When I was a youngster, getting a magazine felt like the single biggest treat in the world. Mainly I think it’s because they gave out free purple lip gloss and clumpy mascara that allowed me to morph into an MUA at every sleepover I attended, but I also liked finding out which member of the Zoey 101 cast I was via the medium of flow chart quizzes. Plus, I always felt like whipping a copy of Mizz out during break time would give me extra cool points (and I was a distinctly uncool kid, so I needed as many as I could get).
On a recent trip to buy an absurd amount of metallic stationary I came face to face with tween magazine nostalgia. It reminded me of just how dedicated I was to begging my parents to buy me one every time I walked past a corner shop. But aside from essentially asking my Dad to remortgage our house so that I could get stickers of S-Club Junior, I’m pretty sure that I would do anything that those pages told me. They were essentially my bible, which made me wonder whether they were teaching me the kinds of things that I would want to teach younger me given the opportunity.
And that is the story of how I ended up purchasing a whole rack of tween magazines out of curiosity. Who’s an adult now, huh?! Mainly I was surprised to see that the celebrities of my day had been replaced by internet stars, but I also gained a lot of insight about what I think these magazines are doing amazingly right, as well as what they desperately need to improve on.
Recent years have seen a rise in childhood anxiety and as somebody who was worried 24/7 about school, I know the importance of teaching young people about maintaining their mental health. I was surprised to see publications who seem to make most of their money from talking about Alfie Dayes and getting people to check out their Snapchat discuss the possible dangers of over-using the internet. Shout even had a “The Ten Rules of Social Media” spread which concluded that “Social media is a choice and you should only use it if it doesn’t have a negative impact on yourself and others!" There were also various pages with professional advice on how to relax when you’re stressed and how to live a more balanced life which included meditative colouring sections. What's not to love?
I’m a total sucker for a positive affirmation, so when I saw that these magazines had them on every other page I was more than a little excited. When I saw that they had them on stickers, I lost my shit. I love that Shout and Top of the Pops were telling their readers to “make their dreams a reality” and that they are “full time fierce”. That’s the kind of self-assurance that they need to be armed with as they enter their teenage years.
Girl Talk won me over after their first page which included “The Girl Talk Promise”. On the list was “I will love myself the way I am”, “By working hard I know that I can achieve great things” and “I believe that girls and boys are equal”. Doesn’t that make you all fuzzy inside? The girls reading this kind of stuff are going to be the ones that change the world one day and they know it.
However, as I'll talk about shortly, their feminism is ultimately flawed.
I can’t decide where I stand on this matter. On the one hand, they casually mention female celebrities and their wives and talk about the difficulties of defining sexuality, on the other they are painfully heteronormative. Quizzes to find which Youtuber should be your boyfriend. That sort of thing. Although I don’t think they’re doing terribly, I think they could definitely improve.
On the plus side, I liked the fact that there was a spread in Shout about how totally fine it is to be single. Yay for relieving the pressure on youngsters slightly!
And here we have probably the only deeply problematic thing that I found with these magazines: Lack of representation. Considering how many times I saw the words “girl power” on their pages (almost as many times as I saw Zoella’s face) I was sad to see that 99% of the women and girls they featured were white. Models, YouTubers, even illustrations were distinctly Caucasian. These are the only kinds of magazines on the market for the ‘tween’ age bracket, so it’s a disturbing reality that people of colour just don’t see themselves represented. To be honest, I was pretty excited by how progressive they were until I noticed this. It's upsetting that they want to promote positivity and innately feminist concepts, but apparently only if you're white.