Magazines for a New Generation: how ‘girly mags’ have become Political, Powerful, and Personal

Esme considers how women's magazines are evolving for a new generation of readers.

Go into any corner shop and go to the magazine aisle. What do you see? It’ll probably be a fairly strong distinction between ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ magazines, a line drawn between pink and blue, between fashion and cars. Granted, change has been occurring, and more and more people are becoming aware of the ideologies which can be supported by such gendered content, but it’s still there.

I’m not expecting it to change any time soon, either. But it’s undeniable that magazines are something of a duplicitous form of media. With the rise of the Internet and especially social media platforms like Instagram in recent years, it isn’t surprising that magazine sales have been falling, but there have been plenty who have kept selling, and who have retained their audiences.

To me, there is one magazine which stands out amidst the rest. Teen Vogue. And before you laugh, I want to present you with this article, which exposed the dangerous campaign tactics which allowed Donald Trump to become President. As of writing, when I go onto the Teen Vogue website, I’m met with one article titled ‘The Best Bucket Hat for Every Mood’ and right above it, a piece titled ‘How to Get an Abortion if You Don’t Want to Tell Your Parents’.

Teen Vogue began in 2003 as a younger sister to the flagship publication Vogue, and due to declining sales, ceased to produce print editions in favour of online content. Its last print issue was on December 5th 2017, and featured Hillary Clinton on the cover, a fitting face for the final issue. This was this move that really enabled it to expand not only who could access it, but which stories it could cover.

This move was applauded by many. The AV Club’s Laura Browning stated that the magazine was ‘quietly doing very good journalism’. Since this shift, they had an increase of 5 million visitors in just one year, and the politics section of the website quickly became the most-read section, ahead of entertainment. It was a surprise for some, but most found it refreshing, and a signal of how the perception of young people, especially young women, is changing.

Teen Vogue is a bright beacon of hope. This shows even through their Instagram bio, which currently reads: ‘The young person’s guide to conquering (and saving) the world.’ It is political, empowering, and is not afraid to address the real issues. Whether they are covering war crimes or giving you advice on what to wear to prom, they are proving that content for young women isn’t just about fashion and boys. They are attracting readers from all groups because what they report on has range. It has depth. And ultimately, it is telling its young readers something new, and something powerful.

the perception of young people, especially young women, is changing

Twenty years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a magazine traditionally aimed at young girls and young women to have articles which were as distinct as they are now. I’m not trying to disparage gossip articles or pieces about makeup—I enjoyed them when I was a tween and I enjoy them now. But having content which is about the deeper stuff, arguably the more important stuff, is empowering. I can read my horoscope and then find out about the corrupt practices of CEOs.

Teen Vogue isn’t the only online magazine which is not only changing the face of journalism, but changing how young people are treated. Ms, Elle, Vanity Fair, and Dazed have all been changing the norms of magazine journalism too, and drawing in the readers because of it. You don’t have to be the Washington Post to break a big news story.

The tabloids are going to keep going. I don’t expect to stop seeing trashy, Perez Hilton-style content on the shelves, or see photo-shopped models and sexist headlines splashed across pages. But what we are seeing is greater diversity, not only in who is covered, but what is covered. Allowing new voices and perspectives to rise above and beyond is exciting. It keeps us informed, entertained, and most importantly, accountable for how we form our opinions.

Esme Johnson

Featured Image courtesy of Hanbyul via Flickr. Image License found here. No changes made to the image.

Main Images courtesy of @teenvogue via Instagram. 

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