The internet must be worrying for parents. You wouldn’t even need to be a Daily Mail reader. While the publication of Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land, a book about the emotional lives of pubescent girls, has had web-savvy and feminist journalists frothing at the mouth, you can see the logic behind its origin.
I’m not a teenage girl, but I know that to be one today means you have contend with hairless, fake-boobed porn stars as the ideal of naked woman to your peers. And that, if you were looking for ‘thinspiration’, the port-manteau given to pictures of underweight girls perceived as the ideal by eating disorder sufferers, there are whole Tumblrs dedicated to it. Getting wasted on a can of Strongbow and crying at a party is now recorded for posterity on Facebook and online shopping has removed entirely the joy of a Saturday spent in Tammy Girl. Yes, as grown women, we are subject to all this too – but we’ve been through puberty.
However, this onslaught of negativity – no doubt exacerbated by the press and endless surveys and every programme that airs on Channel 4 to combat teen body crises – has a feisty little warrior – one which has come into existence with BBM and Facebook chat and the necessity for Jack Wills joggers.
Teenage girls are making their own reading material – and it’s really very good.
It might sound dry, but let’s put it in a little perspective. I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was 16. The irony being I never really read magazines. Not those aimed at teenage girls, anyway. NME’s funny-smelling pages were consumed, chopped up and pasted on to books, walls and diaries. Vice introduced me to Peruvian horse-fighting, octogenarian Mexican prostitutes and pithy, arrogant humour. But between the time I dumped Bliss at 13 and picked up Elle, intermittently, at 19, there was a dearth of glossy telling me how to be female.
There were no magazines out there which embraced the bookish, or the flatchested, or the artistic of 13 year-old-girls. There were no female-orientated print productions which told you what masturbation *really* was, or didn’t feature padded bras on their fashion pages. There were none which focused on how to make girls happy, rather than how to make boys, when really, how boys were made happy was to be left well alone, playing football, until the obligatory snogging time at the school disco. Cosmo was all about sex – I didn’t kiss anyone until I was 14. Glamour spoke out to the career-orientated independent young woman – I was stuck in rural Buckinghamshire painting morose self-portraits. Vogue was for a kind of woman I would never be.
10 years on, and I still don’t read these magazines, and they still don’t satisfy me. Thankfully, now I read all sorts of things, and newspapers, and brilliant websites, feminist and otherwise (yes, obviously the Mail Online’s sidebar of shame).
But for girls a decade my junior, the internet has provided girl-friendly, girl-orientated, girl-supportive literature – written by girls their own age, who understand what they like and what they need and what they need to read about. Take Rookie Mag, it’s produced with a monthly theme, but online, from the prodigal genius of Tavi Gevinson who decided to stop being the darling of the international fashion scene and write for teenage girls, thanks very much, just under two years ago.
She and her team “post just three times a day – after school, after dinner, and before bed”, and discuss everything from faking orgasms to confronting bullies, answering style questions for the undersized girl and interviewing the TV stars they actually identify with.
What I find most convincing about Rookie is that I don’t want to patronise the girls who are creating it. I don’t read it and think, “oh, how sweet”, or metaphorically head-pat the garish pink design. For one, these girls are seriously talented, but for another, reading Rookie puts so much in perspective that, just because you’ve got used to your period or know not to wear blue eyeshadow, you think you can put in a box – when really you can’t. Women still have friendship problems, and crush problems, and identity problems – but the glossy magazines we’re provided with wrap them up into “How to identify your Frenemy” articles, “How to get him to call you back” filler, and “Be the woman you really want to be” schemozzle. None of which are very constructive, no matter how many times they’re shoved down our throats.
Partly, I think it’s something to do with the Atlantic. I had the good fortune to spend a few months working with NYLON magazine in New York, another fantastic magazine for young girls which celebrates books, pop culture, fun fashion and hardly mentions men at all – there’s the brilliantly-balanced NYLON Guys for that. But, until I moved to London, it was nigh on impossible to find a copy in the UK. Similarly, the likes of Jezebel and The Rumpus remain to be challenged in the British blogosphere – although I welcome The Vagenda to the realms of The F Word with open arms.
I’m sure Rookie isn’t the only one – I am, after all, not pubescent and certain things should be left to the realm of teenagers – who am I to make it uncool? But the fact it exists at all is hugely encouraging for the next generation. Furthermore, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to make my bedroom look a bit like a movie. Thanks, Tavi.
Alice Vincent is a journalist, writer-lady, and is definitely on the list of my top ten favourite humans of all time. She works for The Huffington Post, writes for The Arts Desk and is one of the founding members of Wannabe Hacks. I met her at university, where she regularly frightened me with her ridiculous intellect, fierce dress sense and her very fetching bowl cut.
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