Monday, July 9, 2012

Representing Teens

I like Seventeen magazine because it's a fashion magazine for teen girls - I like fashion, and I like teen girls. But looking through the magazine, the images appear mostly to be twenty-something models (and even the upper teen models frequently look mature for their years) posing like teenagers for the consumption of teenage girls who want to look and act like twenty-somethings. And I'm thinking, why is this magazine selling twenties glamour to teens, or, alternately, why are teens caught up trying to look like they're already in their twenties?

It seems bizarre to me that a magazine advertising fashion for teen girls should feature anything other than actual teen girls (that look like teen girls, and not twenty-somethings) - but we see the same phenomenon in television and movies where 25 year olds are frequently cast as teenagers, either because they have more experience/maturity than real teenagers (so much for realism and accurate depictions), or to avoid the labor limitations that are placed on under-18s.

The result, however, is a bizarre media representation of the real world where all the teenagers look like they're 25 years old, and depictions of real teenagers are few and far between, and provoke controversy when they do appear. I think this is both fueled by and feeds into our fear of teenagers and youth in general, and our runaway impulses to 'protect' children (which teens are all too frequently defined as) from the harsh reality and evil influences of the world.

It's rather unfortunate, because it fosters an anti-teen mentality, which only contributes to the great generational divide. So when I heard that a 14 year old activist was petitioning Seventeen magazine to feature girls that actually look like the real girls that read the magazine, I was pleased. Of course, her emphasis is on the issue of photoshopping girls to look unnaturally skinny and flawless and beautiful, rather than the issue of using mature-looking 18+ models in a magazine named Seventeen (which, personally, I would have expected to use models whose ages average seventeen), but even so, consider this:

One of the issues of the magazine used as a comparison in the news article I linked to features Chloe Grace Moretz on the cover (May 2012). I believe she was barely fifteen at the time of the photoshoot. Now don't get me wrong, I adore Chloe Grace Moretz, but if you compare the way she looks on the cover of the magazine, all polished up, to the 14 year old activist in the news photo, I think the regular girl - who actually looks like a real person I might pass on the street - is a lot prettier than the big-time movie star on the cover of the magazine - who looks like she was run over by a renegade Zamboni machine.

To their credit, Seventeen magazine has reacted by redoubling their commitment to their Body Peace Treaty, but I still maintain the belief that there are a lot of regular girls out there in the world who are just as pretty (or prettier) than the movie stars and fashion supermodels that grace our magazine covers and television screens, but unfortunately don't know it (tragically in those cases that lead to serious body image disorders and self-esteem issues), because our modern paranoia about youth (coupled with the effects of sex-negative strains of feminism) has resulted in a situation where teen girls are bombarded by messages telling them that they don't look good enough (a standard commercialist marketing tool), but if you try to tell an unrelated teen (because we all know nobody believes the praise your family dotes on you) you think she looks beautiful, chances are good that you'll be branded a pervert, and she'll be creeped out rather than flattered.

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