ohmahgawd an actress! let's look up to her!
I’ll be honest: I have my issues with Seventeen Magazine. It’s not just that most of the magazine revolves around a traditional and restrictive definition of beauty and their idea of “health” still revolves around dieting and working out in order to achieve your “best body ever.” My biggest problem is what the magazine overall promotes as being important to its readership of teen girls. Are we really just obsessed with how to impress the guy we like and what celebrities are up to? (No, hence, the FBomb exists). And even when “real” issues are brought up – like eating disorders or sex – they’re non-committedly grazed over (Again, oh hey, FBomb).
That being said, I think Seventeen has been making some really great improvements lately. As a feminist, it’s easy to become wrapped up in criticizing everything out there, especially since there’s a lot of stuff that sucks and deserves to be criticized. Not to mention that Seventeen is a relatively easy target. But I think, and I always have thought, that it’s really important to applaud progress, especially so that other institutions (in this case, other media targeted at teen girls) can take note.
One great, relatively recent feature of Seventeen is Jess Weiner’s column on positive body image. I saw Jess Weiner speak at the Endangered Species Conference this past spring (where I spoke about teen girls and body image) and was struck by, plain and simple, how awesome she is. It made me realize that there is a lot of validity to fighting the media from the outside (i.e. speaking against it, petitioning against it, blogging about it), but it’s also incredibly necessary to fight it from the inside, by creating change within the institution, which is what Jess is doing. Sure, Seventeen still has it’s issues, but you can’t go from zero to a beautifully feminist, body accepting magazine overnight. And between Jess’ column, the attempts to present fashion in terms of different body types and other improvements, I think Seventeen’s moving in the right direction. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
Another thing that caught my attention recently is Seventeen’s Pretty Amazing Contest. Basically, Seventeen is devoting their October 2011 cover to a “real” girl (you know, not an actress promoting her latest movie) voted for by their readers. When I first heard about the contest I was (of course) a little skeptical. Entrants had to submit photos, so I figured they’d just choose the prettiest girls and spin some stories about them. But I’ve got to say, in looking at the finalists, I’m actually pretty impressed. These girls have done some seriously awesome things! I personally voted for Zoe, a 19-year-old self-made entrepreneur.
Honestly, in my humble opinion, all of these candidates have done more legit things in the world than any of the actresses or models featured on Seventeen’s cover in the past. Maybe this is just a marketing ploy (they partnered with Neutrogena to make this happen, after all) but I don’t even care – I think this is awesome. Being able to vote for real girls who have done awesome things is a huge improvement on the usual actress-promotes-herself model.
So, fuck yeah Seventeen! Yes, you could still improve on the whole lack of diversity, generally present heterosexism, and yes, still narrowly defined definitions of beauty and kind of shallow themes that emerge in the magazine as a whole. But you’re improving, and that deserves to be recognized.