Back when you and I were kids, girls read Seventeen magazine hoping to learn how to look and good get a date. Today, even with cable and the internet, young girls still turn to Seventeen, Cosmo Girl and Teen Vogue (and their websites) with the same hopes. Girls today have many more life opportunities than they did a generation ago, so why are their most widely-read magazines still in a hyper-sexualized, hyper-consumerism time warp?
Because they care about making money off our daughters, while giving only cynical lip service to caring about their best interests and well-being.
The big-name “teen” girl magazines are driven by ads, which fill 75% of the pages. Ad sales drive the publisher’s profits. This translates to lots of articles about doing just about anything to get a boy’s attention, fads, fashion, makeup, music, movies, celebrities and deluge of “must-buy” products. Both ads and articles prey upon a girl’s normal desire to be popular and attractive, telling our daughters and stepdaughters that they are lacking and need those “must-buy” products to fit in or measure up.
Don’t underestimate the brainwashing effects when those messages are repeated over and over. Numerous studies show a drop self-confidence and healthy body image after only a few minutes of reading fashion and beauty magazines. Then, remember that 17-year-olds wouldn’t be caught dead reading Seventeen; they’ve moved on to Cosmopolitan. Seventeen as its sorry sisters aim their toxins at girls as young as 9 and 10.
How can we protect girls from these hostile messages? Ban the magazines? I don’t advocate that, even though our daughters eventually banned Seventeen themselves, because they felt depressed after reading it. Tween and teen girls need to make such decisions themselves. Rather than turning Cosmo Girl into forbidden fruit, try this:
- Read her magazines so you can converse casually (not lecture her!) about them.
- Tell her ahead of time at what age you will allow her to read certain magazines.
- Look critically at the adult magazines you read and their effects on you and her.
- Ask her what articles and ads she liked in each issue and why. Listen for her underlying emotional needs and think about other ways you can help her meet them.
- Educate yourself on how advertising and media images are manipulated with Photoshop® and other techniques. Show her the short film “Evolution”.
- Ask her what she thinks is real and unreal in each issue and why.
- Ask her what effect she thinks an article or ad is trying to have on readers.
- Express your opinions (after listening to hers) about the articles/ads.
- Provide her with alternatives like New Moon Girls (www.newmoon.com) and Teen Voices (www.teenvoices.com), even if she doesn’t ask for them. It’s like stocking the kitchen with healthy snacks, even if she begs only for chips and soda.
- Cut up images and words from old magazines with her to create articles and ads with respectful, nurturing messages. Compare them to the usual fare.
Most important, keep the communication lines open and trust that feeding her “father hunger” is the best way you can help her mature, gain self-confidence, and ultimately find shallow, hyper-sexualized magazines less interesting.
Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.