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.