After the Teen Vogue Revolution: Why There’s Still a Problem with Women’s Magazines
Like many politically inclined young women, I was absolutely elated when, during the height of the 2016 presidential election, Teen Vogue made the huge move to rebrand itself. They published a personal essay by Hillary Clinton as part of their #ForGirlsByGirls female empowerment month; they featured young African American feminist and star of Black-ish Yara Shahid on the September cover; and they voiced their concerns with the Trump camp’s problematic views on reproductive rights and the LGBTQ community. Today, the magazine – headed by editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth, who is only the second African American woman to be given such a title in the Condé Nast company – continues to report on politics, inclusiveness, and important social issues facing young women.
But unfortunately, even as Teen Vogue took on an unexpected revolution, I couldn’t help but notice that other women’s magazines continued to focus predominantly on the predictable topics of physical appearance and heterosexual romance.
Sculpt your abs, they say. Get a smaller waist. Who wore it better? Look, celebrity women without makeup! Let’s taunt them. Do you know what men secretly want from women? Here’s why you should change your behavior to give it to them! Then there may be an article about overpriced clothing and makeup, a single model who is racially ambiguous enough to pass for diverse, a headline telling you that having a “bikini body” is necessary for you to look attractive during the summer.
The most jarring aspect of these predictable themes? The fact that they’re featured in Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Marie Claire – publications all geared towards adult women. Young girls are our future, but what will that future be if the media sources they’re exposed to teach only such shallow things as how to have a “perfect” body and please a man?
Of course, there is a time and place for articles about clothes, makeup, weight loss, and men; articles about these topics can be informative, fun reads – and being interested in these subjects doesn’t make a woman any less strong. But when these major women’s magazines choose to promote very specific lifestyle and beauty standards, it can do more harm than good. Not every woman is attracted to men, and not every woman has the time, money, or resources to achieve the Hollywood beauty standard that these magazines insist is what everyone should aspire to.
Imagine this: just one issue of a women’s magazine that has multiple women – not celebrities, but simply women – of all shapes, races, sexual identities, political ideologies. They don’t discuss their weight, they aren’t described by their physical appearance. Instead, the articles they are featured in discuss their achievements and their ideas; their cultures, their struggles. The magazine also has discussions about female writers, directors, advocates, CEOs – women who, far more than weighing a certain amount, wearing a specific brand of makeup, or being half of a male-female relationship have so much more to offer.
But, right now, we have Teen Vogue. It isn’t perfect, of course. Even their well-meaning articles can often come off as preachy as opposed to informative, and the Condé Nast company itself has recently come under fire for featuring a story on Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik that insisted they represented “gender fluidity” despite not identifying as such. However, the magazine and its company are making a conscious effort to treat young women as individuals who are deserving of information and future goals that don’t all relate to beauty and dating. For this, I believe they have to be commended, and I only hope other women’s magazines for all ages will follow suit.