By Melinda Tankard-Reist.

For many girls, the magazines they read are their lifestyle bibles. How should they look, dress, act and relate? What’s important in life? Who should they look up to? My analysis of the November issues of Girlfriend, Dolly, Girlpower, Disney Girl, Little Angel and the October and November issues of TotalGirl shows that girls are being delivered a mostly one-dimensional, generic and limited view of girl/young womanhood.

The emphasis is on looks, fashion, beauty practices, consumerism, gossip, and celebrity culture.  The little girls’ magazines provide early socialisation into the popularised teen world of clothing, make-up, sex and celebrities. I’m especially disturbed by the encouragement given to very young girls, through the advice sections, to have boyfriends.


GF’s ‘Self Respect REALITY CHECKS’ are just getting weird. They seem to be dropped in at random, even when not all that relevant. In this issue there’s one on the front for Emma Watson. Emma’s image, we are told, was purchased before Emma cut her hair. So what? How does that address body image dissatisfaction and provide a ‘Self Respect REALITY CHECK’?

 An inside feature, “I believe…” about girls with a variety of religious beliefs, also has a ‘reality check’. The magazine declares that ‘we did an online call-out for readers of different religions to participate in this story and these are the girls who stepped forward.’ Perhaps that’s worth stating. But is it about self-respect?

There’s three other ‘reality checks’: ‘Readers, not models, were used in this shoot’ (x2) and a ‘check’ showing the time that models spent in hair and make-up. So that’s five checks, only two of which have any relevance to GF’s originally stated intention of getting real about body image.

And why is the advertising exempt from ‘reality checks’? This is where we see the bulk of skinny, air-brushed, flawless women.

The Billabong ads are a paean to summer body perfection. The advertised bikinis may as well be marked size T – for tiny. There’s virtually no body diversity in GF’s advertising. Advertising should not be treated as somehow exempt from the magazine’s stated intention that it is ‘getting real’ about body image.

We meet the winners of the ‘Face of Fing’rs 2010’ competition. Kharla is 14, Jessica 15. For some reason the stylists have plastered them in fire-engine red lipstick, the intensity of which would make a clown’s mouth look pale. It makes them look much more adult than they are.

Speaking of models, we also meet past winners of ‘Girlfriend of the Year’. I’m not a fan of modelling competitions, but at least new applicants are asked to write about their dreams are and how they want to achieve them. This year’s winner was fashion designer Imam Krayem, who is wearing a head covering (and, somewhat in contrast, holding what appears to be lingerie).  Perhaps GF wants to show it does want to represent a range of women. Having said that, most of the women in the magazine are standard-bodied white anglo females.

Advertisers must be aware that very young girls are reading Girlfriend. There’s an ad (here and in the other mags reviewed) for ‘Fashion Paradise’, inviting girls to ‘become the ultimate fashion expert’ and organise fashion shows and open glamorous boutiques. There are figurines available for this product, which look to me like they would appeal to girls around 8-11.

Other advertising, for example for Garnier, was presented as a four-page feature when it was really an advertorial.

The Good Bits

I was very pleased to see the piece ‘Dying to Drink’ which discusses the rise of Vodka as the drink of choice for teenage girls. The article confronts young women with the risks and harms of Vodka consumption and shatters the myth that it is less risky than other alcoholic drinks.

Paul Dillon, Director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia – and one of Generation Next’s speaking team – makes a sobering statement: “The last five deaths that I’ve been involved with were all female school students aged 16 and 17 and all fatalities were vodka related.” Now that’s a reality check. If GF ran more articles like this, I would commend it publicly and loudly.

Other positive and helpful articles: one on how to save money (a welcome inclusion would have been ‘reduce spending on hair, cosmetics and other grooming products which you mostly don’t need’!); a recommendation to volunteer your time, how to manage family stress caused by financial pressures and how you can help ease the load at home (assist around the house, look after your belongings, earn your own money). I like that girls are situated within their families, and are encouraged to contribute positively, especially when times are tough.

A piece on safe driving features a short video created by 14-year-old Maddy Frahm.

The ‘Get Real’ section contains true stories which will hopefully inspire girls towards empathy (‘I was bullied by thousands’, ‘I’ve had 101 operations’) and making a difference in developing countries (‘We volunteered overseas’).

Then it’s back to hot boys and crushes and how girls and boys aren’t from different planets, ‘just different hemispheres’.

Jessica Mauboy is here too – she was featured as a fresh-faced teenager on Australian Idol and has now been rebranded as the new ‘It girl’, having returned from a trip to the United States where she was made-over by some of the most misogynist male rap artists in the industry (that fact isn’t mentioned). GF describes Mauboy’s new single as ‘a flirty tribute to every girl’s number one love – shoes!’. Oh please, every girl?

