Could a Fashion Model Play Squash? Get Real.

Looking at the photo I took of my squash team the other night, I’m struck how healthy and in-shape everyone appears. Dare I say beautiful. Certainly happy. Our ages span thirty years, but it’s not immediately apparent into what decade each of us falls. And while I used iPhoto to crop the picture and adjust the exposure, I did nothing else. But then I wasn’t planning to put it in a magazine. . . .

Julia Bluhm outside Seventeen’s NYC offices

Two news items caught my eye last week. One about a 14 year old girl, who asked Seventeen Magazine to include at least one spread each issue of ‘real girls’—that is, photos of models untouched by image editing programs like Photoshop. She was bothered that no one she knew looked as flawless as the models did in the magazine.There were no blemishes or blotchiness or tan lines or cuts or bruises. The girls looked ‘perfect’, only it wasn’t a perfection that anyone off the pages of the magazine could attain—and when she saw the lengths to which some girls tried, she was appalled. So this wiser-than-women-twice-her-age Julia Bluhm put together an online petition, gathered thousands of signatures, and got an invite to meet with Seventeen’s editor-and-chief. So far, Seventeen has made no promises, but it’s great to know that there are young Julia Bluhms in this world who are looking at magazines (and the world) with their eyes open.

Could this model play squash?

The same week, Vogue magazine finally opened its eyes wide enough to acknowledge that teenagers as young as Julia should be heard but not seen within their pages. The editors of Vogue’s many editions announced that they would no longer hire models younger than age sixteen or who appeared to have eating disorders. As part of the announcement was a six point pact that also promised, “We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.” Kudos to Vogue. However, like Seventeen, there were no promises about not altering those images. Can a body be healthy if it’s not real?

If I was a teen girl, I’d want to look (and play) like Amanda Sobhy

And that’s why when I look at my squash teammates above in the picture of good health, I am pleased to promise you that the women are utterly, totally, unalterably real. It makes me happy to know that these strong attractive women are much more influenced by the sport they play and the images of women who play it, rather than the women they see in fashion magazines. Competitive as they are, playing a sport keeps them more honest about the shape their bodies need to be in. They can’t be underweight waifs, just as much as they can’t be carrying too many extra pounds around the court that would slow them down. Sportswomen know that nicks and cuts and bruises come with the territory, as does skin flushed from exertion. And there’s a bonus; play squash often enough and the real muscle in your legs and arms will make models jealous.

…or like Kasey Brown or Nicol David

I think it’s great that a girl is bringing attention to the fact that images of females in magazines are often digital creations and totally unattainable, and it’s about time that a reknowned fashion magazine is recognizing that grown women shouldn’t try to look like teenagers or like they only eat pictures of food. But I also think that women (and girls) need to look to more than just magazines for images of fantastic looking females. And better yet, find a sport that they enjoy and pursue it. Think how many more healthy, happy, real women there would be!

I’m somewhat of a skeptic . . . I seriously doubt that the images in most women’s magazines are going to become more ‘realistic’. The die has been cast, long long ago. I admire and applaud those seeking to change it, but I think too many people prefer flawless fantasy over their own bumpy, blotchy, bruised bodies. The thing is, you can’t live that fantasy and I for one wouldn’t want to. Keep me in the picture with my teammates; it’s an image of real women who have fun and play hard with their real bodies.

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7 Responses to Could a Fashion Model Play Squash? Get Real.

  1. Judy Gates says:

    What a wonderful article. Should be required reading material for everyone. We’re living in a time when many people are challenging the uncaring attitudes of profit-first-centered capitalism that fosters unhealthy lifestyles and unachievable body images. It’s time we all cared more about each other with individuals speaking up and with the corporate world listening, and all working together to promote healthier lives with more true beauty inside and less glitzy glamour on the outside. Thank you, Julia Bluhm, and thank you, Tracy for raising these issues in the public forum.

  2. Beth Rasin says:

    Love this blog…As Executive Director of PowerPlay NYC, a nonprofit that provides sports and life skills training to girls in NYC’s underserved communities, this message hits home. We use sports as a platform to provide girls with the competence, confidence and connectedness that is critical to healthy adolescent development. Just yesterday I was at one of our sites where the participants are elementary school girls who shared that they felt more confident after being in the PowerPlay program. It is a confidence that springs from mastering physical sports skills and being encouraged to express themselves in healthy living discussions.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tracy- thanks for this- it is wonderful- I will absolutely pass on to the StreetSquash ladies!

  4. David Uprichard says:

    Lovely article…thanks for sharing! (and I speak as the father of an athletic 14 year old girl).

  5. Ted Conover says:

    Yes, excellent post, T. Gates! (My volleyball-playing daughter is 15. This made me want to expose her to women’s squash, as well.)

  6. Rob Sandefur says:

    Great commentary, Tracy. As the uncle of a once beautiful, healthy and athletic young woman who is now suffering the ravages of anorexia, I can’t possibly overstate the damage these fashion magazines inflict on girls (and sometimes, boys) navigating the tricky path through adolescence. Assaulted at every turn by twisted images of body “perfection”, how are young woman ever to recognize what it means to be healthy?

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