June 20, 2013

Female nature in 1985, part 1 (Seventeen magazine covers)

Intro post here. I think I'll be going over each year in four more digestible posts per year, rather than one unmanageable one.

Let's take a look now at the issues of Seventeen from 1985. No special reason I chose this year; it was the most practical because I could easily locate images of all 12 covers. There's nothing really deep to describe about the covers themselves, so I'll breeze through the details and only emphasize important larger points.


This is one of the few with a recognizable celebrity on the cover, Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton. The shot is from far enough back that you can see her costume / uniform, allowing you to imagine yourself as a member of the American gymnastics team yourself.

The only text about personal appearance is a block about fashion and beauty. Otherwise there's a blurb about who the celebs are, an ad for the new movie Dune (marketing a sci-fi movie to girls), and two social matters -- how to fight loneliness, and how to make your crush come true. Girls today choose loneliness by cocooning and by restricting their interactions to the cyber-world. Back then loneliness was something they wanted to fight.

And guys are not hypothetical and generic -- there's a real, particular guy you have a crush on, and here's how to achieve your goal. In more boy-crazy times, girls were not just going to wait around by the phone and hope somebody would call.


Hey baby, that's more like it. The shot is a close-up so extreme that parts of her hair are cropped out of the frame. The intimate rather than distant placement means that the reader actually wants to connect with her. And not just the male onlookers thinking, "Why, yes I am free Saturday night..." but the female readership, who's thinking "God, look at how pretty and confident she is. If I were her, I could totally work up the guts to ask out Scott on a date."

The hand is a nice little touch, too. Hands lend more expressiveness to portraits, since you can only express so much with the face itself before it looks like a caricatured kabuki mask, preventing an empathetic connection. Here her hand is soft and curled, not stiff, and it's supporting her head, which gives her a certain vulnerability -- the head needing support instead of being held straight up. And by leaning in, she gives the impression that she's ready and willing to share secrets with us. Her intense gaze underscores that -- you don't look that intently at somebody you don't trust. And get a load of those eyebrows, dude. Women looked like natural animals back then, not engineered femme-bots.

Again, that works for both guy and girl viewers. The guys can't believe that this mega-babe is about to open up intimately to them, and the girls feel like they've finally made it into the upper realm of popularity. It looks like this is a sleepover at the house of the prettiest, most popular girl in school, and she's not just tolerating your presence at her party, but is inviting you in to disclose secrets to you, hoping you'll do the same. Having cemented so close of a bond with high school royalty, your deepest social worries are over.

And the girl is a model, not a celebrity, so she would have lent an aura of mystery for male and female viewers alike. We don't know anything about her, or the roles she's played. She's also listed as an actress on the cover, but wasn't really in anything at this point, although later she would become better known, at least to nerds, as Dax on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

There are only two items of text about appearances, relating to fashion and hairstyles. The bulk of the text is a five-item bullet list under the large-font heading of LOVE, a word that you rarely see on this magazine's cover anymore. Yes, some of the items are celeb gossip and media promotion, but the first one couldn't be more concrete -- "Should you tell him you LOVE him?" There's some specific "him" who the reader has in mind. Today the girl would wonder who the cover text was talking about.

And "love" sure was an all-capitals word back in the '80s, wasn't it? Now you only hear girls putting that much stress on the word when they're prattling on about things rather than people. "Shut up, a jogging bra with a pocket for my iPhone?! -- LOVE!" It's amazing how autistic the supposedly empathetic sex has become.

Then there's "tips for kissable lips" -- assuming that girls were into kissing boys. Looking through older and newer issues, I've also noticed more simple yet catchy rhetorical devices like rhyme, alliteration, etc., in the ones from the '80s.


Unfortunately the best image I could find sometimes has a glare on it. At any rate, again we see a shot that's so close-up the girl's hair is partly cropped out. She's not as inviting and expressive as the chick from February, but that was more to set the atmosphere for BOY TALK at a sleepover with a girl whose looks and popularity must have given her more experience with boy world than you the reader have had yet.

