A 14-year-old girl from Waterville has convinced more than 7,000 people to sign her online petition aimed at persuading Seventeen Magazine to do more to promote positive body images among its young readers.

Julia Bluhm wrote the petition that went online April 19 at Change.org and had garnered more than 7,000 signatures by Monday. In it, Bluhm asks Seventeen Magazine to commit to printing “one unaltered — real — photo spread per month. I want to see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.”

Bluhm’s petition comes in the wake of Glamour Magazine’s recent decision to stop altering photos of models to make them appear slimmer.

Bluhm, an eighth-grade ballet dancer, said in her petition letter that Photoshopped or altered images of women in magazines can be “hurtful” to girls whose appearance might not match the pictures.

“Girls want to be accepted, appreciated and liked. And when they don’t fit the criteria, some girls try to ‘fix’ themselves. This can lead to eating disorders, dieting, depression and low self-esteem,” wrote Bluhm. “To girls today, the word ‘pretty’ means skinny and blemish-free. Why is that, when so few girls actually fit into such a narrow category? It’s because the media tells us that ‘pretty’ girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin.

“Here’s what lots of girls don’t know,” Bluhm went on. “Those ‘pretty women’ that we see in magazines are fake. They’re often Photoshopped, air-brushed, edited to look thinner and to appear like they have perfect skin. A girl you see in a magazine probably looks a lot different in real life.”

In response to requests for comments on the petition, Seventeen Magazine released a statement late Monday that read: “Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves. We feature real girls in every issue and every girl can find herself in our pages: there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity. Most of all we applaud achievement, positive attitude and inner strength.”

Bluhm, at her young age, has already been active in advocating against the sexualization of women and girls through a girl-led national group called SPARK Movement. She is one of 20 “team activists” from around the country who brainstorm online about issues that affect them and ways to bring about positive change.

Bluhm had blogged about altered images in magazines on Sparksummit.com before contacting Change.org about creating a petition.

“Julia is amazingly mature for her age, and I’ve been blown away with her for a long time. When she wrote that letter, it was very honest and authentic,” said Dana Edell, executive director of SPARK Movement. “When she blogged about this, a lot of us thought it might make a good petition.”

Shelby Knox, a senior campaigner with Change.org in New York, said Bluhm contacted her through Facebook about doing a petition on this subject. Both Knox and Edell said they helped Bluhm edit the letter. Knox said every time a letter is signed online, it is sent to Seventeen.

Soon after the letter was posted, it began attracting signers who also wrote notes of encouragement. Knox said it didn’t take long for staffers at Change.org to realize the petition could have a real impact, so they decided to notify media nationally to help make more potential signers aware of it.

Knox said Change.org — a group that provides an online platform for petitions seeking a wide range of changes and reforms — posts thousands of petitions every day, and many attract only a handful of signers.

But a recent petition from other members of SPARK Movement – asking the LEGO company to rethink their female character pieces – got 50,000 signatures and convinced LEGO to have a meeting to discuss the issue.

Lyn Mikel Brown, a Colby College professor of education who helped found SPARK Movement, isn’t surprised by Bluhm’s petition or its success so far.

“I think what’s amazing about Julia is she started getting really involved in this topic at such a young age,” Brown said. “For someone so young to be involved with something so time-consuming and ongoing is really impressive.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]