Commentary Sexuality

Keep It Real Campaign Asks Fashion Magazines to Ditch Photoshop (At Least Once a Month)

Martha Kempner

When it comes to body image issues the odds are stacked against girls. Three out of four teenage girls feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.  The Keep It Real Campaign wants to change this by making one simple ask of fashion magazines: print at least one picture of a model that is not retouched in photoshop in each issue.

Last weekend I learned that the only thing worse than shopping for a bathing suit is doing so with two small children who would rather be anywhere else.  Like most American women, I have issues with my body.  I wish I were taller and thinner—my theory, by the way, has always been that if I were taller I would be naturally thinner because on a not-quite-5’3”  frame there’s just nowhere to hide an extra five pounds. I’ve never had a flat stomach (except for a brief moment in high school after a bad bout of mononucleosis) and have always looked for bathing suits that would hold in my midsection. I’ve always had large breasts that need built in support so as not to look droopy or worse spill out all over the place when I dive in.  Post-children and nearing 40, I have also added cellulite on my legs and what I believe people refer to as a “muffin top” to the list of things my bathing suits must camouflage

As always I approached bathing suit shopping with a sense of despair and at least a little self-loathing (why had I let my weight loss efforts stall last month, I’d been on such a roll).  But I’d promised my older daughter a trip to the freshly opened pool and I needed something to wear. I attempted to keep my body image issues to myself as I rejected suit after suit but given my level of disappointment, I doubt I succeeded. Three stores, two cranky kids, and an hour or so later I found a suit that worked just fine. It didn’t make me feel like a super model but it was cute enough. 

So we moved on to finding a bathing suit for my older daughter and I was struck by what a totally different experience it was for her.  We simply walked into Old Navy, found a few in shapes and patterns that looked cute, presented our 20 percent off coupon at the desk, and walked out.  Okay, there was a briefly heated discussion about why at six, she could not get the bikini with the triangle top (that seemed to be screaming, look here’s where my breast should be even though I’m at least five years from puberty) but there was no trip to the fitting room, no self-esteem squashing images in the three-way mirror, and no discussion about what she wished were different about her shape or size. 

The pessimist in me wondered when this would change because we all know that when it comes to body image and self esteem, the odds are stacked against all of our daughters. 

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My older daughter may be spared for at least a few more years because put simply she has the exact body shape for which designers seem to make clothes. Granted she’s a head shorter than most of her friends but her pre-puberty body is tiny, thin, toned, and perfectly proportioned. My younger daughter is shaped more like I was as a kid– all sway-back and belly.  She is both taller and heavier than 98 percent of the kids her age but she is not yet two and may change shape entirely within the next year or so.  I admit I worry that if she does not her bathing suit shopping experiences may resemble mine more than her sister’s. 

I remember being in the dressing room at the Children’s Place when I was about six or seven trying on a one piece bathing suit. It had a great metallic sheen, pastel pink and green stripes that ran diagonally across my body, crisscrossed straps in the back, and an Izod crocodile on the left side.  As I twirled around thinking I looked grea,t the saleswoman turned to my mom and said: “Well, she does have a tummy doesn’t she.”  Though she quickly added how cute it was, I knew this was not a compliment and never quite felt the same about that bathing suit or my tummy.

Turns out that I am not the only kid to have body images issues while still in elementary school.  According to statistics culled by the Keep It Real Campaign, 42 percent of first through third graders want to be thinner and 81 percent of ten-year-olds want to lose weight.  The stats just get worse as girls grow up; 53 percent of 13-year-olds are unhappy with their bodies and by 17 that number has grown to 78 percent. 

