“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty is only skin deep.” These oft repeated phrases help remind us that there is more to life than our looks. However if you look at the cover of virtually every magazine, especially teen magazines, you will see that a majority of the headlines revolve around making yourself look better. “Dress to impress.” “Easy hair makeovers.” “Find the perfect hair, makeup, and style for you!” “Be a knockout!” These are just a sampling of the headlines featured on the covers of teen magazines. If you take what all of these magazines have to say to heart, which most teenage girls do, than a more appropriate quote to live by might be one by Antoine Berryer, “There are no ugly women; there are only women who do not know how to look pretty.”
By simply looking at the cover of teen magazines it is apparent that there is not much more to life than beauty. Whether it is making yourself more beautiful or critiquing the beauty of others, beauty is the theme of these magazines. All three of the teen magazines I analyzed, Teen People, YM, and Cosmo Girl, focused on beauty on their covers. All three covers featured a cover shot of a celebrity looking their finest. And all three covers featured headlines that proclaimed the various ways teens could make themselves over.
Of the three magazines I believe that the Teen People cover is the most damaging to teen images of beauty. Mandy Moore, a singer and actress, is the cover girl of this issue, she has a very provocative look on her face, she has quite a bit of eye makeup on, and her shirt is very low cut. This issue also happens to be “The Sexy Issue!” What does sexy mean to teenagers? Do we really want our teenagers walking around trying to be sexy?
The other two magazines are not completely off the hook; they both do their fair share of preaching about beauty. Cosmo Girl’s biggest headline proclaims “185 Makeover Tips and Tricks: Find the Perfect Hair, Makeup, and Style for You.” Apparently unless your hair, makeup, and style match those of their tips, than you need to be made over. The cover also features actor Josh Hartnett on the cover with a headline over him reading, “Sexiest Guys in the World Issue.” Here we go again with the sexiness. Do we really want teenagers, or in this case girls, as the title of their magazine says, to be looking at guys in a sexual way? By far the most shocking item on their cover is under the headline, “Real-Life Stories Inside: I Posed for Playboy.” When I read this headline I had to do a triple take to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. A teen magazine, a teen magazine with the word girl in their title no less, is printing a real-life story about somebody who posed for Playboy. I have no problem with people who choose to pose nude, it is their right to make that decision. I do have a problem with writing about it and putting a positive spin on it in a teenage magazine. Have we thrown all of our boundaries out the window? What is next, “From Playboy to Porn: I did it, so can You!”
The cover of YM is the tamest of the three. The cover girl of this issue is actress Amanda Bynes, but instead of looking super sexy she looks cute and sweet in a nice sundress and sweater, and the story about her explains, “Why she’s one of the Coolest Girls in America.” If you ask me cool is a much more appropriate adjective to describe a teenage girl than sexy. YM’s main headline exclaims, “Boys! Boys! Boys! Do you Really Want One, Cute Daredevil Guys, Not One but Two Hot New Stars.” While the huge headline “Boys! Boys! Boys!” is a little much the corresponding stories are pretty harmless and age appropriate. Another headline that is straddling the line reads, “Great Buns! (get your mind out of the gutter and turn to p.35).” When you turn to page 35 you see that the article is about the bun hairstyle in its many varieties. Clearly the editors of YM are just attempting to be funny, but I’m not sure we want to give teenagers a reason to have their minds in the gutter.
If a teenager can get past the covers of these magazines without feeling like they need a total makeover the advertisements may just push them over the edge. Like most magazines these are inundated with advertisements. It seems that no matter what magazine you pick up lately you have to flip through pages of ads before you even get to the table of contents, and these magazines follow suit. When opening Teen People you will encounter ten full pages of ads before reaching the table of contents, YM features five full pages of ads, and Cosmo Girl tops them both with 13 full pages of ads at the front of the magazine. While all three magazines are ad heavy at the front of the magazine Teen People has a steady stream of ads throughout the issue. There is some type of ad on virtually every other page of this issue. Both YM and Cosmo Girl keep their featured articles uninterrupted by ads.
The number of ads is not the only surprising thing, the type of ads featured is a bit troubling. All of the ads in all three magazines can be broken down into five main categories: beauty products, entertainment, food/beverage, clothing/accessories, and public service announcements (PSA’s). Beauty products (cosmetics, hair products, face washes, perfume, feminine products, etc.) hold an overwhelming majority of the number of ads. In YM 43% of their ads are for beauty products, in Teen People 51% of the ads are for beauty products, and again Cosmo Girl tops them both with 63% of the ads being for beauty products. I was stunned at the small number of ads for clothing and accessories; I expected the number of those ads to be about even with the number of ads for beauty products. Instead Teen People, Cosmo Girl, and YM had only 9%, 14% and 19% of their respective ads devoted to clothing and accessories. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of public service announcements in each of the magazines. While their percentages are low (Cosmo Girl 7%, Teen People 11%, YM 12%) the fact that they are included is a big plus. The PSA’s give teenagers something else to think about other than beauty products.
The fashions in these magazines, or lack there of, were completely shocking to me. Teenage girls and models in low-cut, high-cut, skin-tight outfits, with super spiked heels and high leather boots that would make Julia Robert’s character in Pretty Women blush. Are these really the fashions we want our kids adopting? And they are adopting them. I am astonished at what some of my students show up to school wearing, often times I am tempted to ask them if they’ve done their shopping in the children’s department. One photo in Cosmo Girl shows a model in a very small shirt that resembles an undergarment with her pants undone to reveal her underwear. In YM there is an ad for Glow perfume by J.Lo, which features a naked Jennifer Lopez standing strategically behind a fogged up window. Is this really necessary? What types of images are we putting into young girls heads?
What is beauty? The Webster’s Dictionary defines beauty as a quality that is pleasing to the eye. What teenagers tend to forget is that there are many qualities that are pleasing to the eye, not just those qualities shown in magazines. When flipping through a magazine teenagers can’t help but think about beauty and outward appearances. No matter where they turn these things are in their faces, virtually every page in every teen magazine makes reference to beauty, whether it is an article about the latest clothes for fall or an ad for makeup. Magazine editors and publishers need to realize the affect that they have on young girls and start taking action to change some of the ideas they put in their heads.