In My Words: It's time to revive the teen magazine
My Teen Vogues sit crammed and yellowing in my childhood bookcase, thick with dust that doesn’t wipe away. Feeling nostalgic, I crack them out of their case. Pages stick together as the increasing heat of Philly summers has melded the ink. Flipping through I ask my thirteen-year-old self to fill in the gaps. There are missing sections that I attacked with scissors and pasted its contents onto sketchbooks. I was ahead of my time with the vision board collage, haha.
While TikTok shouts its dislike of the “10 year olds at Sephora,'' I fixate on the fact that these girls don’t track their life stages in magazines. They don’t start with NatGeo Kids, and then upgrade to Girl’s Life, and feel oh-so-adult when their Teen Vogue issue arrives each month. A magazine for each bit of life. Blaming their disruption of “adult” spaces (i.e. Sephora) is entirely misplaced – instead, let's consider why they claimed Sephora in the first place.
A staple of the teen magazine was interaction with the readers. Writing into your trusted publication of choice seeking answers about puberty, bullies, boobs, and the future. While I was never one to write in, I did look to them as a source of inspiration. In these columns I was able to indirectly interact with girls my age. Sarah-from-Ohio’s inquiries about shaving her legs for gym class were beyond relatable. Projecting the voices of teen girls across America, fostered a sense of community among girls, despite their not knowing each other past the page. These magazines created a teen-exclusive safe space.
With the late 2010s came the toppling of the teen mag empire. The sound of a magazine slotted through my door wasn’t the Monday evening event it had been years earlier. The Teen Vogues collected their first layer of dust. The magazines stopped arriving altogether by 2018. Teen Vogue had stopped print publication, as had Seventeen and Rookie.
When the teen culture space was stripped away, what was left were what had previously been adult cultural spaces – platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, and sites such as Cosmopolitan. Thus the too-grown-up tween and teen were born, modeling their clothing after Insta-baddies ten years their senior, following advice on seducing men rather than flirting with the kid in third period. Even pockets of social media sites populated by these age groups are, at their core, not designed for them in mind – at least not with their benefit in mind. Their cultural trends – Stanley cups, Drunk Elephant, Lululemon – are no longer independent and puzzling to older generations, but rather extensions of the adult world, creating what is not viewed as an erasure of the crucial transitory development stage.
The solution isn’t the creation of kid-centered social media platforms, like the proposed “Instagram Kids.” In reviving kid and teen spaces free of the internet, (or at least social-media-free spaces, I wouldn’t complain about a Webkinz or Club Penguin revival), the so-called invasion of adult spaces may be addressed. While it might seem like kids are just growing up faster, take a moment to consider that adults have erased their spaces – whether than be physical, like tween-catered stores or social gathering spaces, or cultural, like the teen magazine. The death of the in-print teen magazine wasn’t solely responsible for the end of girlhood – but its disintegration occurred alongside the downfall of independent tween and teen culture.
Don’t get me wrong, teen magazines came with their own slew of issues. Stacked with advertisements pressuring teens to over-consume, idolizing thin, white bodies on their covers, and enforcing gender roles and heteronormativity through their harping over ways to win over your crush, these magazines didn’t just imprint their good on my teen psyche. Despite the flaws, teen magazines gave girls ages twelve through eighteen a platform that was theirs, through and through – a promise social media cannot deliver. It was the epitome of girlhood.
The new t(w)een magazine may not be the one that I worshiped ten years ago. But, in a few years, I’d like girls to be able to look forward to flipping through that month’s new stories. We’re experiencing the ever-expanding boom in communication, and it's time this energy be harnessed beyond apps. Tween and teen stories are primed to be shared with their peers. It’ll look different to be sure – adapting to the prevalence of social media’s influence – but the core of it remains the same. Young stories, for young people, by young people.