Step in the right direction or PR exercise?

I was recently invited onto Channel 7’s The Morning Show to discuss an “Extreme Makeover” story in Girlfriend magazine’s June 2009 issue. Using before and after shots of a teen girl, they show readers just how much work goes into producing the perfect images on magazine covers: the hours of hair and makeup, clever lighting and photography, and fashion styling – not to mention all the digital manipulation necessary to make beautiful girls impossibly flawless, with no blemishes or cellulite, and with perfectly white teeth and eyes. According to the magazine’s editor, Sarah Cornish, Girlfriend’s aim was to dispel the myth that readers too should – or could – look like the beauty icons they see in the media. Click on the screen image below to watch the interview I did alongside Sarah Cornish, or use the following URL:

I applaud the magazine’s sentiment, and the June 2009 issue of Girlfriend magazine does include some good articles. There is a “Love Your Body” section and a sealed “Good Advice” section that presents the advice of psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, author of books on parenting teen girls, and Dr Sally Cockburn, aka radio’s Dr Feelgood, an expert on women’s health. But this valuable and positive information is offset by a range of advertisements and advertorials that offer conflicting, toxic messages. How about this full-page advertisement on the inside back cover?

The model looks like she has stepped straight from a shoot for the men’s magazine Ralph: stilettos, skimpy bikini, large breasts. She is faceless. It is all about her body. The ad is for hair-removal products “specially for active and youthful skin”.

After we finished filming the segment at the Channel 7 studios, I raised my concerns with editor Sarah Cornish, and she agreed that the ad was not consistent with the values the magazine claims to espouse. She also assured me this particular ad would not get run again.

Sarah, and indeed all magazine editors, are in highly influential positions and have the power to communicate helpful messages to teen girls about body image. The need to do so has never been more urgent. Girlfriend magazine itself acknowledges in another article, “Drastic Plastic,” that 26% of their readers admit they have contemplated cosmetic surgery as a solution to their angst about their bodies.

I appreciate that editors may not be able to completely revolutionise their magazines overnight, and I suspect that in our tough economic climate they may even become less selective about the advertising they accept – but if they are serious about their commitment to young women, they simply must be more vigilant. During our brief meeting, Sarah struck me as genuine and open to an ongoing dialogue about how she can improve the messages she presents to girls. Watch this space.

4 thoughts on “Step in the right direction or PR exercise?

  1. Nikki D says:

    I think it is so great that you had the opportunity to raise these issues with an Editor face to face and she agreed to look closely at the ads they feature. What a triumph!

  2. Sonia says:

    Oh I do hope that their pot is stirred, at least, a little after the interview. It is wonderful that they are alerting their readers of the airbrushing that occurs but they must also be aware of their responsibility to ensure all of the other material in their magazine supports the same “self respect” message.
    It’s not good enough saying here girls this is what we do to our photographs and then on the next page include an advertisement such as the one above that has no disclosure! Also, once you know an image has been altered you still can’t help but feel you should look how the models appear and alter yourself accordingly! Well done Danni !!!

  3. Jane says:

    One might well ask what is beauty? Is it really the media’s digitally enhanced computer images of women or girls? Grand masters painted women as they saw them – would we want their images digitally enhanced to edit the colour, grain, shape or the size of what they so beautifully captured?
    Who says the media’s images are perfect anyway?
    Give me a woman who is real, authentic, natural and comfortable in her skin and I give you REAL BEAUTY!

    I really don’t understand why we would want our girls subjected to these images of so called “perfection” – why photo-shop or airbrush our girls to make them feel less than – it just doesn’t make sense!! Show them as they really are. Let’s celebrate our diversity in all its shapes, sizes, and colours and give them an opportunity to see themselves reflected in media not some airbrushed image that is not realistic, obtainable or even real!

  4. Francesca says:

    It is a step in the right direction for Girlfriend but I would like to see this sentiment extended to the advertisements or more articles throughout the magazine. This might convince those of us who are rather critical viewers of the media that this is not a one off PR exercise but a true attempt to tackle the beauty myth that so many of our gorgeous teen girls buy into.

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