How are we STILL blaming magazines for teen body issues?
Good news for teenagers! At some point during that dreary Autumn term, you’re getting to ditch chemistry/double maths/awkward sex education with that blushing graduate trainee who can’t say ‘condom’ out loud, to watch a video about magazines.
The video - part of a Vogue initiative - is going to deconstruct images in magazines (what effects are created by lighting, make-up and retouching, and ‘the difference between fashion and reality’) and the idea, presumably, is that when teenage girls flick through magazines like Vogue they don’t compare themselves to the models. It’s like comparing waist size to a Vue cinema cardboard cut-out, or thinking you have cankles because Rock Star Barbie has narrower calves than you; they’ll realise this isn’t a level playing field.
The initiative was announced the same week that Vogue’s baby sister publication, the teen-focused Miss Vogue, launched - which of course isn’t a coincidence. This strategy will no doubt be an attempt to silence the critics, who will be ready to churn out their predictable and lazy verdicts on the relationship between magazines and young people’s body image.
I used to be Deputy Editor of Sugar magazine where we once surveyed two and a half thousand teenage girls, finding that they were ten times more likely to diet if their mums dieted; a way bigger influence than anything we found in the media sections of the survey. This was barely reported of course, because why focus on the mums discussing their no carb diets in front of their 11-year-olds, when you could just blame magazines?
Now let’s be clear: I’m not saying that the media doesn’t play a part - especially youth media, where there’s a huge responsibility. Vogue could play the glamorous auntie; Miss Vogue will have to be the mum.
But there will likely always be a media which takes no responsibility, which points and laughs at celebrities who forget to breathe in for a few seconds, or screams ‘HEFTY!’ in its headline about a pregnant woman. That’s showing no sign of changing, sadly, so we need to change something else: preferably the attitudes that we give young people towards it.
It’s brilliant that Vogue are addressing the fact that their images are about a myth, not a reality. But looking to Vogue as some sort of teenage education service? That’s not their job, and if we think it is, our young people are in more trouble than we realised.