Puberty is a time of firsts. First bra, first period, and first magazines. I was initiated into the world of women’s media by such stellar titles as Sugar, Mizz, Bliss and Seventeen. They came with free lip-gloss that smelled of cherry and free advice that whiffed of bullshit.
A particular article that sticks in my mind was about how to stalk the guy you fancied. It even had a little chart where you could write down every place you spotted him so you could ‘get to know him better’. The rest of the pages were filled with ‘people who you will never ever look like’ and ‘embarrassing stories’ that nearly always involved tampons falling out of pencil cases.
I may have got through puberty, but young women are still being let down by teen magazines.
This month Vogue launched a younger sister publication, ‘Miss Vogue’.
I’m not sure which article was worst – the one about dating a rock star’s son (“superficial luxuries such as first-class flights, backstage passes and event invitations – things that shouldn’t matter in the least – became the things by which I began to define myself”) or the ‘trend’ piece about wearing crowns (“As it turns out, “birthday-party girl” is totally a “thing”. Whenever I wear a crown, people actually treat me like it’s some special day”).
An article about what to wear as an intern touched a particular nerve. I’m not sure how many (unpaid) interns can afford £240 bags, or why the bag you’re swinging on your arm is of much importance when you’re doing menial jobs for no money.
Miss Vogue underestimates the intelligence and creativity of teenage women by offering nothing new or challenging. Reading Miss Vogue would make my teenage self feel bored and fat. Reading Miss Vogue makes my 21 year-old self feel bored and fat.
It makes me angry in a ‘why am I reading this’ kind of way, but it also makes me sad.
Near the back of the magazine come interviews with teenagers. They discuss body image issues, with one young woman saying, “it’s absolutely got to do with seeing images in the media - the actresses, the models and the singers who are held up as being beautiful; they do often fit into a certain mould and a certain way of looking. And it’s very difficult not to compare oneself with them.”
That’s pretty poignant coming after pages and pages of skinny actresses, models and singers who look fresh off the conveyor belt.
Look at any poll ever to do with teenage body perception and ‘images in the media’ will rank pretty highly when it comes to damaging factors. But instead of listening to and addressing the issues faced by their own readers, teen magazines continue to pump out the same poison. A flick through Miss Vogue and a whizz around the websites of my old Mizz, Bliss and co show me that nothing much has changed. Just like when I was younger the models are skeletal and the advice is banal.
That Alexandra Shulman will be making a documentary revealing the artifice behind the fashion industry is to be welcomed, but why not tackle the artifice itself? What’s the use of handing young women a shovel if the bullshit just keeps coming? There is nothing wrong with being a teenager who is interested in fashion and who wants to read magazines. I was one myself. But teen magazines are so off the mark that they do nothing more than mess with impressionable minds.
My teenage years were when I started to become the person I was going to be. I needed as much help as I could get to figure out who I was and to feel confident in my skin. Reading teen magazines was like getting kicked in the back of the knees for every step I took.
I bought Miss Vogue on the same day as my little sister’s second birthday. Right now she seems a long way away from magazines (she can’t actually read). But there will probably come a day when she’ll take at least some sort of notice to the clothes she puts on in the morning.
I just hope the fashion industry grows up as quickly as she does.