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'Watch Us!': Teen Girls Taking on the World and Making an Impact

03/19/2013 12:02 am 00:02:58 | Updated May 18, 2013

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A Q&A with SPARK teen activists Julia Bluhm (15) and Izzy Labbe (14) who took on Seventeen magazine over photoshopping model's images and secured a commitment from the magazine to stop. They spoke at TEDxWomen at the end of 2012.

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How did your moms support you during your exchange with Seventeen?

Julia: My mom is always very positive and calm and helps me figure out problems, helps me be organized and focused. It was my responsibility to handle things, but she was there as my backup to help me and even took time off from work to travel with us to New York. She reminded me that we had come a long way and that no matter how it turned out, that I needed to stay committed. When it came to people who disagreed with us or didn't take us seriously, she helped me not pay attention to them.

Izzy: My mom treats me like an equal, and has always listened to my ideas. She said, "I trust you, I know you know what you're doing, you're capable of doing this." She genuinely supported my cause. She said not to listen to people who don't agree with me, or I won't get anything done! She also helped me focus on the every day of living a regular life and going to school. It's easy to sit on the computer all night and give talks and forget that you're in school and have a life. She's teaching me how to start saying no.

What motivated you to focus on this issue with Seventeen?

Izzy: As our friends started going through puberty and their bodies were changing, we saw many of them begin to dislike their bodies and compare themselves to girls in magazines. These were girls we'd known since childhood and seeing them spiral into low self esteem made us so sad.

Julia: There is so much pressure from the media to be thin and good-looking. I'm also a ballet dancer, and in that world, dancers are under even greater pressure -- so many have low self esteem about their bodies.

What about your family life and upbringing gave you the courage to take on a huge media company?

Izzy: When I told my Dad, I didn't know how he'd respond to it, but he was like, "go get them, that sounds like an awesome idea!" My family got behind it because they love me and support me, but also because they felt it was an important issue in our society.

Julia: I've always brought up that I could do whatever I set my mind to. This issue is such a big deal and they could see that something needed to be done.

What hopes do you have for adolescent girls in the U.S. and abroad?

Izzy: It's good that we have groups who are fighting against the sexualization of girls, but ultimately we don't want those groups to have to exist. At least girls can see other girls standing up to issues and know that they can make a difference.

Julia: I want girls to feel like their voices matter and to know they can help change things. It's important that we have more people who believe they can do something.

Girls must question the media: we must push back on the idea you have to be thin, have straight hair, light skin, no acne. It's inaccurate and stupid. If girls can learn to say that doesn't make any sense, everyone has flaws, if they can see what's real, we will be making progress.

What advice do you have for others who would like to become champions for girls?

Izzy: When adults see kids do things, some get scared and belittle you. They say things like, "You can't do that you're 14. Or, "you can't do that you're a girl." When you realize you're not doing it for them, but for the people who need it, you can make a difference no matter what others think. That's when you start to get stuff done.

You can be the one who sees something really wrong in the world and instead of sitting by, you can decide to do something about it.

Julia: And get involved in a youth leadership organization in your community like SPARK to give you support and resources! There's power when you do things as part of a team.

A lot of people think that young people, especially girls, can't have much impact on their communities. What would you say to those people?

Julia: I would say "watch us!" See how much the SPARK team has done and other teen activist organizations. It's not true that teenage girls can't make a difference.

Izzy: To all of those people who say "you can't do this" -- instead of wasting your time to fight against them, the best way is to just do it.

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