When my friend Ann and I began an afternoon of reading magazines for girls, Ann, who is 14, made a quick observation about the magazine she picked up first, New Moon: "I like this one because it doesn't have perfume samples."
Neither do the other magazines we perused that afternoon. And that small truth illustrates the big differences between these three magazines and the majority of magazines that target readers Ann's age.
Ann does like some of those magazines that do have perfume samples, just as I did when I was 14. She usually borrows YM from her older sister because of issue-related articles, like girls with disabilities and gangs. But she's aware of what is in between the pages of the few legitimate articles she reads. "In YM, most of it is beauty-everything," Ann said. "I think that they should get more in touch with people who aren't into that and want more about human rights and animal rights."
New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams is one magazine that is getting in touch with girls who want more. Designed for ages 8 to 14, it fills that awkward void for girls who have progressed beyond Barbie but are not yet interested in dating advice in case a real-life Ken comes along. And it gives girls a safe space to question what that Barbie doll represents.
New Moon was recently criticized in New York Magazine for an "occasionally dogmatic feminist slant," but I found mostly real girls writing about real experiences, with a myriad of unique perspectives. An article in the January/February 1995 issue approached the traditional female activity of baking cookies from the perspective of a scientist using a chemical reaction involving sodium bicarbonate (that's baking soda to us less scientifically minded cooks).
"I would read New Moon because they tell more than what kind of hairspray to use," Ann said. "I think it would be interesting to have a pen pal from a different country who has the same hobbies as you. The story on Mary McLeod Bethune was very good and informative. It also has a very creative poetry section."
This magazine seemed to be very heavy on copy-but that didn't bother Ann. It would just last her the full two months, unlike other teen magazines that she can read in an evening. I wish it had been around 10 years ago for me.
Teen Voices: The Magazine By, For, and About Teenage and Young Adult Women is for New Moon's older sisters. With a decisive urban perspective, Teen Voices is up front about topics such as birth control, sexuality, rape, AIDS and HIV, and lesbianism. It includes a feature in every issue about a girl living with a disability. Like New Moon, most of the articles are written by teen girls. And that helps to bridge the gap between its urban writers and rural youth like Ann.
"An article about defending yourself was very good," Ann said. "It had a lot you should know about self-defense, whether you are in a city or not. This magazine had a lot of good stories-some to cry over and some that were very happy."
WITH: THE MAGAZINE for Radical Christian Youth is for both girls and boys, but I wanted to include it for the same reason I apologized for it when I explained this project to Ann: "It's a Christian magazine, but it's, well, not like Sunday school or anything."
With takes on a lot of the same issues as Teen Voices, but with an explicitly Christian perspective. It also includes a few other things, like Christian rock music reviews and volunteerism. And it does so in a way that brings the gospel into the daily lives of teens, far beyond Sunday school.
If New Moon could be accused of having an "occasionally dogmatic feminist slant," With could be accused of printing an occasional veiled adult lecture. "The article 'Virgin Pride' was very good, but it did sound kind of like People or Newsweek in the way it was written with big words," Ann said. I think what she means is that she wasn't convinced it was written for or by a teen. (It was a true story, but apparently written by a college student reflecting on a high school experience.)
These magazines are all at their best when they allow girls (and boys) to speak for themselves. The only real voices speaking in commercial girls magazines are those of advertisers. With the help of magazines like these, we can raise a generation of girls who recognize that.
JILL CARROLL LAFFERTY, a former Sojourners intern, is a staff writer for The Ottumwa Courier in Ottumwa, Iowa. ANN PLEGGENKUHLE will begin 9th grade this fall in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She would like to be a magazine writer.