From age 14 on, I grew up without a mom. I got my period, had my first kiss and attended my first high school formal without the guidance of a woman. My aunt and grandmother stepped in to cook me meals on school nights and help me study for tests — and I don’t want to discredit them in any way — but they weren’t my mom.
Without a clear maternal figure or older sister to turn to, I did what any reasonable adolescent would: I turned to the pages of a teen magazine. Seventeen.
Seventeen has historically taken its responsibility to instill confidence in its fragile, adolescent reader-base seriously. In August 2012, the magazine pledged to stop digitally altering photos as part of its “Body Peace Treaty.”
Ann Shoket, Seventeen’s editor-in- chief at the time of the decision, emphasized that the magazine “never has, never will” digitally alter(ed) the bodies or faces of the models it features and will only use photos of “real girls and models who are healthy.”
The magazine has also consistently framed itself as the reader’s older sister — its mission being to “talk about the tricky stuff you [readers] don’t want to discuss with anyone else” and to keep its readers from being embarrassed. “Don’t worry, it’s just us girls,” Shoket wrote in her October 2013 Editor’s Letter.
The magazine is not without problems, of course. Like any popular media outlet, Seventeen perpetuates heteronormative conceptions of gender and emphasizes male-defined standards of beauty. These messages are limiting and disempowering, and they warrant further critical discussion.
Still, it hurts me every time I hear someone refer to Seventeen or any other magazine — particularly those targeted at women — as “superficial” or “self-serving,” because I’ve witnessed the positive impact such a seemingly trivial magazine can have. I was the result of that impact.
Seventeen was the substitute mom/older sister that guided me through adolescence. It taught me how to have safe sex, resist peer pressure and feel comfortable in my skin despite the many bodily changes I faced during puberty. It instilled in me a sense of confidence to abstain from wearing makeup (surprisingly enough) and to treat clothing as a creative outlet instead of a mechanism to conform to the norm.
That magazine did for me what any responsible media outlet should aim to do: It met me where I was and provided me with the information and encouragement I needed to progress intellectually, socially and emotionally.
So please, don’t write off Seventeen, or any other women’s magazine, as a cesspool of superficiality and meaninglessness. No, it’s no New York Times, and yes, it has plenty of problems it needs to critically address — but it also has worth. It serves as a public good for girls like me and any other adolescent who isn’t sure where to turn.
Seventeen is more than its coverage about One Direction and its fashion spreads. It was my maternal figure, and I doubt I’m the only one who can say that.