January 2006

Melissa Fischer

magazine whore

When Magazine Whore is Crowned Queen

At Magazine Whore’s coronation, higher standards of periodical quality will be imposed upon the kingdom. These standards will be especially auspicious for teenagers, currently made to suffer through endless pages of magazine derived nonsense only to discover that $500 mini-skirts and perfect make-up application are their periodically imposed domain. This discovery can be seen in an increasing array of titles now that women’s mags like Vogue, Elle, and Cosmopolitan have all spawned teen versions, which are mostly differentiated by their slightly tweaked consumer target, fascinations with glitter and Gwen Stefani, and unbridled use of the word "stud."

In Courtney Macavinta & Andrea Vander Pluym’s Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed, the authors include a Q & A with “top editors from two of the world’s biggest teen magazines,” with Q’s like “Why do girls in the magazines always look perfect?” The A’s give away the dirty secret that magazines are about making a “fantasy image” and that “beauty is what does sell off the racks” as opposed to realness. Basically, each of the five media myths Macavinta and Vander Pluym describe in their book make suitable subtitles for the articles and features in the December/January issues of all the teen magazines that I examined. Take CosmoGirl, for example:

Myth 1: “You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Pretty.”
See: Page 104, “Get real: makeover,” in which CosmoGirl of the Year wins a scholarship and a makeover that includes hair extensions and lots of makeup.

Myth 2: “You Must Be Popular.”
See: Page 162, “The Adventures of CG!” a manga-style cartoon in which Kevin calls ten times and Taylor is tired of being CosmoGirl’s secretary.

Myth 3: “You Need to Find Mr. Right.”
See: Page 86, the“Love Quiz,” to “Discover if the season’s stress will burn your relationship out like a candle… or if you two are as hot as chestnuts roasting on an open fire!”

Myth 4: “Life is Super Sexy.”
See: Page 126, “5 Hot New Kisses: Try Them Tonight!”

Myth 5: “Females are Eye Candy or Victims.”
See: Page 136, “Wicked Beautiful: Cast a spell at all of your holiday parties with sexy hair, shimmering makeup, and enchanting lashes -- just make sure you get your butt home before the witching hour!” Also see page 102, “She cut a hole in my prom dress!”

Despite their obviously mythological underpinnings, I was surprised to find that buried deep within the fashionable fluff and cosmetically obsessed pages of current teen magazines is some actually worthwhile content (and many studs). Using a large stack of these magazines, I found enough pages to make one issue that would come closer to meeting my standards for the genre, although some fantasizing was required: focused on creativity and individuality instead of conformity, and emphasizing accomplishments and knowledge rather than appearance and consumerism. Here is the table of contents for my vision of a perfect teen mag, culled from some existing articles as well as some Magazine Whore creations:

FEATURES
"Innocents Abroad"
Teen Vogue gets the Magazine Whore award for best journalistic content; this “My World” article is the story of two sisters whose “London sightseeing trip turned into a nightmare when terrorists bombed their subway car.” The sisters take turns relating their personal take on the events, and the result is an intimate peek at their devastating experience.

"Rock Camp"
Elle Girl’s “Real Life” installment provides information about The Willie Mae Rock Camp, a basic training “that was started in New York City last summer to encourage girls to get out there and make the rock scene less male-dominated.”

"The 17 Best Internships"
Seventeen gives its readers statistics: “45% of employers give their interns full-time jobs” as well as other details on hot internships in book publishing, technology, space, sports business, finance, journalism, engineering, fashion design, and other fields.

"2005 Born to Lead Awards"
CosmoGirl recognizes Hilary Duff for her charity and human rights work, as well as real people like the entrepreneurial card designer Chauncey Holloman, marrow donating Brittany Heck, and perfect-game pitching baseball star Katie Brownell.

REGULARS

"Class of 2008"
Elle Girl follows four teens as they make their way through high school, updating readers each month with the latest installment’s details on the triumphs, challenges, and goals that these geographically, economically, and socially diverse students experience.

"True Stories from Real Teens"
A glimpse at global Teen life with stories including “I was arrested for assault,” and “I live in a kibbutz.”

"Ask Sophi: Real Girls, Real Advice"
In this edition of Teen magazine’s Ask Sophi, advice ranges from cutting off a flirting boyfriend to dealing with parents who are opposed to interracial dating.

DIY

"Lovely Leather"
Justine magazine gives easy ‘structions on making a “kinda crafty,” custom-made hip leather cuff from a few pieces of leather and beads.

"Sew What"
Again some craftiness from Justine, creativity is inspired with blue jean bum stitching in rows of patterned x’es.

BOOKSLUT IN TRAINING

Since none of the teen 'zines have regular book features, my version has Bookslut’s Colleen Mondor at the helm of all such concerns. For this issue, she reviews Newbery Award winner Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kahadota, and Newbery Honors winner Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt. Also reviewed: Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable and Adele Griffin’s Where I Want to Be, both National Book Award finalists.

Teen magazine, however, does get an honorable mention for a one-page spread called “book report,” which includes a review of Charise Mericle Harper’s novel, Flashcards of My Life.

FANTASIES

"Journalism Camp"
This “Real Life” installment details The Judith Miller Journalism Camp, a wildly popular retreat for girls designed to encourage teens to get out there and make the journalism scene less dominated by men. Also in development are The Margaret Atwood Novelist Camp, The Jane Goodall Science Camp, and The Future Female Presidents of the United States Camp.

"Q&A with C&A"
Respect authors Courtney Macavinta & Andrea Vander Pluym field questions about the complexities of pre-womanhood and hashing out an authentic identity in a sea of media-imposed lemminghood.

Although it took a pile of teen ‘zines to uncover a collection of significant content, the fact that these periodicals had anything worthwhile at all seems somewhat encouraging. Hopefully, their editors and contributors will move toward using their power to send more messages of possibility and individuality and less of appearance-centered designations of worth.