What Was Missing From Youth Group Body Image Pep Talks

Julia Bluhm, center, has raised a stink about doctored images. (photo: guardian.co.uk)

Julia Bluhm, a 14 year old from Maine created a petition asking Seventeen magazine to commit to running one unaltered–“real”–photo spread in each issue. She brought a copy of the magazine to school, where, at lunch, she showed it to people and asked them to sign if they agreed.

She has gathered over 45,000 signatures.

Julia told the New York Times:

“I look at the girls, and a lot of them, like, they don’t have freckles, or moles, anywhere on their bodies,” she said. “You can’t, like, see the pores in their face, they’re perfectly smooth. Their skin is shiny. They don’t have any tan lines or cuts and bruises or anything like that.”

These ordinary features of human flesh, she said, can be disguised with makeup and lights. “At the same time, they can’t cover up everything,” Julia said. That leaves only digital retouching.

Editor-in-chief at Seventeen, Ann Shoket, admires Julia even as she’s understandably annoyed to have her magazine singled out among all the glossies that celebrate unreality.

There have been no promises about publishing an unretouched photo spread.

When I was 14, I read magazines uncritically and prescriptively. What’s worse–

“…the church had nothing to say that helped; by my lights, there was little difference between Christians and non-Christians in attitude toward food, bodies, and dieting. I never heard the ‘make your body perfect!’ message that screamed from every billboard and every TV commercial soundly refuted by some good theology, which it could have been.

Yes, there were Bible verses hinting at the “fleeting” and “deceitful” nature of “external” beauty, and Brio magazine was certainly better than Seventeen, but something was still missing. I’m still not sure what that ‘something’ was.

PoweredByGirl.org has this great thing where people can deface magazine covers. I am helpless to resist posting this one.

But when I read about Julia Bluhm, I feel like there is that ‘something’: she is taking a stand against the machines that manufacture discontent.

Maybe that was happening, too, when I was 14, but I don’t seem to remember it. I remember being told that condoms didn’t really prevent HIV. I remember being told that my body was a source of temptation to be covered. I remember being told that what was ‘inside’ was more important than what was ‘outside.’

But that it was good by virtue of being made by God? That it was not the enemy (or at least the opposite) of my soul/spirit? That it was not to be feared?

That I don’t remember.

What do you remember?

What is the ‘something’ that has been missing from Christian (esp. evangelical) body image pep talks?

7 thoughts on “What Was Missing From Youth Group Body Image Pep Talks

  1. The editor of Seventeen is annoyed at having her magazine singled out? Sounds like she’s trying to say “But everyone else is doing it! Why are you picking on me?” Plus, she’s missing the point that her magazine specifically targets these girls, and uses photoshopped images to do so. That’s why she’s being singled out.

    Tim

  2. I feel like I was taught that a Biblical worldview was to ONLY concentrate on inner beauty and to look down on those who concerned themselves at all with outward apperance. I wish I was taught that it would be a joy in marriage to enjoy physical attraction with your spouse and you should try to look nice for your spouse with clothing that looks right on you and even a little make up or jewelry.

  3. Oh high school youth group…we were all pretty dorky and stinky, going to the ska shows, so I don’t know that body image was discussed too much. They probably thought we were all lost causes anyways! But it strikes me that the lack of conversation on the topic of womens’ bodies is somewhat telling; pastors appeal to men by talking about their bodies, their strength and capabilities and tasks they can perform with their bodies. I don’t think the physical capabilities of women, barring childbirth, are celebrated from the pulpit all that often. I wish that I had been told at a younger age that my body should be celebrated for more than being beautiful; I wish I had been told sincerely that the other things my body can do are truly important, and if I had been told that, I hope that I would have been made to truly believe it.
    Also, I had a lot of bitterness towards men for a long time because all the youth group sex talks told us that the male gaze was so intensely scrutinizing us – it made me so paranoid, and made me want to hide my body. These talks were, I think, harmful for both the guys and the girls by being so essentializing about men. Men have a wide variety of tastes in women and it is not a judgment on a woman’s beauty and worth if a man happens to be unattracted to her. I was never secure enough to believe that until I fell in love with my husband though.

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