Many girls and young women look to girl’s magazines for advice on life, relationships, bodies, health and sexuality. But too often they receive conflicting advice and mixed messages and even, sometimes, outright contradiction.
Take for example, information provided in the sealed section of Girlfriend this month, where, within four pages of each other, two medicos give different information about age of consent laws. A 15-year-old, in a relationship with a boy the same age, enquires about age of consent laws because the two want to have sex. Dr Philip Goldstone replies “generally, if you are both under the legal age of consent, it is still illegal for you to have sex.” However Dr Sally Cockburn, under the heading ‘What if you’re both under the age of consent?’ writes: “If two people are both under the age of consent, but are the same or similar age, and both decide to engage in sexual activities, it’s not a legal issue – as long as there’s no coercion, violence or power imbalance involved. Basically, as long as you’re both in control and making informed decisions, there are no legal problems.” So who is the reader to believe? Isn’t this important enough to get right? How does the editing process work at Girlfriend for a contradiction like this not to be noticed? Girls don’t need confusing advice about where they stand under the law.
Not a matter of legal confusion, but something that is consistent is that I have to comment on the ‘Project You Reality Check’ again like I have to on the equivalent in Dolly. The logo is used so inconsistently I have little choice. On the front cover the ‘Reality Check’ provides the vital information that a tag was removed from fashion girl Kylie’s top and that the water in the background was darkened. Seriously, why bother? Then inside, ‘Style School’ features four girls with the ‘Reality Check’ telling us “We haven’t retouched any of these images – we didn’t need to! All the girls look great just the way they are”. So if that’s the case, does it mean that when girls are airbrushed they didn’t look ‘fine the way they were’? Do some need to be airbrushed while others don’t? Also confusing is that the young women featured are specifically clothed to highlight and play down certain parts of their bodies. For example Alex, 15, is dressed to give “the illusion of longer legs” and a mix of large and small prints “also disguises any unwanted bumps”. Eloieese, 14, is lanky, so given curves and a defined waist and “fuller figured” Gemma, 18, is put “in a peplum top, as it draws attention to the slimmest part of her body – her waist”. No airbrushing – but they are still dressed to give the illusion of something other than what they are, and to hide unwanted bumps. I’m all for the disclosure…but it needs to be consistently applied and align with what else is in the magazine as a whole. Otherwise it loses all meaning.
‘How to start a convo with anyone’ encourages confidence in engaging in conversation, by asking the person about themselves and really listening to the answers so you can ask follow up questions. “Don’t make everything about yourself”. ‘The push-pull friendship’ asks ‘Is your friendship being dictated by a drama queen?’ “Push-pull relationships are anxiety-inducing, emotionally exhausting and downright toxic. Yep, you love your bestie, but enough is enough.” Clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Hughes explains these kind of relationships make you feel punished for a crime you didn’t commit, with the friend running hot and cold and fights about you’re not sure what. Advice is given to be direct about it with your friend and if the behaviour continues, you might have to distance yourself. Other features include ‘What we can learn about love from Shakespeare’, ‘Life of bi’ by Rachel Hills, about bisexuality, setting yourself up for success at school – avoiding procrastination, dealing with bad marks and mental blanks. Practical advice is given on what to have on your desk and what not to (mobile phone, music player, and cutlery!). Related is ‘The lazy girl’s guide to organisation’ with themes time, school and room. Helpful, practical advice for time management, preparing for each day ahead of time, and de-cluttering your room (I’m just slightly out of GF’s readership but found some good tips here for myself). Also keeping to the back- to- school theme, how to keep calm on your first day of school, and dealing with bullying on public transport (sit near the driver, tell someone if you are being bullied, how to support someone being bullied). ‘How to be a morning person’ advises how to develop good sleep habits and reset your body clock. Advice on sleep for young women is so important, given what we know about the chronic lack of sleep and flow on effects for teens especially. There’s also advice on how to exercise if you hate formal forms of training (walking, walking the dog, team sports, dance classes).
True life stories include ‘Antibiotics nearly killed me’ by Giordana, 16, ‘I was held at gunpoint’ by Bethany, 15, ‘Facing death gave me a new view on life’ about US teen Alexis,16, who was infected by a flesh-eating bacteria (our girl reader may need advice on dealing with traumatic nightmares after this one), and cancer survivor Breanne, 16, an ambassador for Make-A-Wish who was given a cruise with her family after diagnosis.
‘Beware the self-improvement trap’ examines how girls can set unrealistic goals to avoid dealing with the here-and-now. “When we constantly push ourselves to do more, it could be masking real problems”. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says self-improvement can be used to avoid dealing with trauma. “There is no doubt that some people can deliberately set unobtainable goals so that they spend so much time striving for whatever it is they want that they never have to face any of their real issues. It is a subtle way of sabotaging your own success”. Self-compassion is proposed as a better way to think of self-improvement.
With all the emphasis on scoring a boyfriend in girls mags lately, good to see advice that you don’t have to. “Often, you’ll be much better off if you leave the BF thing ‘til you’re older and can better handle the demands of a relationship.” As is also often the case though, this is then somewhat undermined on the next page ‘Boy Scouts: Your oh-so-simple guide to finding a dude just by scouting.’ This includes why the ‘buff’ guy is perfect “He’ll be able to carry you and your shopping bags any time you please.” Coz she totes couldn’t carry all those bags on her own right? ‘One way romance’ helps readers deal with unrequited love. Followed by a quiz ‘How you really feel about your crush’.
Also inconsistent is that in one issue there will be a great feature on saving money, budgeting and financial planning for the future. Then in the next, like this month’s GF, you get this “BUYING…COZ WHY HAVE MONEY IF YOU CAN’T SPEND IT?”
Girlfriend would be more of a friend to girls if its messaging was consistent.