Let’s just say YM magazine was on newsstands and still featured the Spice Girls and Josh Hartnett in its pages the last time I found anything in a teen magazine relevant to my own life — so yeah, it’s been a while. When I found out I was going to research modern teen publications and report back on what, if anything, has changed since the cast of Dawson’s Creek scored cute cover stories, I gleefully bought up all of the teen mags on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and, in an instant, it all started to come back to me. Not only do technicolor, larger-than-life pages still provide a thrill that I feel can’t be found online, but as the mom of a little girl who will one day, I’m sure, devour each glossy page, I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t be given tips on how to Snapchat her breasts to the school without her parents finding out. Call me prude.
Back in the day, you could open up most teen mags and read up on the following: “How to be a cool girlfriend” (an article penned for Seventeen in December ’96); heated debates over super-thin models and why readers want more representative body types in their mags (same issue); and pages and pages showing hot “guys you’ll melt over” (Teen, November 1996) — always a section I deemed utterly pointless, because it’s not like any of those 16-year-old boys were going to leave Hollywood and show up at my school one day to ask me to prom.
But I soon discovered the only thing modern-day teen mags share in common with the ones I used to read is their fonts. I’m not sure if young people have become more sophisticated and astute, or if we just address them as such, which helps them become more sophisticated and astute. Either way, I can assure you pages of hunks are few and far between. What I found instead is copy and photographs aimed at helping young women feel good about themselves and become who they want to be — and cute boys are entirely optional in this world.
Seventeen — I literally squealed as I flipped through the pages. Top features include a personal essay entitled “I Dated a Bisexual Guy” and the cover subjects — YouTube beauty star Zoe Sugg and her best friend Tyler Oakley — look like super-cute real people who chat about anxiety issues, homosexuality and eating disorders.
When I got to page 90, I felt prepared to be insulted by an article called “Get Your Parents to Say Yes,” until I read tip No. 7: Serve them warm drinks first. Genius. I would give up my car keys in a flash for a vanilla latte. The majority of the issue favors social media stars over supermodels, which is timely, as well as a breath of fresh air; and beauty tips geared toward looking “Insta-ready,” which means no filter needed, are a-plenty. Sad news for girls with hooded eyes: You’ll still have to wait until you’re 25 to properly learn how to apply eye makeup.
Know what makes up for a lack of eyeshadow tips? An interview with 18-year-old Emily Ables, who is famous for having an Instagram feed in which she shares her favorite books. Raise your hand if you now fear you were born in the wrong decade.
Teen Vogue — You had me at the cover girl: Elle Fanning, who plays a transgendered skater in About Ray and talks about wanting to properly represent the transgender community. Of course, Teen Vogue is a bible for young fashionistas, so the emphasis throughout is on youthful trends and showcasing new talent in music and film. I did love that the one article about health wasn’t a lazy list of foods to eat to keep your weight down, but was instead a thoughtful and well-written piece about emotional eating and how to deal with stress in a healthier way.
Justine — I’d never heard of Justine magazine before, but I was hooked after the very first ad on page three for the NFL, showing three girls and a guy wearing gear from their favorite teams and standing out on a football field. Nice. I flipped the page and stared at an advertisement for a book called Legacy of Kings. That’s when I began to suspect teenagers are actually 40-year-olds in disguise. This mag makes me want to be one and know one — which is saying a lot, because I typically just want to run fast away from them.
The rest of the magazine was a dream that included cute fashion features on how to wear chunky sweaters and a flannel dress three different ways, as well as an essay by a woman who was both a bully and a bully survivor; tips on dealing with bullying behavior; a piece written by a girl who loves football; and an interview with Scream Queens’ Abigail Breslin. Throw in an article with tips on how to not be judgmental and the most adorable fashion editorial showing crop tops, high-waisted pants and distressed jeans (that cost $39) and you’ve got yourself one very well-rounded teen magazine.
Girls’ World — While I wouldn’t label this one a “teen magazine” — preteen or tween seems like the accurate market — Girls’ World is exactly the kind of magazine you’d like your 10-year-old daughter to read. The issue featured a two-page spread on how to draw ’60 hippie things like a lava lamp (and, yes, I immediately tried it); puzzles and brain-teasers; a good, old-fashioned advice column that addresses kid issues like sibling rivalry, popularity, and just plain feeling like an awkward 11-year-old; facts about cute animals, along with posters of them; and (best of all) recipes. To recap: your tween can find out why ice floats in water (there’s a page called Science Stompers), learn how to give herself a creative manicure with toothpicks and whip up turkey taco burgers for the whole family. I’m starting to think a subscription to Girls’ World might make me a better woman.
So, the good news is that teen magazines are treating teen girls like the interesting, creative, intelligent, and conscientious young people they often are. It’s too bad so many women’s magazines aren’t doing the same for us.