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The New Teen Vogue: In New Political Climate, Girls’ Mag Gets Serious

Remember how we recently gazed, in awestruck admiration, at Teen Vogue tackling the subject of young Jewish women dealing with anti-Semitism? Turns out that’s not the publication’s only coverage of the topic.

Teen Vogue is publishing a whole lot of serious (progressive) journalism these days, addressing a wide range of social issues of interest to different marginalized communities, not just Jews, and to the nation as a whole. (See especially Lauren Duca’s recent piece on Trump and gaslighting.) This new (or newly-discussed?) coverage has led to some huh-how-about-that? responses from skeptics, which, in turn, have inspired what’s-so-strange-about-that counter-responses. On Facebook, Lux Alptraum reminded that Teen Vogue is written by professional journalists, who are adults, but denounces the “sexist and ageist” assumption that girls wouldn’t be politically engaged. Roxane Gay tweeted that the dismissive remarks towards the publication are “a measure of how women/girls are underestimated.”

This seems right.

I can only add that there’s a way teen girls are understood in the culture that doesn’t mirror how teen girlhood is actually experienced. The cultural image of the teen girl — whether in fashion magazines aimed at adult women, where very young girls are the models, or in the NSFW arenas aimed primarily at men, where the ideal woman is 19, tops — is through the lens of envious or lustful adults. But when you actually are a teenage girl, your absence of wrinkles won’t translate to an absence of looks-related insecurities. (When your peers are also 15, being 15 has no particular cachet.) Nor does the fact that you are, by virtue of your age, the aesthetic ideal for a bunch of middle-aged men offer any comfort when a fellow 18-year-old you have a crush on doesn’t reciprocate… or, indeed, when you’re off thinking about professional goals, family responsibilities, artistic projects, or political engagement. Teen girls are human beings, protagonists in their own lives. Teen publications are, as it happens, the ones best-positioned to recognize this. Meanwhile other media more typically looks on at them in the awkward (and, all-too-often, unsettling) way I’ve described above.

As for why Teen Vogue, why now, there’s the not-so-small matter of the publication having a fairly new Editor in Chief, Elaine Welteroth. Under new leadership — and in a new political climate — the publication itself appears to have stopped burying the political lead, as it were. It had admittedly been a while since I’d read it, so consider this 2012 Sisterhood post on Teen Vogue, with its “dozens of stories about fashion and makeup and TV personalities” drowning out the few substantive articles. The gist of the post? Why the author, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, chose to dispose of the thing rather than allow her daughter to read it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected]. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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