One obvious source of this discontent is popular culture including movies, television, and magazines that present an unattainable idea of what young women “should” look like. Today’s models do not look like the rest of us.  While twenty years ago the average fashioned model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman, today she weighs 23 percent less.  If that weren’t bad enough, once they get into print, today’s models don’t even look like themselves.  Most pictures we see in magazine are digitally retouched to make the model look even thinner or lengthen her torso or smooth out her knees and armpits. This could explain why 48 percent of teenage girls wish they were as skinny as models and three out of four teenage girls feel depressed, guilty, and shameful after spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.  

The Keep It Real Campaign wants to change this by making one seemingly simple ask of fashion magazine editors: print at least one picture of a model that is not retouched in photoshop in each issue. 

The idea for this stemmed from a May petition on created by 14-year-old Julia Bluhm.  Bluhm is a member of SPARK (Sexualization Protest, Action, Resistance, Knowledge), a group of young (ages 13 to 22) feminists started by college professors in 2010.  The group undertakes two actions per month such as demonstrations or petitions designed “to reject the commodified, sexualized images of girls in media and support the development of girls’ healthy sexuality and self-esteem.”  Recent actions have included petitioning against Lego’s new line for girls (which had them build hair salons and cupcake stores instead of robots and spaceships) and a Halloween costume called Anna Rexia. 

Bluhm’s petition explained that: “To girls today, the word ‘pretty’ means skinny and blemish-free.”  It went on to say: “Here’s what lots of girls don’t know. Those ‘pretty women’ that we see in magazines are fake.” It asked the editors of Seventeen for untouched photographs. Over 83,000 people have signed the petition as of now and it led to a meeting with the editors. Though the SPARK activists believed the meeting went well, the magazine’s staff made no promises and nothing has changed. 

Hence the three-day Keep It Real Campaign which is targeting the editors of numerous magazines read by young girls including Cosmopolitan, Lucky, Teen Vogue, and Marie Claire.  The social media campaign first asks people to join a Facebook Event page that says:

“I’m taking the Keep It Real Challenge. It’s time for the media to drop Photoshop and show real beauty.”

On the first day of the campaign (today, June 27th), participants are asked to reach out to magazine editors via tweets with messages like:

“Hey @seventeenmag will you pledge to #KeepItReal and print one unphotoshopped pic of a model per issue?”  


“Hey @Vogue, we’d love you to #KeepItReal by celebrating women’s natural beauty – including pores and freckles!”

Day two of the campaign is all about blogging (sorry if I’m jumping the gun with this article but I wanted to get the word out) and participants are asked to write about how photoshopped beauty has impacted them or someone they loved. The organizers explain:  “Use your voice and write down why you want the industry to “keep it real” in magazines.”  Participants can post their stories to their own blog or the Facebook Event wall and are urged to tweet their stories out to magazine editors as well.

The final day of the challenge is dedicated to documenting real beauty.  Participants are asked to take photos that:

“Capture the essence of what beauty means to each of us. This can be a self-portrait, a portrait of your friends or whatever else you’re inspired to share.” 

They can then share these on Instagram, Facebook, or twitter. The event organizers are partnering with Endangered Bodies to display the best photos of the day on a billboard in New York City.  (The Instagram hash tag for these pictures is #KeepItRealChallenge.)

The challenge is being sponsored by Spark, Miss Representation, LoveSocial, I Am That Girl, and Endangered Bodies, and the organizers have created a great online toolkit that provides you with everything you need to participate. 

Maybe, if we get magazines to stop relying so heavily on photoshop and presenting such truly unattainable images of women, my daughters have a fighting chance of growing up without a list of flaws that their future bathing suits must cover. Maybe the only obstacle they will face when they shop for summer suits will be their mother’s objections to bikinis.    

Culture & Conversation Media

A Q&A With ‘Never Too Real’ Author Carmen Rita Wong on Why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Ilana Masad

Rewire had a chance to chat with Wong about her experience finding a place for the work she wanted to create, and what the media often gets wrong when portraying Latina women and other women of color.

