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Meet Julia Bluhm, feminist media activist

Melissa's "Foot Soldier" last weekend was Julia Bluhm: blogger, media activist with SPARK Summit -- and eighth grader.
Meet Julia Bluhm, feminist media activist
Meet Julia Bluhm, feminist media activist

Melissa's "Foot Soldier" last weekend was Julia Bluhm: blogger, media activist with SPARK Summit -- and eighth grader. Despite not yet being seventeen, the 14-year-old ballet dancer from Maine took issue with magazines like Seventeen made her and her friends feel self-conscious through their Photoshopped and airbrushed photos. Julia decided to take matters into her own hands, drafting a petition on which asked Seventeen to stop altering their models to look unrealistically thin and blemish-free. She also staged a photo-shoot protest outside of the magazine's headquarters in New York City.

This week, Seventeen responded through their letter from the editor in their August edition, publishing a "Body Peace Treaty." (See a PDF here.) In the "treaty," Seventeen's editorial board vowed to:

  • "Never change girls' body or face shapes"
  • "always feature real girls and models who are healthy,"
  • "celebrate every kind of beauty in our pages... all body types, skin tones, heights and hair textures."

Two days after her victory, I spoke to Julia and was able to get more insight from her on this campaign and its success.

What made you want to get involved, create a petition to Seventeen magazine?

I’m a blogger for SPARK Summit, which is a girl-powered movement; we basically talk back to the media on things that we think are unfair. We talk a lot about how Photoshop has a negative effect on girls in SPARK, and it got me thinking about it. We wanted to start a petition, so I wrote the petition. We targeted Seventeen Magazine because it’s a really popular magazine among girls, and also they do a lot of stuff to help girls feel good about their body image, so we thought that they might want to take it a step further.

Was there a personal reason why you wanted to get involved?

Yeah, I have some friends who feel… who wish they looked differently I guess, and I know people who – even if they are just joking around – say things like “Oh it’s a fat day” or something like that. It just shows how much emphasis we put on our bodies and how we should look. And the idea of beauty and the idea of how we should look often comes from the media, and it’s an unrealistic idea of beauty, and when we strive to reach that we can really hurt ourselves, because it’s impossible to reach without Photoshop. So I guess I saw the effects within my group of friends and stuff, and girls I saw in school and I knew it was an important issue and I wanted to do something about it.

Do you thing the Body Peace Treaty issued by Seventeen goes far enough?

They said in their Peace Treaty that they promised that they would not alter girls’ bodies or face shapes. I think that’s really important. That’s even more than we were asking them to do I think. Because we were asking them to do one photo spread that was Photoshop free, and they’re saying that they’re gonna do the whole magazine. I think that’s really good. And they made a public promise, so I think they’ll stick to it, but if they don’t we can definitely talk back to them because they did make a public promise for it. But I think they are going to step up to the game because this will get them some really good publicity.

Were you surprised?

I guess I knew from the beginning that there were a lot of people out there who agree with the petition, but I was really surprised that many people would actually log on, find the petition and sign in. I didn’t really think that Seventeen would actually agree because it seems kind of far-fetched when you think about one of the most popular magazines among teenagers listening to… me. But at the same time they’re not just listening to me. They’re listening to me and the 84,000 people who signed my petition.

So what’s your next project?

Well, I’m supporting, two other girls from SPARK Summit are starting another petition targeting Teen Vogue for the same reason and I’m totally in support of that and I’ll help them out as much as I can and I signed their petition. So that’s our next big step with this movement. I’ll definitely keep helping out with that. I’m also going to be part of a girls group within my community called the Girls Advisory Board, it’s part of Hearty Girls Healthy Women, and we’re going to keep working on that issue there.

And you’ll focus on media portrayal of girls?

Yeah, it focuses on lots of things about girls in the media, but we’ll probably, since this is a current issue, we’ll probably talk about that a lot.

Check out Julia's video response to the success of her campaign, after the jump.