Adolescent Girls and the Magazine Effect

“Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.” That is just one of the many helpful suggestions drummed into Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen Song (which is originally an essay written by Mary Schmich). That is also one of the pieces of advice found in the song that are certainly never followed.

Most teenage girls surely have read, or at the very least have flipped through, the pages of some popular fashion and beauty magazines that today: Seventeen, Vogue, bazinga Cosmo, etc. It has been claimed, however, that reading these kinds of magazines does make young readers somehow feel ugly.

Operation: Perfection

Looks. This is what these magazines seem to prioritize. Take even just a single glance at the cover of one of these magazines and anyone will notice that flooding it are headlines such as dress to impress, be a knockout and lose that extra weight. Most of the articles inside the pages also typically revolve around making oneself look good and more beautiful. But, what does being beautiful mean anyway? If we take out its definition according to what is shown on these magazines, being beautiful apparently means being equal to tall, fair and skinny girls with straight long locks of hair. But what about those who don’t fall on this group?

The importance being placed on the appearance is not only seen on the contents of the articles of those magazines. More pages are apparently allotted to advertisements which usually also showcase the typical teen as someone with perfect and polished looks.

However, it isn’t entirely the fault of these magazines. Teenagers will naturally be bombarded with self-esteem issues, whether they read beauty magazines or not. Though only by looking at the pages of these magazines, which constantly tell them at an early age that their bodies are not good enough and that they need continuous enhancement, their attitude towards their bodies are worsened to the point that they do not only have low self-esteem but hatred towards themselves.

Body Image Issues

Studies show that looking at thin, sexualized and digitally-enhanced images of women on magazines, more often than not, result to young girls’ experiences of poor body image, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. A five-year study also found that reading beauty and fashion magazines is associated with wanting to lose weight and initiating diets. Reading dieting advice in magazines is associated with skipping meals, smoking, vomiting and using laxatives among teenage girls.

Their bodies seem to become the “personal project” of young girls. They are encouraged to see themselves as objects, to value themselves for their looks rather than as a whole person. What is even more sad is how some girls end up risking their health in aspiring to look like the unattainable images of models and celebrities on the magazines. What these girls don’t know–or probably refuse to know–is that what they see on these magazines is not reality; the images of those Barbie-ish models and celebrities are apparently photoshopped. Moreover, they do not represent the ordinary teenage girl.

Be a Filter Master

Adolescent girls do not need to completely stop reading beauty and fashion magazines. After all, no matter how these magazines affect girls negatively, one could not also deny the fact that these are able to help in several ways, especially with the inspiring and empowering articles that these magazines offer as well.

What teenagers must learn to do instead is to identify, among the countless images and ideas that they are fed, which ones to nurture and which to not. Nobody would surely want more girls, due to major mishaps, piling up and waiting to be treated by nurses and physicians with various medical instruments and home healthcare products. This can be avoided, especially if teens keep in mind that beauty really is only skin deep anyway. Cliché, yes, but true.

Sarah Kerr is a pediatric physician who prefers using colorful medical instruments to give a friendlier and more welcoming approach to children and teens.

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