Carmen Rita Wong says the characters in her new novel, Never Too Real, are largely invisible in media, which is why she chose to tell their stories. The fictional work is about Latina women who are both struggling and successful in their various fields. Wong says she’s treating this writing project as a mission, a way to tell the story of women like her: Latina women and other women of color who exist in ways other than the stereotypes so often portrayed on television and in films.

Wong herself is a master of media: She’s written for countless outlets, been the host of her own TV show, written books on finance, and now, she’s turned to fiction.

Rewire had a chance to chat with Wong about her experience finding a place for the work she wanted to create, and what the media often gets wrong when portraying Latina women and other women of color.

Rewire: How did this novel come about?

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Carmen Rita Wong: My a-ha! moment came with my daughter; we were walking together and passed a bus stop with [a poster for] a show and she said, “Mom, that poster, all those women look like you. But why are they maids?”

My daughter’s frame of reference is very different from mine: She’s growing up more privileged and with a Black president, surrounded by family where she happens to be a blonde Latina while her cousins are Black Latinas. I waited tables alongside my mom to put myself through college, so I have a deep respect for every form of work. But it was definitely one of those things where you only see yourself reflected in one way—and that’s how I grew up, seeing Latinas being shown in one way; but this is not how I live, and not how my daughter lives, now.

That same month I was having a party, celebrating my wonderful, successful girlfriends. We all came up together, we’ve all supported each other, and we’re all women of color, mostly Latina. I looked around and wondered, how come nobody knows we exist?

So I thought, all right, you know what? Now’s the time. This has just got to get done. I’m in a position to do this, I need to do it. It was very much a mission; I didn’t approach it as a side project.

Rewire: Kirkus Reviews, a book review site, called Never Too Real a “multicultural edition of Sex and the City.” How would you characterize the book? Would you call it that?

CRW: I think that superficially that’s a nice, easy elevator pitch because there are four of these women, they’re glamorous, and they’re in New York City. I think that’s where the similarities pretty much end. The book goes a lot deeper than that. If you had to categorize it TV-wise, it’s a “dramedy”: There’s some lightheartedness, there’s some playfulness, some glamor, but it is really about real issues in your life as you try to do well, if you try to be the first generation to do better than the previous. I think that’s one of the uniting factors of these four women—they’re all … first [in their families] to be born in the United States, and grow up and finish college. And that’s an important bonding issue that makes it very different [from] Sex in the City.

Rewire: Diversity in literature is a widely-discussed issue in the literary community these days, with hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Was it hard for you to find a place for your book, to publish it?

CRW: I don’t know—hard for some people is not hard for others. Let’s just say—my agent’s probably going to kill me—but my favorite rejection from a major publisher, which actually confirmed to me that I was on the right track, was (and I have it memorized): “We are not looking for aspirational in this market at this time.”

Rewire: They called it aspirational?

CRW: Exactly. So it was mildly crushing, and then I realized—I’m on it, I am so on it. Because these publishers, who are they, and what have they published? Books by white men. Yes, those publishers are powerful, and yes, they’re rich, but they don’t get it. They don’t see it. They don’t know we exist. What is “this market,” and what is “aspirational?”

When I was coming up in media, in publishing and magazines, I would hear from people, “Carmen, we know you want to get ahead, but we just don’t know what to do with you.” And that’s code. What it really means is, “Carmen, you’re a brown girl, and we can promote this white guy or girl, but we can’t promote you. We just don’t know what to do with you.” But they would never say that to a white male. They would never say, “You know what, Bob? We just don’t know what to do with you.” So to me that rejection letter was just like that.

I remember back in the ’90s, there was a really great push of [books] like Waiting to Exhale or Joy Luck Club. There was just a lot more in fiction about successful, multigenerational, multicultural families. It just was normal and it was not considered crazy. I think there was a trend, and it just became a different trend. And then there was a push for powerful stories, but stories of only one note, for a long time in Latino fiction. I can’t read that stuff, because I lived it already. I want to read stories that make me escape or make me inspired or make me feel heard.