Not so good: Why is mental health in the sealed section?

This issue includes a very important subject: ‘The truth about mental illness’. The article covers anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, bipolar, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia, along with treatment, recovery and helplines. This is great. But why is it in the sealed section? What does that suggest about being mentally ill? That it is something that should be hidden? I’m at a loss to understand this placement decision.


Dolly has a ‘re-touch free zone’. The problem is, the logo indicating a ‘re-touch free zone’ appears very minimally, despite the ‘amazing response’ Dolly has received about this feature. It is too tokenistic a gesture in my view. The fact that the logo is used so rarely shows just how little re-touching actually does take place. And when it is used, it’s hard to tell if it just applies to the one page it appears on, or to a feature as a whole (e.g swimsuit photo section from p.74). Use of the word ‘zone’ suggests more than an individual page but I’m not sure that’s how Dolly intends it to be interpreted.

A feature on teen pregnancy, clearly designed to portray the reality of having a baby at a young age, is unrelentingly bleak – so much so I wondered if the case study was real. ‘I’m 16…and a mum’ describes what happened when ‘Jessie’ told her parents she was pregnant to her boyfriend:  ‘My dad was furious and kicked me out.’ Nice one, dad. 

In ‘A day in the life of Jessie’ she says that from‘8.30pm-5am: ‘I get up during the night over 20 times to burp, change, feed and sing to Emily.’ Twenty times a night? If this is true I hope Dolly put her in touch with a service that could help. No girl – or woman – should have to manage that without support. Dolly: if she is a real girl, please tell put her in touch with a relevant agency.

And if ‘Jessie’ is not real? It’s one thing to discourage teen pregnancy, it’s quite another to catastrophise it to the point where the litany of horrors become hard to believe.

The Dolly fashion pages feature these shoes. Perfect for crippling the feet of Dolly’s tween and barely teen girl readers.

Some tiny bikinis in Dolly though they’ve also included some larger sized swimwear, unlike GF.

The Good Bits

…Are a page on how not to get caught up in gossip, how to handle criticism, unreliable friends and why they are bad for your health, 10 ways to lift your mood, handling period pain, and dealing with death. The ‘Real Reads’ section features a 17-year-old girl whose health was harmed smoking pot, a 14-year-old who had a hip replacement, a 14-year-old who helps to look after her 13-year-old disabled brother, and a 14-year-old survivor of domestic violence who suffered abuse at the hands of her step father.

A section on ‘What’s your ideal career?’ could have been useful, but the series of multiple choice questions results in the limited choice of a mere four ‘ ideal careers’: hospitality, creative arts, IT and fashion. Is that it? (it is bizarre that ‘news reporter’ is included in the fashion section. Perhaps in Dolly’s world, fashion is the only thing worth reporting on?).

The NOT So Good Bits

‘How to rule the (online) universe’ introduces readers to Tumblr, Flickr and Formspring ‘to put you at the top of the social media stratosphere’. According to cyber safety expert Susan McLean – also a Gen Next speaker – Formspring is the number one medium for on-line bullying. This isn’t mentioned in the article.

Dolly gives advice to girls which could be seen as promoting stalking-type behaviours. For example ‘Get insider info on your crush’: ‘Ask your crush a question anonymously…you can get loads of helpful hints about how to snag him – and he’ll never guess it’s you.’ You can even find out what he’s doing on the weekend ‘so you can randomly turn up at the same spot!’ I found this advice creepy.

Also creepy is a six page feature titled ‘Planet Hot’ featuring 13-year-old Australian boy singer, Cody Simpson and 14-year-old US boy actor Kodi Smith (who looks younger) featured in a section called “PLANET HOT”. Would we want to see 13 and 14-year-old old girls featured in the ‘Planet Hot’ section of a boys’ mag?

Boys are asked about their ‘ultimate dream date’. What message does it send to the average girl reader that teen boys pick women like Angelina Jolie -‘She’s hot and has big lips’ (Max, 15) and ‘Miranda Kerr is hot! I’d love to take her on a private jet to Canada’ (Lachlan, 16). Seems irrelevant that Kerr is married and pregnant and Jolie lives with Brad Pitt and their large brood.

Then there’s ‘The guy field guide’ with lots of tips to help you know if ‘he is watching you’, ‘top four tips to keep him keen and what to watch out for’, and how to tell if he’s flirting or not. The tips come from The Little Book of Flirting.  There’s also places to find boys that readers may not have thought of, and some suggested pick-up lines: Try an electronics store, for example, approach target boy and say: ‘Hi, sorry to bother you but what console would you recommend’. Or a hardware store: ‘Hi. I’m a little lost – can you please tell me where the hammers are?’

