I've never really read fashion magazines. Perused the covers in checkout lines, flipped through them in doctors' offices, sure. Even coveted a cousin's subscription to Seventeen for a brief period. But I figured out pretty early on that they set off my bullshit-o-meter in a big way. I knew that the vast majority of what these magazines were telling me ranged from nonsensical to downright harmful. So the really sad thing is that I bought into some of it anyway.
Here's the thing: I've never needed to worry about my weight. I've been genetically blessed with a high metabolism and environmentally blessed with parents who fed me a pretty healthy diet, signed me up for sports from an early age, and modeled for me how to live a healthy-enough lifestyle. I've never been overweight -- not even close. I know this, I've always known this, and yet I've exhibited the same thoughts and behaviors as every teenage and 20-something girl ever.
In high school, my friends and I were obsessed with our "pooches." You know -- the little roll of belly fat you develop when you hit puberty. We named them, joked about them, compared their sizes. My friends were constantly telling me mine was barely there, and I was constantly protesting that yes, it was. I hated my pooch. The thing is, we knew that it is biologically necessary for women of childbearing age to have a certain amount of body fat. We knew that everyone had a pooch -- all we had to do was look around at each other. So why were we so convinced there was something wrong with us?
Most days, I like the way I look. Getting away from my hometown for a while, where the standard of beauty for people my age is flat-ironed blonde hair and a thick layer of perfectly-applied makeup, certainly helped. People tell me I'm beautiful, and not all of them are my mother. I know I'm healthy, and for the most part I take good care of myself. But there are days when I wake up and obsess about my less-than-perfect skin (I thought acne was a high school thing?), the size of my thighs (generous), the way my butt looks in a swimsuit (not as perfectly toned as I'd like). To all of this, I direct a big, outraged WHY? The girl I love thinks I'm pretty. My doctor thinks I'm healthy. Apart from that, nothing about my appearance should evoke more than a passing thought. I'm intelligent enough to know that, and I obsess anyway.
There is something wrong with a culture in which concern for appearance is so deeply ingrained that even those of us who recognize and try to avoid the propaganda end up feeling its effects. The #KeepItReal challenge is focusing on one specific aspect, the digital manipulation of magazine photos to misrepresent women's bodies. While I doubt that axing Photoshop would be a cure-all for body image issues, I do think that publishing unmanipulated photos has the potential to bring the conversation about real beauty into the mainstream and help change perceptions a little at a time. So, on the off-chance you're reading this, fashion magazine editor: listen to the voices of women who want to look at your magazines and see true, obtainable beauty, not a digital fantasy.