Still, March looks pretty and confident, dressed and made-up like a mature woman in fact. Particularly the short hair, very career-woman-looking. You don't see maturity on Seventeen covers anymore, even when the celeb is over 25 and should know better, they still look kiddie. Here we see a teenager who looks more grown-up than today's 20-somethings (yet with no wrinkles).

Under the confidence, there's actually a very slight unease, which you might read as some kind of temporary mood caused by some troubling event in her life at this time. Although maybe teenage audiences back then would have read it as the awkwardness of changing form from child into adult. Whatever the case, she lets the reader fill in the details of the story, and because it's another model who we don't know anything about, it's not that hard.

There is a large block of text about clothes and make-up for spring, but that's it for appearances. "If your guy's feeling blue, here's what to do" -- didn't I tell you about more rhyming back then? Once more, guys are not referred to in generic hypothetical terms, like "What do guys think of you?" or "Guys tell us what they really want." There's some concrete guy in the reader's life, and their relationship is close enough that she would pick up on him feeling blue and want to support him somehow.

"Hey, it's Huey Lewis" -- LOL, what is it about that "Hey" at the beginning? It makes the ad for a celeb interview sound more friendly and informal, not like a standard hawking-your-wares kind of pitch from a pushy sales associate. "Step right up, we've got Huey Lewis here." He was nearly 35 years old at the time, and played in a somewhat traditional-sounding rock band, albeit with an '80s level of energy lifting it up. It wasn't a guy in his early 20s who did more fashionable synth-pop music. In contrast, a recent issue of Seventeen had the sexless, trendy Jonas Brothers on the cover...

"Facts about homosexuality" -- a burning social issue right there on the front cover, man. This might be an issue that I check out from my university library, just to see how PC vs. realistic the mainstream media was back then. This was way before the movie Philadelphia, before everyone came out, way before gay marriage, gay bffs, and so on. I'm sure they didn't come right out and say, "These faggots are all fucked in the head," but I'll bet they give a more accurate picture than what the fag hag media would print today.

And one final item about having the prom of your life -- it doesn't mention anything about the clothes, make-up, hair, limo, etc. When it's phrased as "Have the prom..." it sounds more like the entire social experience is being referred to. Rather than "Hot hairstyles for prom" or "Killer prom dresses."

Like I said in the intro post, don't expect sober news discussions or photography for the ages from a teen magazine. Still, isn't it striking how socially oriented girls were back then, and how little the "typical airhead bitch" vibe comes across? The girls are likable and inviting, not loathsome and off-putting. They were more focused on people and relationships, imagining personas and role-playing through empathy, not obsessing over things and stuff that would help them inflate their ego.

Things were a means to an end -- more like costumes and props that would help them ease into this mysterious, exotic other persona that they partly saw, partly imagined when looking at the cover girl. Now the cover girl only serves to model the things that the reader is obsessed with collecting and hoarding, not even really enjoying them but burning through them like a compulsive addiction.

And you know what, I'll bet their articles on homosexuality, suicide, etc., had a more sober tone than the hysterical ranting found in supposedly grown-up media outlets from the past 20 years.

21 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:33 PM


    Def. let us know what the post on homosexuality says.

    -Curtis

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dahlia3:10 PM

    Agnostic,
    My experience with Seventeen magazine and school was that most of the girls had stopped reading it by age 17. I only knew one girl who still bought it our Junior year. Mostly, it was read by the Middle-school set (late 80s, early 90s).

    I loved the magazine in middle school, though I don't remember anything about it. That changed dramatically in high school, specifically, around 1991,92,93.
    It became stridently, stiflingly Leftwing.
    My only brush with the "Take Back the Night" stuff came from that magazine. I didn't have much of an opinion on a subject that was so far off (college and the college scene) and would have forgotten about it had it not been brought up by the Steveosphere all these years later.
    By far I remember the Clarence Hill/Anita Thomas stuff and there was no acknowledging the side that supporting Thomas. They even sold buttons that said, "I believe Anita".