Also concerning is that many of the featured men are in their 20’s – one is 27, two are 28. Should Dolly be encouraging crushes on men this age in its (increasingly younger) readership? Is teaching girls to objectify men’s bodies a good thing?

This issue doesn’t seem to have the same body diversity as last month’s issue. There’s an 8-page fashion spread featuring a willowy blond girl.

Dolly Doctor’s advice about obtaining the pill and the ‘morning-after pill’ for under-age girls may be of concern to some parents. The advice says (in part): ‘The chemist won’t require ID and you don’t have to be a certain age. You can also see a doctor confidentially to talk about contraception and to be prescribed the pill – if you’re under age’.  If a girl is under-age, and the male is more than two years older, it is possible a crime is being committed. The girl may have been coerced into unwanted sex. It would have been helpful if something along these lines had been flagged to assist girls in this situation.

This issue comes with a ‘Beauty Book’: ‘All the advice you’ll ever need!’ While some of the advice may be helpful to girls, it should not be overlooked that the Beauty Book is, very much also a product promotion.

Most of the girls featured have impossibly flawless newborn baby skin. That should get girls buying up the products! On the last page (p.146) are some nice words about ‘Beauty wisdom’: the importance of personality, being beautiful on the inside, how we’re all imperfect, you know the kind of thing. Which is good, of course. But it’s the last page page after flogging all the products so ‘essential’ for girls.

Total Girl (Oct, Nov)

I could just cut and paste everything I said last time. Not much has changed. Total Girl reads like an advertising catalogue for the ‘cutest products’ girls must have. It’s a seemingly endless barrage of pink fairies, clothes, toys, styling aids.

TotalGirl October is the‘100th issue collector’s edition’ (the first issue was launched in 2002).

TG is celebrating with a major party theme, featuring highlights of past issues and most popular cover girls. In 2009, Lady Gaga was the big ticket item for TG: ‘Lady Gaga has got the world hooked on her out-there antics, and we just can’t get enough!’ This once again reinforces Lady Gaga and her porn persona as an appropriate celebrity for little girls.

A feature asks ‘What were the most important issues to TG at the time?’ The response gives us a great insight into what the editors consider ‘issues’. The original editor Sarah Oakes replies: ‘Lip-gloss, ponies, cute things, friends, glitter, music, movies, clothes’.

Total Girl, covering the big issues in girls lives….

The party pages are also used as product placement ‘for all your party needs…’ ‘for beautiful balloons…’, ‘for yummy cupcakes…’. No opportunity is lost to sell something to little girls. ‘For party saving tunes’, TG’s number 1 suggestion is California Gurls by Katy Perry (that’s the one where she shoots cream from her breasts, in case you haven’t seen it).

There is one page of craft (which also promotes the store where the craft gear came from) and a page of cupcake baking.

These headings reinforce the fashion imperative: ‘The uber chic lost girls by minkpink are here to make your wardrobe dreams come true with the ultimate new fashion collection for spring’ (‘lost girls’ is little angsty for 7-8 year-olds, isn’t it?), ‘Make your wardrobe dreams come true’, ‘Get lost in fashion heaven’.

The November issue promotes this $20 notebook for little girls: ‘I’m going to be gorgeous and this is my plan…’ I couldn’t find one that said ‘I’m gonna be smart and this is my plan’.

My hopes rose when I got to the ‘Totally SMART’ section. But science for girls was just an opportunity to promote another product: ‘Secrets of cosmetic science: just like the professionals’ with a free ‘Secrets of cosmetic kit: Be inspired!’ Buried in the wall-to-wall products was a page on Aussie athletes in the Commonwealth games, two pages of reader’s artwork, a page of Halloween craft, a one page recipe, and two pages of quizzes.  Then it’s back to ‘Barbie fashionistas: express your fashion personality’.

TotalGirl isn’t a girl’s magazine. It’s an advertising catalogue full of stuff girls don’t need, reinforcing the idea that they have to be cute and gorgeous consumers.


On the front: ‘Brilliant Beauty Tips’. Again cementing the notion that this is what being a girl is all about.

As in the last issue, the Red Carpet Ratings disturb me. ‘Watch out celebrities! The Girl Power fashion police are on duty…and some of you are about to be arrested…’ Celebs are judged on the basis of ‘Best dressed’ and ‘Worst dressed’. Girls can be on the ‘GP fashion panel’ if they ‘know a ‘hot’ look from a ‘not’ look…’ This encourages girls to engage in judgemental behaviour at early ages (one of the judges is aged 10). “EW!” is a commonly used expression.

