seventeen in 1971

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Johnson proposes that magazines can be “cultural artifacts that reflect societal norms and demographic trends, mirroring gender interests, ethnic concerns, and current events” (86). While Johnson’s history of the magazine was extensive, I kept wondering where the nonliterary magazines snuck in. Cosmopolitan is mentioned early on in the chapter, having evolved into a publication “encouraging sexual freedom and expression” (68). However, I kept wondering how we got from Ladies’ Home Journal —for “manners, morals, and milieu in polite society”—to Seventeen. I went down the virtual candy store isle and studied a series of pages from ’Teen March 1971 issue. There is of course the right amount of cringe-worthy material. My personal favorite: how to play the “weighting game” so that special someone will notice you at the beach—don’t worry, it is a lose or gain game for “Fat Fannies and Skinny Minnies alike!” It is a cultural artifact, in this way, “how we were” as Johnson would say.

And yet, directly after this lengthy description of “girth control,” I found an instructional article about the lack of information families receive on missing soldiers in Vietnam. The article centers on Bonnie Appleby (could this really be her name?) of Tuscon, AZ who’s dream “isn’t to become a world famous model or to marry a movie star” but to know what happened to her father, who went missing in action. Addresses for politicians and journalists are provided so that readers might write about this issue. I wondered if this same juxtaposition could happen in a teen magazine now given the narrowing of magazine interests since then. I could hardly imagine an article about Syrian refugees cropping up next to a cat eye makeup tutorial. But I suppose this is just how we used to be. In some ways, more superficial. It be equally unacceptable to print a story with the headline “Calling all you Fat Fannies!” as it would be to print a politicized call to action. That was seventeen in 1971, we can imagine: doing crunches in stripped pajamas and licking envelopes for POWs before tie-dying your sheets with Rit liquid dye—”if you can tie a knot, you can tie-dye with Rit.” And someday we will appear equally strange.


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