Rewire: In the book, you introduce women who come from all walks of life and economic backgrounds, but they’re all upper-middle-class at the time of the narrative. Going back to your daughter seeing the poster of Latina women portrayed as maids, do you find that economic diversity is what’s often missing in popular and literary culture?

CRW: My book wasn’t as calculated as that, because this is my life, and these are my friends and the people I surround myself with. I think what I saw missing in these cultures was that niche [of successful Latina women].

Latinos in popular culture … I’ve watched it be a very hard process. For example, when I was in magazines, they tried to push me to the Spanish-language property, and I’d say that I don’t primarily speak in Spanish. Why can’t I be used in the English-dominant space? Why? Give me a reason why! And they’d have to say, “Well, because you’re Latina.” So? Latinos speak English! We’re Americans! If you were Black or Latina you’d have to be in that particular space and you weren’t allowed to exist in the general market. And as we’ve seen, and as we see now, that has changed a lot.

Rewire: How so?

CRW: We have huge growth in numbers, but also too, if you look at, for example, ShondaLand, [the production company] on ABC—it’s an example of an openness to seeing and consuming media from all cultures, whether it’s music or TV. I definitely feel that things have changed, there’s a big shift and a huge push now toward inclusion.

I think with social media too, you see the pressure of people saying, for example, #OscarsSoWhite. I grew up in a time when media was controlled by a small group of people and I’ve watched it change, morph, and transform. Fifteen years ago, when I was co-chair of the Hispanic Affinity Group at Time Inc., I was saying we’re here, we consume stuff in English, and you need to pay attention to us. When the census came out [proving what I had been saying], I said, the census, look at the census!

And still the dollars didn’t come in; but when social media happened, that’s when the money started coming in. And finally people started saying, “Oh, they’re, they’re quite vocal, they exist.” [Laughs.] But our ethnicity or color shouldn’t be our only draw. We’re here and have been here. What they’re seeing shouldn’t come as such a shock.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Cable News Turned Mostly to Men to Discuss Clinton’s Historic Moment

Ally Boguhn

Even as Hillary Clinton seemed to clinch the Democratic nomination, cable news shows barely had women on to discuss this moment. Also this week, Sen. Marco Rubio announced that his political aspirations didn't end with his presidential run.

This week on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton becoming the first female presumptive nominee of a major party wasn’t enough to push cable news to bring on women to discuss it, and former presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) changed his mind about running for re-election to the Senate. 

Cable News Turns Largely to Men to Discuss ElectionEven Amid Clinton’s Historic Moment

When Clinton became the first female presumptive nominee of a major party earlier this month, cable news tapped more men than women to discuss the historic moment.

As Gender Avenger Founder Gina Glantz, Women’s Media Center President Julie Burton, and Center for American Women and Politics Director Debbie Walsh explained in a Tuesday column for USA Today:

On the day when headlines and large photos of the former secretary of State celebrated her historic role in American politics, not one woman appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File. In fact, the only time Hillary Clinton was mentioned was when Megyn Kelly speculated about the cost of her wardrobe, referred to a focus group discussing Clinton’s supposed divisiveness and considered whether President Obama’s endorsement would create a conflict of interest with the investigation of her State Department emails. 

Other cable shows did a bit—just a bit—better. On CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and the MSNBC, Fox, and CNN morning shows (Morning Joe, Fox & Friends, New Day) about one in three of the voices in their discussions were women. Only The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC hit 50%.

Gender Avenger, an organization that seeks to “build a community that ensures women are represented in the public dialog [sic]” has partnered with the Women’s Media Center and the Center for American Women and Politics to release monthly reports on how many women appear to discuss the 2016 presidential elections on some of cable news’ most-watched television programs. According to its website, the organization “monitors the highest-rated morning and evening shows on three major television news networks: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. Any guest who is not the host (or substitute host) and is asked to comment substantively on the 2016 presidential election is counted as an analyst.”

