How to read a fashion magazine with your daughter

Cover of an issue of Seventeen magazineTeens are surrounded by images of perfected faces and bodies. Not perfect, but perfected – by stylists, lighting, camera angles, and of course Photoshop. Many teens now have access to this type of technology, and some have even altered photographs of themselves. But they’re not professional touch-up artists, and they may not be aware of the extent to which photos of models and celebrities – and the people themselves – have been edited before appearing in the pages of their favorite magazines.

Teen girls and boys are both exposed to these types of images, and numerous studies (here’s one) have shown that reading fashion and fitness magazines can make young people of both genders more concerned with physical appearance and eating behaviors. In this post, I’ll focus on girls and fashion magazines. How can you help a young woman ‘read’ such images critically? Here are some conversation starters.

“How many people do you think helped her get ready?” Encourage your daughter to think about all the professionals on a photo shoot and their jobs: hair, makeup, lighting, photography, fans (if the model’s hair is blowing), and styling of clothing (assuming the outfit has no wrinkles). Then ask her how many hours she thinks it might have taken all these people to get the one shot they used. A great visual to use is Jamie Lee Curtis’ “True Thighs” photo shoot.

“What do you think she looked like in the shots that were thrown out?” When a photographer is ‘shooting’ a celebrity, the camera clicks constantly as the subject poses and smiles over and over. The model is surely blinking and making less-than-beautiful faces in many of them. Encourage your daughter to take a bunch of photos in quick succession of someone smiling and then not smiling, and see how many it takes to get one ideal image in which every element looks its best.

“What parts of the photo were probably edited in Photoshop?” In fashion magazines, nearly every photo is retouched, and dozens of websites feature unedited photos side-by-side with the final product: celebrity close-ups and full-body shots. Another useful site is this one by a professional retoucher, which lets you mouse over an image to see the original photo.

Encourage your daughter to find more information online about what size a typical model wears, compared to an average, healthy girl of her age. Point out media images of strong women such as athletes, and talk about what they likely eat to fuel their bodies. By helping your daughter to develop critical awareness of images in the media, you can bolster her own self-image and encourage her to feel strong and beautiful in the face of media messages that suggest otherwise.