By Melinda Tankard Reist

Girlfriend September 2010
GirlfriendKaty Perry features on the cover. While Perry is well known for her raunchy, highly sexualised music video clips and lyrics, none of this is even touched on in GFs interview. You’d think she was singing about butterflies and cupcakes.

A ‘self-respect reality check’ on the cover tells us not to be fooled by Katy’s ‘perfect locks’ because she ‘regularly wears wigs in public.’ Will this knowledge help address the severity of body image dissatisfaction in this country?

All the ads appear airbrushed. Why isn’t GF upfront about the fact its ‘reality checks’ on  airbrushing and digital enhancement don’t apply to advertising, which constitutes a significant part of the magazine.

Reader of the month is a 13-year-old who has been reading GF “like forever”. This may be of interest to those who think GF’s readership is older and possibly more mature, given some of the sexual content.

Lots of pages of products, fashion, average to skinny body sizes. Two more ’reality checks’ informing us readers, not models, were used in some shoots. Another tells us it took “three hours to get the models to look this gorgeous”. Which is good to know. But the girl on the opposite page looked very skinny and possibly airbrushed that way (no blemishes, super thin legs). No reality check there.

Six pages in we find advertorial for ‘Search for the FACE of Fing’rs’, which opens “Ever Dreamed of becoming a model? Here’s your chance to nail it. Are you fun, confident, love all things fashion and beauty (especially having glam nails) and think you have what it takes to become the next big thing?” While GF has said it is moving away from catwalk models, modelling for the fashion/beauty industry continues to be presented as aspirational.

There’s a Lady Gaga poster, which, again, helps condition young readers into thinking stylised, glamourised, sexualised depictions of violence must be OK.

I’m concerned about the message on exercise. While weight loss isn’t specifically mentioned, some of the advice offered could fuel behaviours of those heading toward, or already experiencing, fully developed exercise addiction, often connected to disordered eating. Some of the tips: “If a friend calls, walk around the house as you chat. Better yet, arrange to meet at a park and talk while you walk together”; “If you have a dog, make it your job to always walk it”; “Wear a pedometer and aim to walk 10,000 steps (or more) a day“.

BIG FAIL! ‘Let’s Speak Net Speak TL;DR
TLDR – internet speak for Too Long, Didn’t Read – can be used “to hilarious effect” says Girlfriend, “right after someone spills an intensely personal and emotional post detailing their innermost thoughts and feelings”.

The example is given of an individual whose dog has died. They express great loneliness and loss. They are not coping, they feel sad and their “heart hurts so much”. After which the reader adds “TL:DR”, at GF’s prompting.

I would have expected the editors to be more responsible about behavior that could constitute – or possibly least lead to – cyber-bullying, which has become so common and devastating for so many young people. 

Remarkably, on the adjoining page is advice from GF’s “Life coach”. Under the heading “It’s cool to be kind”, GF advises practicing “random acts of kindness for an extra dose of happiness. Like now”.

‘Flirting 101’.This piece on flirting to attract boys shows us just how far we haven’t come. In Lesson 3, “Carolin also suggests asking him to help you with something, for example your maths homework”. That’s right, because girls are hopeless at maths and need the smart (hot) boys to help them. You can also ask a boy to help move your wardrobe. Because you are weak and helpless. Lesson 4 advises on ‘Sweet moves’. “…if you want to show him you’re interested, another good trick is to touch your hair and tip your head to one side (italics mine)….Before you know it, with a little practice, you’ll begin to feel more relaxed and flirting will just come naturally.” And in Lesson 5 “…when it comes to guys, pretty much any attention is good attention”. Really?

Positive: Feature on global food crisis. Some real-world reality is a welcome break from the emphasis on beauty, fashion and hot boys.

Feature on relationship abuse “One day my boyfriend gave me a black eye”. Given the level of violence against girls in Australia, we need more articles like this.

‘Girlfriend Gets Real’ contains helpful true stories. These include ‘I overcame bullying’ (somewhat undermined by the TL;DR piece), an 18-year-old who wants to be a para-olympian, a girl with a rare eating disorder and a 16-year-old fighting cancer, as well as a dancer and an aspiring photographer. There are opinions from girls about Julia Gillard as first female PM.

A piece on the influence of friend’s food talk and dieting behaviour and how to resist competitive eating/dieting pressure, is welcome.

The ‘Good Advice’ section contained a page on ‘My first time’ which at least included stories of girls who regretted sexual activity too soon – a departure from common magazine story lines about sex. (Hayley: “It wasn’t the right time or the right person for me. I didn’t think it through enough.”). Research demonstrates that most girls regret their first sexual experience and wish they’d waited, so it was good to see this reflected here.

Mostly sensible and sound answers to reader’s questions in the advice section.

Dolly October 2010
Pages of products, fashion, grooming, Justin Bieber guff. No blemish Taylor Swift on the cover (airbrushed or not? No disclosure).

‘Retouch free’ model on p 22 & 24 and 97 &98 (though they clearly picked a pretty much flawless girl to start with – the editors must have thought so too, there are 15 shots of her!)

‘Relationship Fails’. Emphasis only on the girl’s behaviour, which is concerning: “Double standards, jealousy, not listening…we tackle the things that’ll turn him off quicker than you can say ‘You’re dumped.’” Too often the emphasis is on what she does wrong, what she needs to do to keep the relationship, if something goes wrong it is her fault. That is in evidence here.

Positive: feature on ‘Girls Behind Bars’: The reality of life behind bars for a record number of teens in detention. Personal story, ‘Being in juvenile detention turned my life around’ could be a salutary lesson for some troubled girls.
‘Kicked Out of the Group: What to do when your friends ditch you’ contains useful info for girls who have experienced exclusion from their friendship groups.

