The fresh perspective and energy of young hearts and minds has often led to inventions and efforts that have literally changed the world. This is one in a series of articles profiling people who have done just that before their 18th birthday. Our hope is that they will remind you that because of continual progress in education and technology, today’s teens have amazing power and potential to make our lives better in so many ways.
When you see a TV commercial for shampoo or look at a sports magazine, how do you feel? Do images of women with shiny, flowing hair and guys with chiseled six-pack abs make you think, “Hey, there I am!” or “Oh, I wish I could look like that”? If we’re honest, most of us would probably choose the second response.
Hyper-perfect, digitally enhanced images of models and celebrities have a lot of power to influence the way we feel about ourselves. We’ve all experienced their effect at some point.
As a ballerina, Julia Bluhm from Waterville, Maine, had heard many of her fellow teen dancers speak negatively about themselves and their bodies. From her friends’ reactions and her work as a blogger for SPARK, a self-proclaimed “girl-fueled activist movement,” Julia recognized the critical need for positive, realistic depictions of girls in the media.
“I’ve always just known how Photoshop can have a big effect on girls and their body image and how they feel about themselves,” Julia said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “You need to see something realistic … a reflection of what truly represents a teenage girl nowadays.”
Julia decided to take action.
In April 2012, when she was 14 years old, Julia and her friend Izzy Labbe took on Seventeen magazine. They created a petition at Change.org asking Seventeen to print one unaltered photo spread each month. To their surprise, only days after it was posted, more than 25,000 people had signed their petition.
The following month, Julia was invited to New York to appear on CNN and “ABC Nightline.” While in the city, she and other SPARK members staged a mock protest at Seventeen magazine’s headquarters. The protest and the petition—which totaled more than 86,000 signatures by that time—caught the attention of Seventeen magazine’s then editor-in-chief, Ann Shoket, who invited Julia and her mother to her office to talk about her concerns.
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While all of these occurrences could be called success, the big victory came in August, when Seventeen issued a Body Peace Treaty, signed by the magazine’s staff, which included vows to “never change girls’ body or face shapes,” and “always feature real girls and models who are healthy.”
Julia changed the world by turning her passion for seeing truthful images of girls in the media into a purpose. So what are you passionate about? How would you like to change the world?
Once you identify your passion, the next step is to take the next step. But what is that? Julia shared some activist advice at ideas.ted.com:
- Join a youth leadership organization or teen activist group. Trying to change the world on your own is difficult. By joining an organization, you’ll get support from people with the same interests as you and you’ll learn more about the issues you’re passionate about.
- Use online resources. Start searching the Internet for information about your activist passion. There’s probably more out there than you realize.
- Talk to people about what matters to you. You have a voice, and what you say about things that matter to you may help someone else. As Julia said, “You might feel like a know-it-all at first, but if we all get involved, then it won’t feel so weird.”
Lastly, Julia had some words of wisdom for those of us who were teenagers some time ago:
“Teenagers offer a lot. A lot of times, people think of teenagers as not caring, and that’s a big mistake. We do care … we just don’t know where to start. What’s important for adults to know is that we are passionate about these issues, we care, and adults can help by giving us the resources to make a difference.”
No matter our age, we all have a part to play in changing the world. Teenagers are not too young and adults are not too old. Really, if we all worked together, how much more could we accomplish?
Featured Image – Spark