On June 27, 1693, the first women's magazine in history was printed. It was in 17th century England that the Ladies Mercury came onto the scene. Its publication was a milestone in the history of written press, becoming the first magazine dedicated entirely to women.
However, it wasn't until 1944 that Helen Valentine, an American, founded the first magazine made exclusively for teenage girls, Seventeen. "It was time to treat children as adults"—this was the slogan that prompted Valentine to reach out to this segment of the population that had previously been neglected.
Nowadays, we can find a wide variety of magazines on newsstands all over the world that are dedicated to beauty, love, and health. All these magazines contain aggressive advertising where shopping and glamour dominate most of the pages.
The publishers of these magazines tend to protect their sales by maintaining certain social norms, since it is easier to maintain roles that have been established for decades, perpetuating traditional stereotypes that objectify women and take away their ambition.
Many magazines, which began with good intentions, offering various takes on things like what books to read and movies to watch, have been pulled into trends over time—instead, publishing more frivolous articles that seem to sell better.
That's why graphic designer Katherine Young’s 2016 initiative is commendable. She took the cover of the American Girls' Life magazine and completely reworked it. Some of the radical changes were:
- Instead of placing a retouched, made-up actress Olivia Holt, known for her roles on the Disney Channel, on the cover, she suggested featuring Olivia Hallisey, winner of the last Google Science Fair Grand Prix.
- Instead of "The Hair of Your Dreams," she suggested talking about "The Career of Your Dreams."
- Instead of talking about "100+ ways to make an impact on day one with fall fashion," she suggested "100+ ways to help others in your community."
- Instead of a quiz on “how to get a boyfriend," she presented a quiz on “how to create an application that gets you into college."
Girls' Life also featured titles such as "The First Kiss" and "Waking Up Beautiful," which were changed to "Waking Up and Eating a Healthy Breakfast" and "The First Mistake and How to Recover."
As can be expected, Katherine caused an uproar by going against the trend of covering trivial topics. Knowing the value of the media in transmitting values and beliefs, she made people think on a deeper level.
What did she hope to accomplish with her original women's magazine? She hoped to shake up readers’ critical thinking and influence public opinion. Today, we feel comfortable and don't think about whether something is appropriate or not because we are surrounded by these sorts of things. It all seems normal to us. But sometimes, we have to go against the grain.
It's been six years since Young's initiative, and it doesn't seem like things have changed, either in Girls’ Life or in other similar magazines. And I wonder… is it that there is no interest in other topics, or is it that the teenage girls who buy these magazines are specifically looking for this kind of more “casual” content in order to free themselves from their own problems and the busyness in their own lives?
It's paradoxical, then, that with the prevailing feminist opinion, where the goal is to break the norms of a patriarchal society, we continue to consume this sort of content that tends to represent women as mere consumer objects.
Perhaps the key to change lies in the Seventeen magazine’s founder’s statement: "Treat children as adults." Perhaps the solution lies in respecting every stage of life; but at the same time, it may be a good idea to be open-minded to publishing pieces on a wide range of topics that are of real interest to women.