Sunday, June 29, 2008

How to Counter Harmful Tween & Teen Magazines - Part Two

My daughters are 27 now (twins) and never acquired the habit of relying on fashion magazines for advice about life. That's not to say that they never read them! In their early teens, they read Seventeen and similar publications even though we had started New Moon magazine as an alternative to the typical girls' mags.

At first, I agonized about whether or not to let them read those magazines because I knew firsthand how damaging they were. I'd been a girl who looked to Seventeen, Ingenue, and later Glamour for instruction on how to be prettier, more popular, more confident, and all around different from who I really was.

Of course, every time I read one of those magazines I ended up feeling worse about myself instead of better. Each copy was filled with contradictory propaganda and advice. The quizzes pinpointed my personality shortcomings and the fashion spreads showed clothes I knew I'd never own. I saw myself in the "fashion crimes" photos and faithfully tried each new diet (and faithfully failed at each one). One year, most of the money I earned babysitting was spent on a secret stash of new makeup products recommended each month that were touted as so much better than what I had bought the previous month. (And I barely ever used them as I could only put them on in the bathroom at school since my parents wouldn't let me wear makeup.)

Even the advice columns made me feel inadequate since I didn't have the problems (mostly about boyfriends and I didn't have one) they gave advice about! As a mom, I obviously didn't want my daughters to be subjected to the undermining propoganda in typical girls' magazines. But the magazines are everywhere and I knew that trying to prohibit them (the way my parents had tried to ban makeup) would just lead to sneaky reading.

So when they asked for the magazines I bought them. But I didn't stop there. I also read them and talked with my daughters about them. That's what led to these strategies about how to help girls resist the harmful influence of popular tween & teen magazines.

  • Ask her what she thinks is real and unreal in each issue. It can be a game to score how much fakery there is from month to month - is the magazine getting more fake or more real?
  • Are the photos altered? (Show her this example of how photo manipulation makes an average looking woman into the fake perfection we see in magazines.)
  • Count how many of the total pages are ads (often more than 50%). What are the ads selling?
  • In its subject matter, does the magazine leave out things that she cares about and that are on her mind? What are those things?
  • Ask her what effect she thinks an article or ad is trying to have on readers.
  • Ask her how she feels (different from what she thinks) after looking at or reading an article or ad. Listen without judging or arguing about what she says.
  • Tell her how you feel (give her your feelings - angry, sad, afraid, guilty - not your thoughts) after looking at or reading a different article or ad.
  • Express your opinions (thoughts) about the articles and ads.
  • Provide her with alternative magazines like New Moon and Teen Voices by subscribing and keeping them in the house all the time. Having them available is like having healthy food in the kitchen. Even if she might always want to eat pop tarts, it's not the only food we provide!

These resistance strategies helped me stay connected to and support my daughters as they learned for themselves that they didn't want the propoganda churned out by most teen girl mags. It was a happy day for me when I noticed that they had stopped asking me to buy the magazines. After a while, I asked them about it and Nia said, "Reading those magazines made me feel so depressed. I don't need that!"

Please let me know what bothers you most about the messages in teen & tween magazines by posting a comment.

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