CASE STUDY: GIRLS LIFE

HOLDING UP A MIRROR TO THE UGLY SIDE OF TEENAGE GIRL MAGAZINES

Feb, 2020

Something caught my eye as I was scrolling on Instagram last week. It was this photo. And I decided to make it this week’s example of Corkscrew Thinking in Action. But the more I dug into the photo the more I learnt – both good and bad.

At first glance, I’ll admit that I thought this Instagram post was another example of calling out the use of airbrushed photography on magazine covers. But as I read Katie Couric’s caption and the closer I looked at the two images, my spot the difference score jumped from 1 to 12!

Although shared by Katie Couric, this alternative, utopian magazine cover is the work of Katherine Young a self-titled “artist, geek, rocker-chick and believer in fairy tales”. As I learnt, this story actually has is roots in another social media post, see below. 

You’ll notice that the image shows two magazines, Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life. What quickly becomes apparent (and worrying) is the stark contrast in messaging and imagery between these two teenage magazines 

Where Girls’ Life says…“Wake up pretty! Because mornings are rough”

Boys’ Life says… Astronaut? Artist? Firefighter? Chef? Here’s how to be what you want to be. 

It is shocking to see the disparity in the narrative being fed to the two different demographics. 

Having seen this facebook post, Katherine decided to say “screw you Girls’ Life” and created an alternative cover. One that spoke to young girls in the way we should. With positive messaging that speaks of ambition, careers, school and self-love. 

She also chose to replace the cover girl with Olivia Hallisey, who in 2015 at the age of just 16 was awarded the top prize at the Google Science Fair for her inspiring, innovative and affordable method for testing for Ebola. On her project Olivia said…

“Nothing exists in isolation. What affects one country affects everyone. We have to work together to find answers to the enormous challenges that threaten global health, our environment and our world”. 

What a brilliant suggestion to use the magazine’s platform to share stories of teenage success and achievements. The original cover does such a dis-service to the expectations of its readers. 

You might have noticed that the original Facebook post shared above was from 2016. Before publishing this story, I thought I would give Girls’ Life the benefit of the doubt. To think that over 3 years they may have seen the error of their ways and made efforts to adjust and improve their messaging…

Let’s take a look at the June/July 2019 cover shall we…

On the left, 22 things every girl wonders about her boobs…. Love at first “like” – Insta-worthy dates… Seriously?

Where as in 2019, Boys’ Life Magazine’s front cover looked like the right… Boys’ Life is talking about Women’s Football! I don’t even need to say anymore… So what have I learnt from writing this case study of Corkscrew Thinking in Action?

I have been reminded how important it is to open our eyes and really take in the world around us. The danger of status quo is that ‘business as usual’ becomes ingrained into our everyday lives and over time it becomes harder to spot them as they fade into what we accept as normal behaviour. This is definitely the case with this example of Corkscrew Thinking. I commend Katherine taking the time to hold up a mirror to the ugly side of teenage magazine publications and making it impossible to ignore the dangers of this particular status quo. 

I have walked past countless magazines that depict shallow and lightweight narratives however none of them have ever provoked much of a reaction from me. Katherine’s stark comparison made it impossible to ignore the issue at hand but also provided a positive alternative and creative challenge to the status quo. 

But just as it takes time for status quo to form, it also takes time to break it down again. Katherine has put the first chink in the armour but it will take more people to stand against this kind of messaging and say that we and future generations of young women deserve better. 

Next time you see an established status quo that doesn’t feel right, don’t let it pass you by. Engage with your creativity and embrace your inner courage to say ‘enough’s enough! This has to change’.

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