SPARK-ing Change

07 May

May is here! And while it may not look like it here in lovely old Minnesota, I have definitely noticed the change in my own little slice of the tumblrverse. The two young women behind have just finished their month-long challenge to live the way the authors of Seventeen and Teen Vogue tell them they should, and the journey was pretty remarkable.


Our fearless authors, YingYing and Alice

Alice and YingYing are teen activists working with the organization SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge), a grassroots movement that works to end the sexualization of young women and girls in the media. SPARK was created in response to the report published by the American Psychological Association’s Taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls, which called for more research into the effects of sexualization on girls and boys, as well as for increased education and advocacy about these effects. And if you haven’t heard of the organization itself, there is a good chance that you have heard of the work that they’ve done: SPARK activists were behind the protest that pulled the costume “Anna Rexia” from shelves (beware, the link contains images of the costume itself, which carries a trigger warning for eating disorders and mental illness), have sent petitions urging Seventeen and other magazines to stop photoshopping their models, and have met with representatives from LEGO to discuss the problems with their new line of toys marketed toward girls, the LEGO Friends series.


April 2013 Cover of Seventeen Magazine

For the challenge, Alice and YingYing focused on a different aspect of their respective magazine’s content in each week: beauty in the first, health and fitness in the second, fashion in the third, and life in the fourth and final week. Alice lived by the advice of Seventeen, while YingYing followed Teen Vogue.


The April 2013 Cover of Teen Vogue

What was fascinating for me was watching many of the historical and sociocultural themes we have discussed over these past five weeks in class appear in the pages of these magazines. Especially the idea of the internal gaze, ever present in the styling and advice in the articles.


“SURPRISE! Seventeen Magazine is Heteronormative!” – Alice

Within the framework of what Kathy Davis called “acceptable femininity,” what is it that creates and controls this femininity? If we assume that what is acceptable has been defined by the white, cissexual, heterosexual and able-bodied men, what is it that enforces these norms? Susan Bordo writes that power works from below, through self correction and a self correction, internalized and invisible in our selves. Projects like 17teenvoguechallenge make this internalized gaze explicit. A feeling of dread before you face the mirror, the loneliness of going to Prom alone, the despairing feeling you get in the fluorescent lit dressing room – all of these are embodiments of that internal gaze, critiquing and policing us in our everyday lives. Alice and YingYing’s deeply personal journey was a way for all of us to examine the way that magazines like Seventeen and Teen Vogue reinforce that internal gaze.

“I gave my body to Seventeen magazine and it feels awful. I’m not hungry or sore. I feel as if they’re looking me in the eye saying, ‘you have no excuse not to have a perfect body! If you don’t have flat abs it’s because you lay on the couch and relaxed while watching your favorite show. You could have been doing jumping jacks during the commercial breaks!’

…Seventeen magazine feels toxic in my hands. Last week it felt a ridiculous… Now I feel its power to destroy.” – Alice

SPARK’s mission is to combat the harm done on young women and girls by the sexualization of their bodies in the media – to turn and face full on the gaze that always seems to be watching. I appreciate that. And I only wish that a message like the one extolled by the 17teenvoguechallenge – that everything the media told me to be, that vision of teen perfection – is unattainable.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


One response to “SPARK-ing Change

  1. fantinio

    May 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Wow, this is such an interesting post, I hadn’t heard of the Seventeen/Vogue challenge before. Maybe it’s just a matter of brain proximity, but this post brought up a lot of thoughts from our class discussion on Barbie and other toys from last class. First, both Barbie and these magazines teach girls and teens to exercise a heightened awareness to their bodies, and teach them to expect and strive for unrealistic outcomes. These two products share a sense of self-consciousness and awareness of the male gaze, reinforcement of heteronormativity, white beauty standards, and the privileging of aesthetics over internal accomplishments, to name just a few themes that have come up in class and in my head throughout this course, and that sucks, so then I got myself asking “why is this the way things work? Why is it so common for media and toys directed at young women to represent these detrimental themes?”

    In answer to this question I found myself blaming capitalism and consumerism and thinking that I am simply asking for too much from a business whose main goal is to make money. Seventeen and Vogue are in the business of making a profit, not social activism, education, or empowerment, and a huge aspect of that is advertising and often problematic mass-appeal. Likewise, Mattel is a business trying to make money through selling the most attractive and irresistible product it can create. So this got me thinking about consumerism and morals, and at first I was riding the “pessimistic-but-realistic” bus of thought, arguing to myself that it makes sense that businesses in a capitalist, consumer culture would have no morals except to earn money… but then I got on the “even-more-pessimistic, why-doesn’t-the-world-work-this-other-way” bus when I got to thinking back to Bill Imada’s talk, and the DOVE female empowerment commercials, and I realized that “yeah, okay so sex sells, but empowerment and validation also sells.”

    I get that our society, to a certain extent, is built on systems of oppression and a history which has negated the worth of certain identities for centuries, and any revolutionary turn-around in the works is destined to take a long time, but I still can’t help wanting more, better, change, and feeling like the only bus I’m riding now is the struggle bus.


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