In your piece, “How Seventeen Undermines Young Women” (Extra!, 1-2/93), Kimberly Phillips set out with a thesis and then searched for the facts to support it.
Yes, we are a commercially supported magazine, and it is my supposition that Kimberly’s objection to our fashion and beauty stories is that concern with appearance is damaging to women. Yet experimenting with your appearance is one of the ways in which adolescents separate from their parents, and it’s important. Further, fashion, like music, politics, sex, work and health (all of which we regularly cover) is something that many young women are interested in, and while it may offend Kimberly’s sensibilities, I would like to think that censorship would offend them more.
Yes, we do stories about men, and from the point of view of men. Guess what? Many young women are interested in the opposite sex, they’re attracted to them, and curious about the difference between them.
For the record, we were the only magazine for teenagers last year that ran a regular column specifically covering the election and all of its issues, including abortion rights, day care, health care, and the rights of gays, women and minorities. We also published a state-by-state guide telling our readers how to register and vote. We are one of the few magazines in the country with a monthly column devoted to environmental issues. And we’re one of a handful of places where any reader can find good, literary fiction, publishing such authors as Margaret Atwood, Jill McCorkle and Ann Patchet.
Our aim is to engage young women, and empower them. And if you or your writer would look beyond the pretty clothes, the sometimes whimsical headlines, and your own narrow view of what’s appropriate, I think you’d find that our basic message is similar to your own: Be informed, be kind to yourself and to other people, and be fair.
Kimberly Phillips replies:
I understand that Seventeen is a commercially supported magazine, and that this necessitates a certain number of fashion and beauty articles per issue. I also understand that appearance is one way that adolescents express the changes that occur during this period of our lives.
I become concerned, however, when young women are taught that their appearance is the most important thing that changes during their teenage years. By running three or four fashion spreads per issue, not to mention numerous smaller columms on clothing, hair care and makeup, while only running two or three “serious” articles, this is exactly the message that Seventeen imparts. Criticizing this imbalance can hardly be interpreted as a call for censorship.
For the record, political articles in Seventeen are mostly confined to a three- or four-paragraph column on a page filled with other tidbits.
You say young women are interested in and attracted to the opposite sex. As a 17-year-old woman myself, this is something I do not doubt. However, we live in a society in which young women are constantly asked to define themselves in terms of men. Any magazine that seeks to empower young women should try to work against these expectations, rather than perpetuate them.