Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All Dressed Up with Nothing to Do

Four days into this project and I have uncovered somewhat of a roadblock. I entered this project with the intention of merging my daily life with a Seventeen lifestyle. This is, however, far more difficult than it initially appeared it would be.

Seventeen is rich with information on makeup and hair and clothes. Inside this month's issue alone you'll find, "645 Ways to Look Cute All Summer!" and "180+ Swimsuits." There is no dearth of tips on what to wear, or even on how to feel confident wearing it. When you strip away all the rail-thin models, heteronormative modes of thinking, and tips not-so-subtly in support of the status quo, what you essentially have in Seventeen is a manual for boosting teenage self esteem. Which is great! If anything hasn't changed about the teenage experience over the past century it is that insecurity is something that nearly every teen girl (and probably every human) deals with at some point.

The roadblock I've stumbled across, though, is now that I am all dressed up and looking cute, what am I supposed to do with my time? Seventeen designates itself as more of a lifestyle magazine than a fashion magazine by including embarrassing stories, celebrity interviews, and articles discussing teenage issues. In offering suggestions for improving my lifestyle, though, I've found the publication to be a little light on the life and a little heavy on the style.

For instance, today I woke up in the morning and got dressed for school. I took fashion advice from the page of "French Nautical" looks, and hair advice from Elisabeth, 17, in Maine, who suggested I wear a high bun because it was, "quick yet elegant and perfect for my low maintenance beauty routine." Then I went to school. Then I came home. Then I had 10 hours of time to fill between arriving at my house and writing this post.

Looking inside the magazine for suggestions of activities to partake in proved to be of little help. The vast majority of the activities offered were some variation on flirting. There were also tips for starting my own business, but I was not looking to pursue an endeavor of such grandiose proportions on a standard Tuesday evening. An article enticingly titled "High Times" actually made efforts to steer me away from smoking pot to fill my time, but failed to offer me even one other comparable recreational activity that I could participate in without the presence of boys, my friends, or some sort of substantial financial backing.

I ended up choosing an activity from one of five solo activities suggested on the, "17 Things You Need to Do This Summer" guide. This guide, tucked away as an afterthought on the last page of the magazine, suggested that I "add pretzels or potato chips to cookie dough and bake." I guess it is assumed that I already know how to make cookie dough, because no recipe was included. I googled a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and made them. I added pretzels. I baked them. The whole ordeal took less than
20 minutes. Then I went into my garage and worked on the bike I'm building, because I couldn't find any other activities in Seventeen that could be enjoyed without significant planning and forethought.

I wholly understand that not every teenager uses Seventeen as a straightforward guide for planning her everyday life. Few do, and I'm glad for this, because magazines are not meant to be interpreted as all-encompassing manuals for living. Furthermore, I am well aware that it is by no means the responsibility of Seventeen to provide teens with wholesome and fun activities to fill every minute of their time with. In fact, being just a magazine, Seventeen has no actual obligations or responsibilities that it owes to its readers. This sort of thing is a huge anomaly in teen life. Schools have curriculums, parents have life lessons to teach, and advertisements have products to push. Seventeen is in a rare position of near ultimate freedom (Near being I understand that the majority of a magazine's money comes from selling ad space.) They should be using this opportunity to encourage girls and young women to lead rich, full lives.

Teens already trust this publication, maybe a little too fully, as somewhere they can turn to for advice. So why not include some advice that might push self-seeking teens to become more than just body-confident clothes hangers? Why not include some book recommendations? Reviews of interesting films? Simple and fun guides to adult activities like home repair, managing finances, and cooking? Or, even more simply, how about a few satisfying, independent activities that teens can do without being surrounded by their peers?

I can understand that not all teen girls are looking to visit a museum or read a critical analysis of Dostoevsky's work. Thats not what I'm expecting, or even hoping for. I just think as teens, young women, and citizens of the world, we deserve something else with our fashion tips. When teens go searching for themselves in media, we have to make sure that what they'll see there is something worth finding at all.

These cookies are veritable hockey pucks. The pretzel is the only redeeming quality. It's also the only part of the cookie I did not make.


  1. I have noticed an annoying lack of suggestions for activities that don't cost more money than god or require a large number of attractive boys to pull off. It's kind of annoying, really.

    On the other hand...those cookies look good. How are they?

  2. Next time try buying one of those ready made Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie rolls.

    Here's a few things you could try tomorrow:
    -Host a stand to raise money for cancer
    -Rent a bike
    -Reread your favorite book
    -Get together a care package for a soldier abroad
    -Try an international cuisine you've never had before

  3. I bought a copy of Seventeen from June of 1983 two days ago at an antique store for a whopping $1--I also read the new issue of Seventeen the same day. I'd love to see you get an older copy and contrast the two, because holy balls they are different. The 1983 issue has beauty, fashion, thinness etc. stuff, but there's also blocks and blocks of text (for reading! with your brain!), recipes (weird), crafts for a birthday party (even weirder!). I feel the older issue actually addresses all of the 12-19 demographic, not just the aspirational fashion-binge used to sell mascara.

