Dear Daughter, Please Don’t Ever Measure Yourself Against the Fake Perfectionism of Magazine Covers

“That’s airbrushed sweetie… she doesn’t really look like that,” I say to my seven-year-old.

“Yes, I see that picture. Yes, the one on the cover of the magazine. Yes, she does look pretty. And she has on exercise clothes – yup, she exercises – that’s very good for her.

Well, I want to show you something about that picture. Imagine that we took a picture of you, put it on the computer and used that app where you can stretch yourself out. Only we didn’t do it a lot so it was funny, we just did it a little so you looked like yourself, only taller. Then, because your hair isn’t brushed, we used that paintbrush tool and painted over the part that is sticking up over here. We painted it the same color as the background so you couldn’t even tell it had ever been there. And see that freckle? Well, we’ll color over that with skin color so you can’t see it. And your scar from falling off of your bike? Yup, we’ll get rid of that too. And then imagine that we printed it out and told people that it was you. Only it really wasn’t, was it? Not the real you.

The people who make the magazines basically take whiteout and make anything that they think looks good go away – like the freckles and spots on Mommy’s face. They’d get rid of those. Then, you know how Mommy has some extra skin over here, around her waist? Well, they’d white that out too. Then I’d look really skinny. The people who make the magazines do that a lot – they take some of the sides off so the people on the covers look skinny. They’d probably also make Mommy’s eyebrow – the one on this side over here – look a little higher up too since Mommy’s eyes aren’t exactly even. Then they’d tell people it was really me, but I wouldn’t actually have changed myself at all. It would just be a pretend picture of me.

That’s what the people in those magazines are – they’re pretend pictures of people. It’s called airbrushing sweetie and it means that they changed the picture with a computer until the girls look thinner or like they have more muscles. Sometimes they take off scars and tattoos and wrinkles. But, the point, my dear daughter, is that those women don’t really look like their pictures. In real life, they look at lot more like the Mommies you see at the gym – the ones that work out, but still have some extra skin that shakes a little when they wave. They have the bumps on the back of their legs too and the lines in their foreheads, they just don’t show up in the picture.

Why, you ask? Well, remember when we talked about how companies want you to buy the things they’re selling? The people who make the magazines want you to buy the magazines, right? So they think that if they put a picture of how a person really looks in the magazine, people won’t want to buy it, because who wants to look at someone else with bumps on their legs and extra skin on their arms?

See, the people who work for the magazines have two jobs:

They want you to see beautiful people in beautiful clothes so that you’ll want to buy the magazine. There this thing called aspirational marketing that basically means that people buy the magazine because they want to look like the people in the pictures. It’s kind of hard to understand, but you know how you think that Sage is really cool because she paints and rides horses? And you think it would be really cool to paint out in the desert like she does? Well would you like to buy a book that showed her painting out in the desert wearing a really cute outfit – maybe that pretty sweater that she has with your boots? Yes? Well, it’s kind of like that. You want to buy the book because you think it would be fun to do what she’s doing in the picture on the cover of the book. That’s how magazines work – people want to buy them because they want to look like, or dress like, or be like the people in the pictures.

The second part is that when more people buy the magazine, the advertisers – the people who put the ads in the magazines – have to pay more to put those ads in the magazine. That’s confusing? I know, it is. The magazine wants to sell the magazine to you, but they actually make more money from the ads – the ones that show perfume, clothes, vacation places – than they do from people like you and me buying the magazine.

Can you read them? Yes, you can definitely read the magazines when you’re older – Mommy does sometimes and a lot of them have good stories in them. Just try to remember when you see them, that they are trying to sell you something. And that many of the pictures aren’t real. In real life, almost no one really looks that skinny or has skin that has no freckles or moles. Think of the pictures like art, sweetie, a picture that someone made it up that isn’t completely real.”

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