Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 06/10/2011

Seventeen’s Pretty Amazing Contest Is Pretty Amazing

ohmahgawd an actress! lets look up to her!

ohmahgawd an actress! let's look up to her!

I’ll be honest: I have my issues with Seventeen Magazine. It’s not just that most of the magazine revolves around a traditional and restrictive definition of beauty and their idea of “health” still revolves around dieting and working out in order to achieve your “best body ever.” My biggest problem is what the magazine overall promotes as being important to its readership of teen girls. Are we really just obsessed with how to impress the guy we like and what  celebrities are up to? (No, hence, the FBomb exists). And even when “real” issues are brought up – like eating disorders or sex – they’re non-committedly grazed over (Again, oh hey, FBomb).

That being said, I think Seventeen has been making some really great improvements lately. As a feminist, it’s easy to become wrapped up in criticizing everything out there, especially since there’s a lot of stuff that sucks and deserves to be criticized. Not to mention that Seventeen is a relatively easy target. But I think, and I always have thought, that it’s really important to applaud progress, especially so that other institutions (in this case, other media targeted at teen girls) can take note.

One great, relatively recent feature of Seventeen is Jess Weiner’s column on positive body image. I saw Jess Weiner speak at the Endangered Species Conference this past spring (where I spoke about teen girls and body image) and was struck by, plain and simple, how awesome she is. It made me realize that there is a lot of validity to fighting the media from the outside (i.e. speaking against it, petitioning against it, blogging about it), but it’s also incredibly necessary to fight it from the inside, by creating change within the institution, which is what Jess is doing. Sure, Seventeen still has it’s issues, but you can’t go from zero to a beautifully feminist, body accepting magazine overnight. And between Jess’ column, the attempts to present fashion in terms of different body types and other improvements, I think Seventeen’s moving in the right direction. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Another thing that caught my attention recently is Seventeen’s Pretty Amazing Contest. Basically, Seventeen is devoting their October 2011 cover to a “real” girl (you know, not an actress promoting her latest movie) voted for by their readers. When I first heard about the contest I was (of course) a little skeptical. Entrants had to submit photos, so I figured they’d just choose the prettiest girls and spin some stories about them. But I’ve got to say, in looking at the finalists, I’m actually pretty impressed. These girls have done some seriously awesome things! I personally voted for Zoe, a 19-year-old self-made entrepreneur.

Honestly, in my humble opinion, all of these candidates have done more legit things in the world than any of the actresses or models featured on Seventeen’s cover in the past. Maybe this is just a marketing ploy (they partnered with Neutrogena to make this happen, after all) but I don’t even care – I think this is awesome. Being able to vote for real girls who have done awesome things is a huge improvement on the usual actress-promotes-herself model.

So, fuck yeah Seventeen! Yes, you could still improve on the whole lack of diversity, generally present heterosexism, and yes, still narrowly defined definitions of beauty and kind of shallow themes that emerge in the magazine as a whole. But you’re improving, and that deserves to be recognized.

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  • Ashley @ at 12:14 pm, June 10th, 2011

    This is pretty damn cool of them. I wish I knew about contests like this when I was a teen. I would have applied myself more instead of just sitting in my room complaining about everything I didn’t like.

  • Becky @ at 3:08 pm, June 10th, 2011

    I, like you, was also skeptical when I read about the contest, especially because the name was “Pretty Amazing” (emphasis on the ‘Pretty’). However, going through the finalists, all of these girls seem special and qualified.
    I am sick of the cliched way that Seventeen deals with body image issues by barely skimming the surface. I wish that more of seventeen was about having a healthy body image, rather than just a column right next to the several page long “health” section. I wish that they could find a better way of presenting the “cloths for your body type” section, without having to use describers as “round”, and conforming to an idea that you should dress a certain way to look good.
    I hope this contest paves the way for more insightful articles and feautures from the magazine.

  • Mariella @ at 5:18 pm, June 10th, 2011

    Still a long way to go, but it’s always nice to see things looking up. :)

  • Tessa @ at 12:49 am, June 15th, 2011

    don’t hate on Seventeen :)

    As a fashion-loving feminist, Seventeen has always been my favorite guilty-pleasure magazine. Although it’s not the most insightful read, it certainly can’t be called fluff or shallow. It embraces diversity by featuring models of different races and sizes. It embraces female sexuality by discussing masturbation and safe sex (doesn’t preach abstinence!). It discusses body image by bringing those issues to the spotlight and saying that you’re beautiful no matter what shape or size you are. I also love that they emphasize exercise for *health* rather than for *looking skinny*. Even though it has its flaws, I find it to be surprisingly feminist in that they focus on girls and our needs

    btw, I voted for Ann! I love her photography

  • Kim @ at 11:55 am, July 19th, 2011

    Hi Julie! I must have missed this post the first time around. As a fan of your blog, I encourage you to email me and tell me more about your criticisms of our health section. There are some complex considerations that go into what we choose to cover and how we cover it, and I’d love to turn this into a discussion. We’ve made great strides over the past few years — launching our Body Peace project, eliminating calorie counts in favor of solid all-around nutrition, promoting exercise for its health benefits — and I would love your input as we continue that process!

  • Julie Z @ at 12:56 pm, July 19th, 2011

    Thanks, Kim! I’d love to start a discussion on this. I’m definitely going to think about it and email you – and I’d encourage girls reading this post to comment with your suggestions, too!

    And btw, I really do love the Body Peace project and think there are really great, relatively new aspects to Seventeen’s health section, and the magazine as a whole.

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