I recently got to thinking about some of my favourite magazines growing up, a thought which was triggered by the news that Seventeen Magazine is now shifting to a “digital-first strategy.” With only special stand-alone issues being published throughout the year, it’s one of many publications that is making that strategic change. Seventeen was one of the many magazines I couldn’t wait to get my hands on each month during my teenage years, and it’s crazy to think that after 74 years a physical copy will be few and far between. From my childhood to the present day, magazines in differing formats have played a significant role in my life. Whether it’s relationship advice or giving me a new perspective on worldly issues, magazines have been a go-to source of entertainment and guidance for me.
My love of magazines stemmed from my family’s collections that filled our house during my childhood. There was something about flicking the glossy pages of my aunt’s vast magazine collection she kept so tidily and logically stored on her shelves that got me excited, even if at 12 years old I had no business reading Red. Our coffee table used to be piled with copies of my mum’s Ebony and Essence magazines. Month after month, I would go through each copy, taking in the cover story with the black women on the covers, and learning what products were good for my hair. Ebony and Essence, although probably slightly mature for me in their content at the time, spoke to me as they were dedicated to catering to an African-American female audience. It was in magazines such as these that I first saw myself in the world of media, even though they were not reflecting the Black British experience. Something as small as a page with an advert of a little black girl on the box of a chemical relaxer was an image I recognised and responded to, and made me continue to turn page after page. Little did the editors know that in some tiny English village was a young black girl revelling in all their content.
Representation continued to be important to me in my magazine choices as I grew older. I first started reading Teen Vogue due to the copy my mum bought me back in November 2009 with models, Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman on the cover. Seeing two beautiful young black girls smiling back up at me made me realise that in all my magazine purchasing years, that was the first time I was seeing a cover with girls that looked like me. Whilst Ebony and Essence were all about the black woman, never was there a black girl or young woman that I could somewhat relate to on the covers, until now with Jourdan and Chanel. It’s this very same reason I stopped buying the magazine as two years down the line, I still hadn’t seen another young black girl grace the covers and I couldn’t part with my money any longer for a magazine that just wasn’t representing me.
During a tough period in Secondary School, the likes of Seventeen and Teen Vogue got me through my lunch breaks as I was going through a rough patch with friends. Their girly advice on friendships and relationships helped me through that time, and so magazines continued to serve as life manuals as I grew up. Yet now I go to magazines for a different purpose. I’m drawn to those that aim to amplify the voices of people from underrepresented backgrounds, often women, who are given the platform to express their stories, lives and views on issues that I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with. You’ll still find me scrolling through Teen Vogue’s website, but now I add online magazines such as gal-dem and sisterhood into the mix which challenge my thinking.
It’s not just their format that has developed over time, but also their content too. It has been encouraging to see that the content put out by older publications, alongside newer ones, has also progressed and pushed beyond talking about crushes and embarrassing moments. Teen Vogue has been known to step out of the box of its usual fashion focused pieces, to producing articles discussing modern politics and current issues. Young girls aren’t just makeup and boy-obsessed like they are usually portrayed as; across the world, they are taking a stand for issues and causes they are passionate about. You have teenage girls challenging gun reform in the USA, organising women’s marches and getting involved in protests. They are so much socially and politically engaged than I was at their age and the magazines, both print and online, that cater to this demographic are noticing that and gearing their content to showcase news on such subjects.
I was and I still am able to find a place to escape to within the pages, although this time I’ve traded my paper pages to digital ones. It’s the real-life accounts that still engage me, often allowing me to reflect on my own life, whether there are similarities or not. I also always wanted an older sister and it was within magazine pages that I ever felt close to having one with all the advice and guidance projected through the articles. I was able to feel as though I was part of a sisterhood, and it’s still a feeling I get reading pieces on my favourite online magazine sites. With young women like myself sharing their narratives, we’ve been given a voice and a chance to be heard, showing the world there’s more to us than what society tends to think.
Much like the rest of the world, the publishing industry has been affected by the digital revolution. What used to be published on a monthly basis, has now dwindled to one issue every quarter or has shifted to an entirely digital focus. I remember Sugar being one of the first magazines I bought to make this change before it inevitably ceased all publication. As someone who’s always loved the print form and having a physical magazine to hold and read countless times over, I didn’t warm up to the online format of magazines at first. However teens today are consuming their information a lot differently to the way my generation was. These days you have Youtubers and other social media influencers providing their followers with all the information magazines once did, and honestly, there’s probably more variety out there now. Times have changed and I too have had to make changes, and one of them is accepting that magazines are taking a different shape now.
Written by Aisha Rimi