Youth Culture Window
“What should I wear?” “Who should I date?” “How far can I go with my boyfriend?” When girls want to learn the answers to these kinds of questions, and more, many pick up Teen Vogue.
But what will they find when they flip through the pages? Same sex kissing, masturbating for self care, making out with your boyfriend topless while reserving the right to say “no”…
Maybe we should take a closer look at what young ladies are gleaning from these glossy pages.
It all started when my wife sent me a quick email concerning an online article she’d seen from Teen Vogue about a very sexual topic. (More on that below.) So, I did what any full grown man - with a beard - would do: I walked into a store in my community and purchased the latest copy of Teen Vogue they had on their shelves. To make the process as embarrassing as possible, God ensured that the register clerk was a young man in my church’s college ministry, so I’m certain I’ll have some explaining to do on Sunday....
I read the entire magazine from cover to cover, and even chased down a few articles on their website they mentioned in their printed publication. The magazine was a mixed bag of trail mix, filled with some healthy tidbits… and some not-so-healthy.
Here’s what more than a million young girls are learning about when they open up their subscriptions of Teen Vogue:
- Fashion Tips
The magazine’s blatant ambition is to tell young girls what they should be wearing. This isn’t surprising in the least; after all, the word “vogue” means “the prevailing fashion or style at a particular time.” Everything from clothing, to makeup, to hair styles, and eyewear was covered in the volume I perused. In all, 47 pages out of the 101-page publication were dedicated to (selling) fashion items in one way or another.
- Female Empowerment
Without a doubt, the magazine seeks to encourage young ladies to take positions of authority and leadership within our world. Page after page is filled with the belief that influence shouldn’t be relegated to those of a certain gender, age, or ethnicity. For example, their Editor’s Letter included a picture of Hillary Clinton mid-speech with the following quote: “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” There was even a full-page ad promoting Hidden Figures, a film about African-American women who worked tirelessly with NASA to put a white male named John Glenn into orbit. How they go about it, and who they choose as role models is certainly up for debate, but all in all, the publication seeks to be an advocate for (female) teen significance, and that’s largely positive.
- Exaltation of Feelings
It seems that everything rises and falls on feelings. In fact, in one of the more prominent articles, a young female celebrity quotes actor James Franco as saying, “Teenagers are really good vessels to articulate emotions.” Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, the magazine promotes a worldview that says everything can - and should - be judged by how it makes you feel. This isn’t surprising at all in a world where the most recent “word of the year” was post-truth.
- One Sided Politics
Again, not a big shocker...but the one-sided presentation of politics (female or otherwise) was too obvious to not mention. In the copy I read, Hillary Clinton was quoted at least twice and Michelle Obama was the focus of a multi-page interview. While chasing down website links the magazine referenced in its printed articles, I found many online pieces that highlighted the leadership of liberal females along with plenty that undermined the decisions and policies of conservatives (even if they were female). Look, I’m not trying to pick a political fight, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that there are many young girls who hold conservative values and Teen Vogue doesn’t seem to be representing that demographic at all.
- Ambivalent Sexuality
Given that it’s such a big part of today’s adolescence, the magazine doesn’t shy away from addressing the broad subject of sex. From my limited perspective, the fashion depicted on the pages is far from the sensuality on display in a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Furthermore, the models actually appear to be teenagers instead of twentysomethings masquerading as such. However, when the conversation moves to their online articles, it takes a decidedly different tone. For example, the article my wife sent me encourages young women to masturbate more often for reasons of “self-care.” When they tackle same-sex relationships (such as their discussion on Disney airing its first same-sex kiss between cartoon characters), Teen Vogue writes, “It’s About Time!” And don’t be fooled by their article entitled How To Say No During A Hook-Up When You’re Not Ready To Do More. Here’s one piece of advice they share in it: “Your hook up may be totally down to just keep making out — yay! Or, they may be interested in doing “more” but that may not mean sex — maybe you two want to make out but with your shirts off, or on a different couch, or lying down. There are always options to explore.”
Even a surface inspection of Teen Vogue will give many parents and youth workers pause as they analyze what young girls are learning from the magazine’s pages and website. But the more subtle elements, like the inherent contradictions, are just as concerning. For example:
The magazine had the audacity to include a short article about money management and avoiding credit card debt…while simultaneously featuring many full-page ads for shirts that cost more than $300! So, should girls be frugal…or fashionable?
These are the kinds of contradictions girls walk through each day. But just because they have to face these sorts of confused standards doesn’t mean they have to face them alone. Helping young ladies see through the façade isn’t rocket science. Here are a few ideas to swing the balance back in their favor.
For all of the diversity the magazine touts, precious little was said about female athletes. In fact, all I could find on the subject was a one-page ad for feminine hygiene products that pictured a female goalie blocking a soccer ball. So, can females compete on the field…or should they just be pretty things to look at?
The magazine did a great job highlighting the incredible accomplishments of several young ladies in the health, science, technology, and engineering fields. But on the very next page of the article, those same girls were photographed in (very expensive) designer clothing available for purchase. So, are girls significant because of what they do…or how they look?
- Familiarize yourself with ALL forms of entertainment media. More often than not, adults think of “entertainment media” as movies, music, TV shows, and video games – in other words, entertainment that’s tied to some sort of screen. But Kaiser Family Foundation rightly includes “print media” (such as magazines and books) as part of entertainment media. So, in addition to perusing your teen’s playlists, you might want to check out what they’re reading, as well.
- Show them where self-worth originates. Marketers want girls to believe self-worth can be purchased off a shelf. Others want them to believe it’s found in fantastic accomplishments. Products, achievements, and beauty are not evil…but neither are they ends in and of themselves. The absolute best way to discover self-worth is by rightly understanding God’s love for us. The Bible teaches that God’s Son, Jesus, chose to die for us – in spite of our ever-present sin – and in Him alone, we find fulfillment. Take the time to teach your girls how their heavenly Father feels about them. It will change their lives.
- Give them answers BEFORE they go looking for them elsewhere. Girls have questions. For the most part, you have the answers. Don’t wait until they’ve gone to Google, or Teen Vogue, or their friends for answers. Get at the front of the line! Anticipate their questions, and then lovingly provide answers. It will mean that you have ongoing conversations about subjects such as relationships, sex & intimacy, money, social media, decision-making, and much more. But those talks – where you both speak and you both listen – can shape their lives in important ways.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.