What was the most radical thing you did as a teenager?
I was 17 and freshly strung out by Bursary exams – that’s year 13, youthful readers – when I left home to live in Italy.
I had no grasp of the language, no concrete ideas as to what I would actually do there, and to top it all off I was shy as hell. But I’d re-watched Stealing Beauty one thousand times, and I wanted in.
Things turned out OK. A few months later I’d discovered the thrifty art of washing clothes in the bath, could order hangover medicine in the local language, and spent – from memory – inordinate amounts of time whizzing about on the back of motorbikes with boys I barely knew.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it remains one of the best, loneliest, scariest, most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.
But… it’s still a bit self-indulgent, isn’t it? Especially when compared to the useful and impressive things some teenagers are doing these days.
That’s right: useful and impressive. The media right now might be heaving with stories on the rise of narcissism, bemoaning apathetic teen-bots who’d sell their grannies for a Facebook ‘Like’, but actually I think teenagers these days are quite savvy and impressive.
(Well, some of them. Loads are still really gross and weird.)
8th grader Julia Bluhm from Maine is a prime example of the good kind. This 14-year-old is turning down rainbow parties – or whatever it is American adolescents are into right now – and campaigning her little heart out instead. Why? So her girl pals will feel alright about having real human bodies, and not digitally shrunken ones.
The miniature activist has started a petition calling on Seventeen magazine, known for their liberal use of digital enhancement, to commit to one photoshop-free spread per issue. And it’s already got 73,000 signatures.
“Here’s what lots of girls don’t know,” says Bluhm. “Those ‘pretty women’ that we see in magazines are fake. They’re often photoshopped, air-brushed, edited to look thinner, and to appear like they have perfect skin. A girl you see in a magazine probably looks a lot different in real life.”
When the petition had reached 30,000 signatures, Seventeen editor Ann Shoket invited Bluhm to meet with her. Shoket didn’t ultimately agree or admit to anything – and the statement she released after the pair’s ‘meeting’ was nothing short of patronising – but nonetheless, the debate continues, and the teen has become a superstar along with it.
Nice work, Bluhm. You can sign her petition here.
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By Rebecca Kamm
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