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Analyzing data from March 1 to May 31, the groups found that only CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 had roughly equivalent ratios of men and women on to discuss the election. Of the other nightly programs, only 15 percent of guests who joined Fox News’ Kelly File to talk about the presidential election were women; 33 percent of guests on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show to discuss related issues were women.

All morning programs examined had a poor ratio of men-to-women guests who discussed the election: CNN’s New Day had 31 percent women guests, Fox News’ Fox and Friends had 22 percent, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe had 24 percent.

Glantz and her co-authors explained in their column that these findings coincide with past research from the Women’s Media Center, which found that “in 2014, men reported 65 percent of all U. S. political news stories.” 

Former Republican Presidential Candidate Rubio Decides to Run for Senate Re-Election

After losing the 2016 Republican nomination for presidentand spending months of vowing he would be a “private citizen” in JanuaryRubio has decided to run to keep his Senate seat.

Admitting that he had previously expressed frustrations at the limitations of what he could accomplish in the Senate, (remember, he justified skipping Senate votes because of his “frustration” with the process), Rubio cited the importance of Florida’s position in determining which party would hold the Senate as a key factor in his decision. “Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida,” said Rubio in a press release announcing his decision. “The stakes for our nation could not be higher.”

Rubio went on to point to the 2016 presidential as another component to his decision to run for re-election, reasoning that “no matter who is elected president, there is reason for worry.”

Calling Donald Trump’s rhetoric about women and people of color “not just offensive but unacceptable,” Rubio noted that the prospect of electing the presumptive Republican nominee to the White House was “worrisome.” He also criticized Clinton, claiming that electing her “would be a repeat of the early years of the current administration, when we got Obamacare, the failed stimulus and a record debt.”

Rubio’s late-entrance into the race was not unexpected. Last week, Rep. David Jolly dropped out of the GOP primary race for the seat Rubio was supposed to be vacating, instead deciding to run for re-election to the House. Just before he announced his decision, Jolly appeared on CNN’s New Day, mentioning that “Marco is saying he is getting in [the race],” seemingly referencing rumors Rubio would be running.

The New York Times reported that Rubio has already told “colleagues and advisers that he is considering running for president again, in 2020 or 2024.” Yet Rubio told CNN today that “if my plan was to run for president in 2020, jumping into a race like this with all the political risks associated with it would not be the decision one would make.” He did not, however, explicitly rule out a presidential run.

The Florida senator’s time in the presidential race this season was marked by anti-choice positions so extreme even some Republicans questioned his electability. As Rewire previously reported, “Rubio’s anti-choice views were a key part of his platform throughout his campaign, even leading him to create an advisory board of anti-choice leaders and activists to advise his campaign on how to chip away at abortion rights.”

What Else We’re Reading

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Friday said he would vote for Clinton to “focus on defeating Republican Donald Trump,” according to CNBC.

A Moody’s Analytics analysis released Monday found that electing Trump to the presidency would hurt the economy “significantly,” leading to a nationwide recession.

“I hate the concept of profiling. But we have to start using common sense,” said Trump on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, seemingly suggesting that the United States should indeed begin profiling against Muslims.

Ann Friedman wrote in New York Magazine that the “real lesson of the Obama presidency is not that our sitting president is a failure. It’s that having a president who looks like a feminist is not enough.”

Washington Posts Glenn Kessler looked into a claim made in a recent Clinton campaign ad suggesting that the Democrat had worked across the aisle as first lady on child health programs.

Did Trump’s campaign really pay $35,000 to advertising firm “Draper Sterling” (the last names, of course, of two leading characters from Mad Men)?

Aliza Abarbanel highlighted in Elle magazine the 27.3 million Latinos who will vote this November, and what they think about the election.

Politico offered a look into a campaign finance case that could be “the next Citizens United.”


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