Last week, I signed an online petition that captured my heart as a spa professional.
This past May, Julia Bluhm, a 14 year old from Maine asked Seventeen Magazine to stop airbrushing photos to make models appear thinner and blemish-free. Seventeen's editor in chief, Ann Shoket, responded in the August issue by vowing never again to alter girls' bodies or faces, giving young Miss Bluhm more than she had asked for. Just like that!
After that victory, SPARK, an advocacy group to eliminate the sexualization of young women approached Teen Vogue with the same request. The group stated that they want to see 'real, unaltered girls of all shapes, races, hair textures, and ability' and 'are concerned about how altered images impact girls' self-esteem'. After gathering 45,000 signatures and being featured on CNN, CBS and in the New York Times they had a sit down with Teen Vogue Editor-In-Chief Amy Astley which lasted all of five minutes. She sent them packing with copies of Teen Vogue in their hands telling them to "go do your homework."
Well, sweet Baby Jesus take the wheel! Aside from a major "aha" moment the response from Ms. Astley almost made my head explode. I felt sympathy for and kindred with those young girls from SPARK. Like me they wanted to see real women of all nationalities reflected. For them, it's on the pages of Teen Vogue; for me, it's in the esthetic training manuals. How dare we presume to suggest that another type of beauty exists, even if it mirrors 80% of the world's women? I immediately had a sense of 'déjà vu'; she sounded dismissive like so many spa directors and owners I'd approached throughout my years in the beauty industry. My mind flashed back to Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly musing about her new size 6 assistant in Devil Wears Prada, "I decided to take a chance, and hire the smart fat girl". It hit me that the same tired Eurocentric mindset that heralds a blond haired blue eyed, gluteus challenged Barbie lookalike as the standard bearer of beauty is the same mindset which has also justified and sanctioned the disregard for brown skin expertise in the spa industry.
But my aha moment also included this thought; that the same limited standard which so many aspire to and so very few reach (and maintain) is the same catalyst which causes so many women acute unhappiness with themselves and their bodies, pushing them to exhibit extreme behavior.
As a seventeen year veteran in the esthetic industry I have certainly borne witness to the madness that takes over when chasing the fountain of youth but I never connected the dots to the fashion industry. Colleagues, who apply acidic solutions to their skin far too frequently in an effort to retain a pore less unblemished visage; twenty-something's purchasing micro-current facial packages to stimulate the muscles into even more rigidity for hyper firm skin. I've seen self inflicted juice fasting for weeks at a time to achieve the perfect skinny jean body. I've rehydrated skin that's fried and baked in an effort to simulate a bronzed glow. I've ordered thirty year olds to cease and desist from overuse of products meant for post-menopausal women "because there are more active ingredients".
The prevailing standard of beauty is sending a message to every woman either directly or subliminally , and that is- we're never white enough, thin enough, glossy enough, taut enough or ultimately good enough.
Whenever you try to foster change in any industry that is driven by economics you must inevitably justify and then quantify the change for the power brokers. After all, money talks and everything else is moot, or so many people would have us believe. But somehow my mind keeps going back to my childhood and hearing my parents tell me that you shouldn't always expect to get paid for everything that you do. And you always do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. The earth will not stop turning if Teen Vogue has a little chubby girl modeling the latest boots. Estheticians around the world will not turn to stone if they are taught how to perform an extraction on brown skin. In both cases having a more open minded globally real perspective will lead to a healthier outlook and more profitability for everyone involved. Just like that.
Linda Harding-Bond is President of Moontide Consulting, and specializes in ethnic skin training
from a global perspective. www.Lindatheskindiva.com