Archive for February 10th, 2011

Following Lisa’s homage to the magazines of her youth this morning, guest poster Lisa Jewell reminds us why the disappearance of some of those magazines is a bad thing for girls.

I always feel wistful when I hear about another teenage girls’ magazine closing down. The latest case is the UK title Sugar, which will publish for the last time at the end of this month.

Oh, the memories...

I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with the magazine – I don’t have a daughter and I’m too old to be in its target demographic. But from what I’ve read about it, it seems to still have the staple ingredients that most of us remember from our teenage years – including real life stories, a problem page and an almost confessional nature, whether it be about puberty health issues or matters of the heart.

The magazine’s publisher, Hachette Filipacchi, says it has decided to pull the plug on Sugar because of a “fundamental shift” in teen publishing as teenagers “spend their media time on mobile and web platforms and increasingly expect to receive content for free.”

It comes as little surprise – anyone now aged under 18 has no experience of life without the internet and we know they rarely buy print media. In fact, the only way that women’s magazines still manage to survive is that their older readership is used to buying newspapers or magazines. They’re the generation that grew up buying a weekly copy of their favourite mag – whether it was Jackie in the 1970s or Just Seventeen in the 1980s or 1990s.

Which begs the question – do teenagers still need magazines and is it just the format of them that will change?

When Sugar stops being published at the end of February, attention will shift to its online presence, Sugarscape.com. It has a significant number of users and is a place for teens to read articles, get advice and pick up fashion tips.

Teenagers, in essence, haven’t changed that much in the past 30 years – yes, their media habits have changed but they still worry about the same issues and have the same concerns as their counterparts from the 80s through to the Noughties (things like how not to get pregnant and how to deal with those blasted spots).

If anything, they are facing more pressures these days and need reassurance and someone to lend them an ear. And magazines can still provide that function. I remember looking forward to Saturday afternoon when my mum would bring me home a copy of Just Seventeen (this was prior to its funkier re-naming J-17) from the local shop.

I was only about 13 or 14 at the time and I had outgrown it long before I turned 17 but the magazine was full of articles I thought were relevant to me. Having three brothers and no sisters, I didn’t have a sounding board when it came to typical teenage problems so the magazine filled that breach. Along with the features on scrunching your hair or who you fancy out of New Kids on the Block, the magazine provided facts on sexual education and how to figure out the opposite sex (though I don’t know if any of us have ever managed that!)

I recently came across an old copy of Just Seventeen from April 1986 (the magazine spanned the years 1983 to 2004). It had been handed down to me by a neighbour who was a few years older than me and I think I got it in the early 90s. When I read it now, I’m struck by how much content was very UK specific and how I didn’t really notice it back then – Patsy Kensit is on the cover talking about her role in the film Absolute Beginners, there is a feature on Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson (who married later that year) and interviews with the cast of Grange Hill.

But there’s also a feature on having sex for the first time (including being emotionally ready and using contraception) along with a problem page mentioning issues like getting further education and grieving for a parent. In amongst the feature on how to perm your hair and the countless ads for Tampax were sources of information and reassurance that you were, in fact, a normal teenage girl.

For financial reasons, a title like Sugar couldn’t keep going in its printed form. Its circulation dropped 75 per cent in 13 years (from 486,000 in 1997 to 113,000 in 2010). However, its competitors, Bliss and Mizz, are still publishing and in Ireland, Kiss magazine is still around nine years after its launch in 2002. Its figures seem stable enough although it undoubtedly faces the same pressures that Sugar did (curiously though the website for Kiss is still under construction).

Teen mags have had their heyday and will have to move with the times, even if that means venturing online. But I hope the best part of them will stick around for today’s teenage girls.

Lisa Jewell is a freelance journalist based in Dublin who writes mostly on health, lifestyle and human interest stories. She regularly has to cull her magazine shelf. Twitter: @LisaJewelldub.

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I don’t buy magazines anymore. Not at all. Not even for the train. I prefer to read news sites, tweets, pompous novels, and the backs of cornflakes boxes; the only magazines you might find in my house are gaming bible Edge (which I nick from my other half because I’m far too cheap to procure it for myself) and Primary Times, which comes free in my daughter’s schoolbag every so often and chiefly functions as an advertising outlet for suburban activity centres. Nevertheless, I was, for the most part, raised by magazines. Magazines and my grandmother, who was far too busy baking brown bread and making eyes at Gay Byrne to teach me how to function as a modern girl-child. Everything I learned about love, life, career, and eyeshadow, I learned from the following periodicals.

