Saturday, October 1, 2016

Utterly Worthless: Why Seventeen Is A Useless Magazine!

The Good: A few lines about positive female empowerment
The Bad: Insufferably addy, Articles blended with advertisements, Expensive for what one gets, Mediocre writing.
The Basics: Seventeen is a way for advertisers to prey upon a key demographic without providing anything of real substance.

Occasionally, I will pick up a magazine or my wife gets a magazine sent to her and I tend to look through whatever crosses my path, at the very least. Recently, my wife started getting a gift subscription to Seventeen Magazine as part of a free promotion she was a part of and while neither of us is the magazine's target demographic, she had fond memories of the magazine from when she was younger. So, while I was originally concerned that my first impression of the magazine when I picked it up might have been biased based on my high reviewing standards, when she grumbled, "This is nothing like how it used to be," I felt pretty validated.

Apparently, back in the day, about a decade and a half ago, Seventeen was a magazine that focused on empowering young women. It was a magazine that had information on how to apply make-up in general and articles about health for young women. That, however, is not what the magazine is all about now. Now, Seventeen Magazine is all about the advertisements.

Right off the bat, I will acknowledge, I am not Seventeen's target demographic. I am not a girl aged fourteen to seventeen (which is pretty much the target demographic for the magazine. That said, from any objective standard, Seventeen fails to do right by its target demographic, while acting perfectly as a champion for the companies that advertise in the magazine.

Seventeen is the magazine for young women and it seems to be a magazine for young women desperate to fit in with the popular and accepted crowd. The magazine is about falling into social norms and looking like everyone else, more than it is about being accepted for being truly original. Seventeen is not a magazine empowering young women to be themselves; it is about expressing oneself within the popular, accepted, conventions of youth culture.

Seventeen, at least the September 2016 issue which I used for this review, is comprised of 142 glossy pages, including the back cover (which it might as well be, it has the same sense of substance as the rest of the magazine). Of those 142 pages, 47 are full page advertisements. But the thing is, more than any other magazine I have ever seen, Seventeen is subversive as its "content" is also filled with advertisements. As a result, interviews include photo spreads of the celebrity being profiled featuring specific identification for the items being worn and prices . . . in other words, advertisements. At least half of the non-overt, full-page advertisements are de facto advertisements for products that include shopping information. My wife phrased it perfectly for the difference between what she remembered and what the magazine has become - it used to be non-branded make-up advice (i.e. how to make a facial scrub) vs. "which facial scrub is right for you" (out of all of these brands, at these price points!).

So, for example, this month's comparison between the styles of Mean Girls and Bring It On features tiny pictures compiled from the two films, with blurbs on make-up and swag from each film, including brand names and retail prices. Similarly, on page 58, "Find Your Perfect Bra" is not an article on how to properly get fitted for a bra, it is a compilation of nine brand-name bras with online prices and the websites at which they may be purchased.

Outside a single picture of a real seventeen year-old student who took on her school for claiming her pro-lesbian shirt violated its dress code, all of the women depicted in Seventeen are stereotypical, stick-figure thin young women. In fact, the picture the magazine used of Amy Schumer managed to make the champion of women of substance (both intellectually and physically) look rail-thin. This, sadly, reinforces a cultural expectation that is impractical, overrated and more ridiculous than many want to admit. Yes, Seventeen helps reinforce the programming in popular culture by declaring (implicitly, if not explicitly) "This is what women should be!" In addition to outfit recommendations - each article proudly declaring labels and places to purchase the outfit components shown - Seventeen has make-up tips; the idea of natural beauty - i.e. no make-up - is not lauded in its pages.

Seventeen is lacking any commentary, social conscience or relevance to those outside its niche audience. The interviews asked ridiculous, soft-ball questions and the relationship advice is absurd. The writing in Seventeen has a particularly low level of diction, which might reflect today's education system, but the inclusion of popular slang does make the magazine appear to be talking down to the lowest common denominator . . . or at least, the lowest common denominator that might want to buy a Victoria's Secret bra!

For other magazine reviews, please check out:
AAA Living
The Progressive


For other magazine reviews, check out my Magazine Review Index Page for an organized listing of all of the magazine reviews I have done.

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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