A section on increasing inner confidence could also be of help to girls (though no acknowledgement of external circumstances that can rob a girl of confidence).

School survival section on ‘How to be a study gun’ and dealing with exam pressure’ is practical and helpful.
‘Real Reads section’, girl suffering depression but now back on track, girls pursuing dreams through writing, stationary design, girl with cystic fibrosis and diabetes, 17-year-old who lands role in musical.

locker roomI was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of bodies in an advertising spread on locker room lingerie (also labelled as ‘retouch free zone’). More varied bodies appeared in other fashion spreads, which I wasn’t expecting.

‘The shocking truth about sexual assault’ is timely and important. Given the reality of sexual violence in girl’s lives, as mentioned above, such articles need to be published more often.

‘Body Happy’ section featured a diversity of bodies and looks. Dolly might be trying harder.

‘Dolly Doctor’: Given that Dolly’s readers are younger than GFs, and given it is obvious 12-13-year-olds are reading GF, parents might want to have a look at this section and discuss advice with their daughters, especially regarding sexual matters).

This issue of Dolly was ‘meatier’ than I was anticipating. While there remained an over- emphasis on beauty, fashion and consumerism, there were at least some worthwhile offerings in amongst this.

Girl Power September 2010
Girl Power, and the other younger girls mags reviewed here, provide early socialisation into the popularised teenage world of clothes, makeup, sex and celebrities. And to be cool, accepted and fit in with your peers, you need lots of stuff.

Girl Power is drowning in products, beauty, fashion, celebs and entertainment. The only divergence is two pages on two sportswomen, six pages on getting ready for spring, five pages of quizzes, and two on dolphins, a page on pets and being green and a ‘fun zone’ section.

Concerns: ‘Red Carpet Ratings’. Ranking celebs introduces girls to the concept of body judgement and surveillance at primary school age.“Is that a towel she’s wearing”? “Very shapeless and the pants are too daggy. Also she needs to work on her pose”; “This does nothing for MK [Mary-Kate Olsen]. I don’t like it at all!”

‘Celebrity advice’: ‘Brittanie’ asks Mr Mitchel Musso for advice. “There’s a boy in my class and I have a crush on him. I think he likes me too and I wanna go out with him…”  This normalises crushes for girls under ten.

Girls are asked: “Which of these three gals reminds you of yourself?’’ The options – Bindi Irwin, Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga.  Not many options there and one is a woman notorious for pornographic imagery and highly sexualised behaviours. If a little girl said Lady Gaga reminded her of herself, some might see it as a sign the child needs counselling. Were there no women making a real difference in the world who could be offered in this question?

Posters for girls include Beyonce and Katy Perry. Some parents may be concerned that ‘Beanie Kids Star Signs’ is introducing children to horoscopes.

Disney Girl
Celebs (lots of Miley), an interview with iCarly star Miranda Cosgrove,  informing readers who’s hot , pages on Justin Beiber, Katy Perry, trivia, products, products and more products – including a notebook that says “I’m going to be gorgeous and this is my plan” – trivial information about what stars are into (including Lady Gaga who is no longer into Hello Kitty).

A section on Disney Girl Fashion: “Obsessed with fashion? Get your latest dose right here, right now.” Do we want to encourage little girls to be obsessed with fashion? The regular ‘Gossip Girl’ section makes gossip sound appealing: “The girl with all the hottest gossip: A girl’s bible on everything celebrity and all the gossip that goes with it. Step inside and find all the juicy celeb-inspired news here…”

Lady Gaga gets more coverage, with a page on “GAGA FASHION”. Five studies in ugliness follow. Fortunately there are no images from her latest film clips. That would put the magazine into the porn category. But little girls are still socialised into idolising the singer, who is known for the mix of porn and violence in recept clips and appearances. Backed up by a big poster of Katy Perry.

Fifty pages in and there are two pages on something other than celebrity/gossip/fashion: “20 fun things to do with your besties”. Four more pages – ‘tips to make your life sweeter’ (unfortunately the second  is ‘choose your fave fashion accessory’) then 2 pages on ‘healthy living’ before we’re back into the celebs, movies and gossip.

Disney Girl also has a horoscope section for girls.

Total Girl September 2010
Am I repeating myself if I list: celebrity, fashion, entertainment? Yes, I am.

Total Girl has Bieber fever so bad it is at risk of death. Sixteen pages of Justin Bieber ‘glory’.

The ‘Totally You’ section: “It’s all about me, myself and I ’which encourages narcissist behaviour and thought. This section includes chatterbox, embarrassing moments, and a section on pets, a nine-page fashion spread, and pages of entertainment. We meet the ‘icarly igirls’ – ‘gorgeous winners’ chosen to be ‘the face’ of the icarly clothing range. They look about seven or eight. A page on Katy Perry, star signs for girls, and a quiz on ‘Which Liv girl are you most like?’All four are skinny and heavily made up.

Little Angel September 2010
TV, entertainment, gossip, activities, products, 10 things you didn’t know about Justin Bieber, embarrassing moments, Hannah Montana, Aussie actors.

The only relief, ‘Angel of the year’, commending girls who have done kind things (‘Being caring is cool!’) and a few pages of activities.

While overall not as overtly adultifying as the others, Little Angel is awash with celebrity and gossip. A from telling girls it’s nice to care, there is very little content that would suggest to girls they would do well to explore all their gifts and abilities and that life isn’t just about celebrity and buying stuff.

Writer Melinda Tankard Reist. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha