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If You Don’t Like Something, Change It

July 11, 2012

SPARK leaders Izzy Labbe, Julia Bluhm & Maya Brown
Credit: Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe

It’s always been possible (extremely difficult, but possible) to create change from small towns far removed from the centers of political, cultural and economic power.  (Case in point:  Fannie Lou Hamer came from Ruleville, Mississippi, and she had as much to do with passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act as anyone.)

With the internet and new social tools, it’s easier, but it’s still noteworthy when teenagers from a place like Waterville, Maine help persuade/force major media outlets headquartered in New York City to change their policies.  But that’s what Julia Bluhm (14), Izzy Labbe (13) and Maya Brown (18) did when they launched an anti-Photoshopping campaign targeted at major magazines.  Here’s the lede to a front-page story (behind the paywall, alas) in today’s Boston Globe:

“WATERVILLE, Maine — This quaint New England town seems an unlikely garrison from which to wage digital-media warfare. But as Seventeen magazine editors have learned, youth activism can be ignited anywhere, given the right spark.

In April, Waterville eighth-grader Julia Bluhm, 14, journeyed to Manhattan to protest Seventeen’s practice of retouching photos, making girls and young women look sexier and less flawed. After an interview with CNN, she was invited to the magazine to discuss her objections and spent an hour doing just that. Bluhm and her teammates at SPARK — which stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge — eventually collected more than 84,000 signatures on their anti-Photoshopping petition, distributed online through Change.org.

After meeting with Bluhm and hearing from thousands of like-minded readers, Seventeen’s latest issue announced a Body Peace Treaty. The editors now promise to “never change girls’ body or face shapes,” to feature “real girls and models who are healthy” and to give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how it shoots and edits photo spreads.”

SPARK isn’t stopping there.  Today, they’re demonstrating outside the offices of Teen Vogue to demand they sign a “Body Peace Treaty” too.  And they’re using Twitter and Facebook to invite teen girls from around the world to participate with them.

If you don’t like something, change it.

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