I learned about boobs from The Sunday World.

Twinkle: Back in the 80s, girls were made from sugar and spice and all things nice, not from guts and determination and all these new-fangled ideas actual Spice Girls rode into town on. Twinkle was a pastel slice of placid imagination: business ambitions were channelled into teddy bear hospitals, relationship issues began and ended with naughty but adorable baby brothers. Twinkle didn’t teach me to be a hardass in shoulder pads, but it did make an army of friends out of my stuffed animals; because of Twinkle, I didn’t grow up the weirdo I might otherwise have been, with no one to keep me company but those cold portraits of Padre Pio and The Sacred Heart.

Bunty: One generally moved from Twinkle to Bunty in the late 80s, didn’t they? I remember there was a rival in the form of Mandy & Judy, which apparently was once two separate magazines, amalgamated like a papery Cerberus in order to challenge the preppy, blonde market-leader. I paid M&J very little attention. M&J didn’t have The Four Marys. Or The Comp. Or Luv, Lisa. Bunty taught me how to be a jolly decent little pre-teen, all about integrity and fellowship and lacrosse sticks. Incidentally, I only learned how to pronounce lacrosse the other day, when watching MTV’s If You Really Knew Me; a pretty blonde jock who was into the ould lacrosse learned to appreciate her older sister’s guidance, which was a lesson Bunty herself would have been happy to impart. Ah, the circle of life.

Horse & Pony: Too old for Bunty, too young for boys to start looking attractive (or even for them to be taller than me), I turned my attention instead to a magazine aimed at girls who wished and wished for their very own pony, but lacked the disrespect for the ISPCA to actually get one. Some of the boys and girls I knew had ponies and kept them on building sites, but after reading H&P cover to squee-ishly gorgeous cover for a year, I knew exactly what a horsey needed and that a building site was completely the wrong environment. Basically, I was a walking, useless, equine encyclopaedia. Luckily, puberty came along and saved me from many more years of crushing disappointme … oh, wait.

Smash Hits: My best friend, Caroline, bought pop magazine BIG, but I was that bit cooler and so I bought Smash Hits. It had longer interviews and an obsession with Britpop. Also, I was into, like, indie boys, and Smash Hits gave away stickers of Damon Albarn way more than it gave away stickers of Mark Owen or whoever it was Caroline was into at the time. Smash Hits taught me irreverence, a love for absurdity, and how to be extremely pedantic about song lyrics. And it once had a serialised interview with the godlike Ryan Giggs, a footballer. But that was Smash Hits. Always thinking outside the box.

Sugar: While some girls worried about tampons and bra sizes and The Willies Of Boys, myself and the aforementioned Caroline sailed through adolescence because Sugar had already taught us everything we needed to know. Well, outside of how to wire a plug, but I think that was covered in Junior Cert physics. Celebrity culture is all-pervading nowadays, but I don’t remember much gushing over celebrities in Sugar back in the mid-nineties – if there was, we had very little interest in it. Sugar was all about community, creating a shared experience out of the pubertal nightmare; it had so many problem pages, it is not a stretch to suggest that it was wholly dedicated to soothing the banal frettings of an entire generation. From Sugar, I leaned that sex is best when it’s with someone you’re completely comfortable with, that it’s never worth falling out with your friends over a boy, and that if your crush touches you when he talks to you, he’s probably looking to snog you to East 17’s Stay Another Day. God, they don’t make Christmas No. 1s like they used to. Nor magazines, for Sugar is set to cease publication this year. Woe!

More!: When dull and dreary became the perverted pages of Sugar – which dared to tell teenage girls that sex wasn’t automatically Wrong and Cheap – it was time to move on to More!, which was aimed at Uni-age girls who shopped and went on holidays and paid rent and Did It in armchairs if they bloody well wanted to. This was utterly enlightening for a while, though the armchairs thing never happened to me, as I shared my flat with four other girls, all of whom would have been most disconcerted had they arrived home from a lecture to find me and whatever Oh-Yeah-He’s-The-One I had at the time all akimbo in front of the afternoon’s Pokémon episode. More! magazine taught me how to tan, be sick in my handbag, apply for a credit card, and overspend in Penney’s. I realised shortly afterwards that I didn’t really want to know any of that.

Which is probably why More! was my last magazine, disregarding a brief dalliance with the ugliest kind of madness a few years later when I got sucked into the vortex of bridal publications, and barely escaped with my wedding budget still intact.

Anyone else with some lovely, glossy, print-media memories?

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