is grateful for not being judged, you've said some really judgmental and hurtful things to me about my body. One that comes to mind was when you told me that you were embarrassed of me because of what your friends think about my body type. I know you've apologized for saying these things, but I'm not sure you truly understand how the things you've said not only hurt me but they made me doubt my self-worth even though I'm smart, a leader in my community, well traveled, driven, and outspoken.

For you, the person who I'm suppose to trust and love, and the one I'm suppose to be the most open and safe with, to judge me and abandon me to some shallow idea of what a woman is suppose to be like makes me really hate you sometimes.

I think about all the physical insecurities you have about your nose, the size of your head, your ears, and your proportions, and I wonder how you would react if I were to say something judgmental and shallow. Fortunately for you, even if you have a head that is smaller than average I just don't see it as a bad/unusual thing. Actually, I find it an absurd thing to be worried about and I wish you could think the same way about my body type.

Sometimes I get really excited about trying to find a new sport and trying to live a healthier life, and then I find myself thinking about how my body would change (get skinnier) and how much that would satisfy you and how much I would like to satisfy you. I wonder if you are ever haunted/worried about trying to change something about yourself to satisfy me is some way. It worries me that one of these days I might be solely focused on the number pounds I am or the size of my pants instead of my strength, my abilities/accomplishments, or happiness.

I few times I even worried that you would leave me for a skinny girl. For me to even conger up this thought means that your comments have made me feel like everything that I am proud of myself for is trivial and all that matters is that I'm skinny.

Well I hope you read this and get a little insight of the consequences of your prejudices."

**He later responded with a text message that he was greatly sorry and he loved me. Below is my response to his text message**

"It would be nice of you to acknowledge that I don't have a problem with my weight, but maybe you don't believe that.... Still, instead of apologizing again, it would be nice of you to accept me how I am and acknowledge that there are several body shapes that exist in the world that are healthy, and that body shape isn't the definition of a person.

Last thing, all your judgment has made me forget that I am a very physically strong woman (among other things) and perhaps your judgment has blinded you from this fact as well. So let me share this with you:

1) when I saw on the swim team, I was such a strong competitor and talented swimmer that in 7th grade I was moved up to the highest level of the swim team and swam with juniors and seniors in high school as well as some college students. I stayed with the rigorous training until I went to college and then took a break from competitive sports to concentrate on other things like community work. But! I still experimented in other physical activities throughout college like kick boxing, sailing, tennis, and weight lifting.

2) Do you remember that I swam Alcatraz without a wet suit or fins?

3) when I was in Japan, I conducted a workout with my cousin in our hotel room. I realized I was 4 times stronger than she was and had much more endurance. I had to modify exercises so that she could do at least 8 reps. So even though I am not a man (because sometimes I feel like I need to have a mans strength to be appreciated by you), you should be proud to have an athletic and physically strong partner.

Thank you for being receptive to my emails. I really do appreciate it. If you weren't, you'd just be another "man". I really love you for that."

Posted by: Libby | Aug 28, 2007 1:38:42 AM

If i were u i wouldnt think that I would stay exactly the same i think i am beautiful some guys call me hot but that doesnt matter i dont think that i petty but in my head i think i am!!!

Posted by: Grace | Jan 18, 2009 12:10:37 PM

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