    PS Every other ad was for some ancient menstrual contraption. It's crazy.

  4. I just Stumbled Upon your project, and I cannot wait to see more you come up with. I religiously read Seventeen when I was a teen, and now I enjoy Glamour, although it is quite worthless to my real life as a nearly 40 adult. It feeds fantasies--kind of like romance books--but does little else. Of course, I am well aware of the brain-candy factor--NOW. Who knows what I thought when I was a teenager?

    It's too bad that you have not found many suggestions for what you can do on a teen budget while looking so cute. If there's one thing that I think young people need is guidance on how to spend time their free time. In nearly all the communities, large and small, where I have lived, there was so little for teenagers to do. It's like a forget age. If we ignore them, they'll grow up. Pretty sad.

    Looking forward to more...

  5. i'm loving your project. i am a 20 year old college student and have become much more attracted to crafting and blogging than fashion and magazines, but you're project seems great. i love the graphs.

    the reason your cookies may not be the correct texture might be because you greased the pan. if so, its a no no with cookies because they get hard and gross on the outside. if not i have no tips for you =)

    good luck with the rest of the month, and keep the comparisons coming

  6. Try the cookies again, but
    1. make sure your oven is hot enough,
    2. like Ashley said, don't grease the pan,
    3. take them out of the oven just before they look done (when the tops are dry, but not yet brown),
    4. leave them on the pan for a minute or two so that they will set,
    5. then transfer to a cooling rack (or plate, or waxed-paper-covered countertop, or a cool baking sheet) so they will fully cool.

    I would crush the pretzels or potato chips before adding them to the batter. Then they will provide just a bit of extra crunch/texture/saltiness.

  7. Ouch.. I hate it when recipes crash and burn like that. If you want to try these again sometime, I've found a good fail-safe cookie base is the one advertised on the back of the Toll House Chocolate Chip bags-- underbake them a little and let them sit on the (greased) trays until they're a little firmer, then pull them off. Make sure to sift the flour, too, so they're not too cakey-- unless, of course, you like 'em that way.

    On another note, congrats on UChicago! (The site that sent me towards your blog mentioned you were headed there next year.) I'm going to be a second-year/Orientation-Aide at the U of C this fall, so if you have any questions or anything before getting to campus or once you're there, feel free to shoot me an email.

    Best wishes, and keep up the great work with the blog!

  8. Bwahaha! I love your blog! (having been a disgruntled feminist teen disgusted with "girls' magazines.") I'm 23 now and yet somehow managed to survive.

    I put such hopes on Seventeen and YM (does that still exist?) on tips to become popular and how to attract boys, to no avail. "Being yourself," from experience, will eventually accomplish those things once the peer group matures, but alas, that mantra doesn't sell ad space.

    I really wish there was a magazine devoted to the more "adventurous" girls, or those who at least wanted to use their brains once in a while. There's "American Girl," but the demographic for that ends at around 12.

  9. Wow I've been going through and reading all your posts and you are a truly amazing girl! I'll be a junior this year in high school and flipped through this magazine yesterday at the orthodontist thinking how plastic it is. I love your insight and commentary, you show a very high level of thinking Jamie and I applaud you :)

  10. Your writing is incredibly insightful and inspiring. I wish more women were like you (myself included).

  11. Hey so I just found your blog today, it was, as I'm sure you know, on the IFB links a la mode weekly round up. I think it's really interesting, just read a couple days, no idea if you have already finished. And if you want book and movie reviews I strongly recommend Teen Vogue, they have a whole section on this sort of thing, also their music suggestions are fairly good, I haven't read any books recommended though. Oh and they also give suggestions on some cultural activities around the States, I live in Mexico so I can't tell you how useful that is... Anyway congrats on the blog I'm gonna keep on reading.

  12. Yeah, I can't bake to save my life either.

    When are you going to show us pictures of your bike build?

    And congrats on choosing U of C. You're the kind of smart and intellectually engaged that would love that place. As I did, last decade.

  13. @james... if you add me on facebook you can lurk my bike stuff hahah i try to stay relatively on topic here. feel free to add me though

  14. I understand I'm alone in this opinion, but reading ONE issue of a magazine and automatically assuming that every other issue is just like it is a bad way to go about this project. Past issues of Seventeen have indeed included managing finances and cooking.

  15. I was a compulsive Seventeen tragic in the 50's-60's, trying to model myself on prima donna teen model, Sandra Dee (another anorexia, depression & alcohol victim). All fashions were expensive & designed for tall, thin, flat chested, narrow hipped girls. There was also Mademoiselle mag, which actually had a few non-fashion articles to read and famous for its prized college guest editor stints, of which Sylvia Plath (as Victoria Lucas) was a recipient and wrote somewhat scathingly about in the Bell Jar.

  16. it takes more than 20 mins to make cookies properly ... unless you were employing hyperbole to make a point about lack of activity ideas ... or maybe you weren't .. hence the hockey pucks :)

  17. this post was hilarious. what a great writer...not such a great baker, however.

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