Goodbye, dear glossy: A eulogy for teen magazines

Art by Analyn Camantigue

There are a lot of things I’ve done that I wish I could take back, but at the moment none of them hurt as much to think about as the time I threw all my magazines away.

I was 15, and had decided I’d outgrown the issues I’d been collecting since I was eight. They were abandoned, left to become dust in a bottom cabinet I knew was swimming with termites. By then, some of them — CosmoGIRL!, Teen People, and my favorite, Elle Girl — had already ceased publication. It wasn’t long before I realized what a bad decision it was, but by then, it was too late.

I thought back to that cabinet when a number of my most-loved titles announced they were no longer releasing print issues last year. There was Yen, an Australian independent publication aimed at smart, free-thinking young women. There was Teen Vogue, which had been doing so well in educating a new generation on what it means to care about what’s really going on. There was Nylon, the ultimate Bible of Cool that once solely used Helvetica on its pages.

And I don’t think it’s an overreaction to say that it felt like a part of me had died. It was the ultimate end of an era: every single thing that had become a huge part of my girlhood was gone. There was nothing left.

Art by Analyn Camantigue

I first stumbled upon magazines as a little sister, sneaking them out of my ate’s dresser drawer and running my little hands over the candy-colored glossiness. (It was only apt that the publication was called Candy.) It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I stopped borrowing them and started buying issues myself, saving up my allowance and taking a detour to Booksale every time we went to the mall.

In the 2000s, before the internet gave you access to everything, the world was very small. At least, mine was. It was difficult to explore the “alternative” side of pop culture when you didn’t have direct access to it or if you didn’t know where to find it, didn’t know that looking was even an option. But with magazines, things were suddenly multiple-choice. You didn’t have to go along with what everyone else was into — but it’s also totally okay if you do.

Back then I would haul huge piles of issues onto my desk and painstakingly take note of the cool stuff I found. I had wanted to replace the Jonas Brothers (I know) as my favorite band and found the likes of The Strokes and Sleater-Kinney in the process. Magazines taught me that I could travel from my living room by watching movies set in different cities and that there were good books beyond The Princess Diaries and the Mary-Kate and Ashley library.

It was a wonderful exercise in discovery that would later shape my interests and identity as a whole. The best thing was getting to see that there were so many interesting products of human creativity and different perspectives out there, and that maybe I could have my part in it, as well.

In the world of teen magazines, girls could do anything. You could ace your classes, dress cool and look great, get creative, and be you, only better. You learned the value of friendship and family. You got to decide who you wanted to be, and they would help you get there.

In the world of teen magazines, girls could do anything. You could ace your classes, dress cool and look great, get creative, and be you, only better. You learned the value of friendship and family. You got to decide who you wanted to be, and they would help you get there. The “true-life stories” were precursors to the personal essays we would come to consume for empathy, understanding, and kinship. Covering sex, abuse, drugs, mental health, and other tough topics, they didn’t exist to shock or produce thrills, but to say: “This is what it’s like.”

Some of my favorite publications remain online, but it’s definitely not the same. With the demise of their print runs came a palpable change in the teen experience. For the longest time, magazines were a major part of youth, from the cutouts that would become collages in our journals to the torn-out pages featuring fresh-faced idols and edgy bands that we plastered on our walls. Even just that feeling of welcoming a new month and knowing there would be all-new issues at bookstores and supermarkets is something I already miss dearly.

“When I came to college, I remember having this sense of, like, ‘Where did everybody hear about the cool stuff?’” said Greta Gerwig on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. In an age before the internet, “there was this disconnect between what the editors knew about and what we were hearing on the radio,” she added, citing having found Björk through Seventeen.

She, like me and so many others, generation after generation, found magazines to be important tools for navigating adolescence and beyond. “That thing of getting information through magazines,” Gerwig mused, “that was where the cool stuff was.”

She, like me and so many others, generation after generation, found magazines to be important tools for navigating adolescence and beyond. “That thing of getting information through magazines,” Gerwig mused, “that was where the cool stuff was.”

Recently I began scouring eBay for back issues of teen magazines, in an existential crisis-fueled attempt to rebuild the collection I had so foolishly lost. They’re not so easy to find these days, but I got lucky and was able to purchase the November/December 1999 issue of Nylon — its third issue ever — and a handful of Candy issues from 2001.

It’s silly, but looking at Nokia ads for ringtones and picture messages, fashion editorials ruled by tube tops and body glitter, and features on MTV VJs and boy bands, was like time travel. Still, when I flip to articles about getting your crush to notice you or learning to balance responsibilities and having fun, I get the sense that nothing much has changed.

And holding them in my hands, shiny and tangible as ever, I felt like they could help me get through life and everything would be okay again.

Tags:
#books #literature #self

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