The ‘friends forever’ pages were sweet in their declaration of love for friends, but the featured pairs – the youngest 11 and 12-years-old – were heavily made up. The 11-year-old with high bun and make-up looked quite adultified.

GirlPower also promotes misogynistic rap artist Snoop Dogg to girls. Jessica Mauboy gushes, ‘I have never met such a beautiful man.’ This may contribute to girls setting the bar very low and assuming that violence against women is normal and acceptable. As noted above, Mauboy’s new release is about the pleasure of wearing stiletto heels, being on display, and how she couldn’t live without them. One of the lyrics says: ‘I’m the shit, you can ask the whole world about me’.

Lady Gaga is here again, this time wearing a dead animal. The editors seem to think it’s OK for little girl readers who love animals to see Lady Gaga in a meat dress. This also normalises the violent themes Lady Gaga employs in her performances.

Cody is here too (see Dolly above) with a love heart and ‘Boy Power’.

Jessica Mauboy features here also. Her new release, ‘Get ‘em girls’, is described as ‘an edgy hip hop track that makes you want to shake your booty.’ Shake your booty nine- year- olds! Get out your stilettos and tell the world ‘I’m the shit!’

The Bad Bits

Here’s some advice for little girls from Brandon Smith (who is, apparently, a ‘celeb’). You want to get together with a boy you like? ‘Just shoot him a little wink, just catch his eye and if he throws you a smile back, you got him.’

In ‘Survival trips for crushes’, Johnny, host of ‘Escape from Scorpion Island’, advises a girl who likes an older boy and asks ‘How do I get him to notice me?’: ‘Ask them out’.

Justin Beiber tells how he once got into trouble after sneaking out of the house at 3am to meet some girls who had texted him. Isn’t that cute? Girls maybe you can arrange to hook up with boys at 3am too!

Girls featured in this issue are aged from 9-13. Because no age is given, primary school age readers might think Brandon and Johnny’s advice applies to them. This is what girls are supposed to be doing – having boyfriends, approaching boys at parties, arranging hook-ups with boys in the middle of the night.

I am angry that Girlpower thinks conditioning little girls to pro-actively seek boyfriends is acceptable – and potentially making those who don’t secure one feel insecure –  as well as making risky behaviour seem amusing.

While there are more alternatives to products and fashion than TotalGirl, with greater space given to food, animals, recycling, quizzes and pets (28 out of 83 pages), this does not make up for the damaging messages the magazine sends.

Disney Girl

‘What song are you loving right now?’ DG’s designer responds that she loves ‘California Gurls’ by Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg (see above re cream shooting from breasts). GF’s production controller prefers ‘Teenage Dream’ also by Katy Perry. It features the lines: Let’s go all the way tonight’, ‘the way you turn me on’, ‘got drunk on the beach’, ‘Let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans’. The film clip depicts some bedroom action suggesting Katy’s bf agreed on going all the way tonight.

Disney Girl helps girls know what’s in and what’s not. ‘What’s hot right now: For an ‘A+ in cool’. For example, who’s the cool boy of the month for our little Disney Girl readers? Jason Desrouleaux – who is 20.

Lady Gaga’s new perfume range is promoted. ‘Wonder what it will smell like’? DG asks (eau de dead animal perhaps?) Gaga is also mentioned in a ‘fun quiz’ to find your ‘inner pop princess’. The options are Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

And what would a little girl’s mag be without more ‘cute crush’ advice? This time from Matthew ‘MDOT’ Finley: ‘If you like a boy at a party, make sure you give him lots of eye contact’. One of the readers is a 10-year-old girl who has submitted art work. Is this advice designed for her?

More Jess Mauboy promotion: ‘We are loving this track in the DG office…make sure you check out the ‘Get ’Em Girls’ video clip…’ Yeah, check it out and see young Jess writhing up against Snoop Dogg.

Making invitations, wordsearch, six pages of DIY clothes and accessories, two pages of art work, and two pages of healthy eating are the only break from the celeb parade (13 out of 83 pages).

Cyber safety experts would be disturbed by this comment in ‘What does your bedroom say about you?’ In question 7, one of the multiple choice options is: ‘Your computer – you’re always emailing friends and blogging’. No computers in bedrooms! Come on DG eds, this is cyber safety 101. You are undermining the efforts of those concerned about on-line child safety to get computers out of bedrooms.

Little Angels

Celebs, gossip, products, entertainment, the usual line-up.

One page costume making, one page craft, an interview with 16-year-old Matilda’s defender, interview with a ballet teacher, facts about the human body, 10 pages of quizzes and an activity book –  which opens with facts about Katy Perry and a poster of her taken from California Gurls (in which she’s naked in clouds). There’s no escaping…

Writer Melinda Tankard-Reist. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.