    More relevant to your post. The last girlfriend of mine to have a subscription had a 50th anniversary issue. In the early days, they had an issue that had on the cover, "Prayers for our times" (50s or early 60s, I think). I told my mom about this and the 60s fashion spreads and how uncool they somehow looked. She nodded vigorously and said it was simply not cool in her day (late 60s, early 70s) for teens to get fashion tips out of those magazines.
    For she and her peers, 17 wasn't even on the radar in middle-school.

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  3. Yeah, there are lots of covers from the early '90s about recycling, ecology, etc. The magazine is remarkably good at capturing the zeitgeist because it's so focused on what's happening NOW.

    If only people had been paying attention to teen magazines at the time, they could have foreseen the sexual counter-revolution of the past 20 years:

    http://www.whosdatedwho.com/tpx_2757396/seventeen-magazine-united-states-january-1991/

    "The new celibacy
    Saying no to sex in the '90s"

    ...yep.

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  4. Speaking of Anita Hill and Take Back the Night -- it amazes me that so many people, basically anyone who doesn't have dull, dorky kids of their own, believe that the sexual revolution kept on going, perhaps even ramped up, over the past 20 years.

    They know all about these PC, sexual harassment, date rape hysteria, etc. phenomena. You would have to have been in a coma in the '90s not to notice that.

    Somehow we live in a world where girls make out, go down, and spread their legs without a moment's thought -- and yet where the slightest expression of the male libido triggers the woman's rape alarm, sending her running away, and perhaps even bringing down the wrath of the date rape witch hunters.

    Only one of those scenarios can be true, and if forced, everybody would admit that the anti-sexual attitudes and atmosphere feels a lot more vivid and real than the pro-sexual stuff that they've never personally seen, participated in, or heard about second-hand -- but that they "just know" is going on.

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  5. Anonymous11:34 PM

    "Only one of those scenarios can be true, and if forced, everybody would admit that the anti-sexual attitudes and atmosphere feels a lot more vivid and real than the pro-sexual stuff that they've never personally seen, participated in, or heard about second-hand -- but that they "just know" is going on."

    You mentioned that lack of social support causes OCD. I wouldn't be surprised if it also ties in with paranoia. I think this ties in with that - when a person has few real friends, they assume that everyone else is having a good time. I have seen that many Millenials boys on PUA forums think they are being left behind. But it seems to apply to the majority of their generation.

    -Curtis

    ReplyDelete
  6. Paranoia is a good word there. I was thinking it was more like insecurity, not knowing exactly where you stand but still knowing it was somewhat low on the pyramid.

    But why would they assume that their peers are going wild, when they have every piece of evidence to the contrary? They know, consciously or not, how few parties there are, how rarely you see a guy and girl with their hands on each other's asses in public, etc.

    They must be assuming that all that wild stuff is going on, but beyond closed doors, with false appearances held up in public so that the debauched can seem wholesome.

    "Those jocks and cheerleaders act all wholesome in public, but I know what they're *really* doing..."

    Yeah, that's paranoid, or at least delusional.

    The loser in the '80s wouldn't have had to imagine anything -- he would've seen couples making out under the bleachers, getting it on in the car, smoking in the boys' room, and getting their kicks in whatever other very visible ways.

    One key difference that comes out of that is that the teen suicide rate used to be rising back then. If you were on the very bottom, and it was palpable how much togetherness there was among your peers, it convinced you that there was absolutely no hope that maybe your perception was wrong.

    Now we've traded hopelessness and suicidal thinking for paranoia and anti-social bitterness. Angry delusions generally don't lead to suicide -- that comes more from hopelessness and depression -- but more like the random / spree attacks that seem to have become more common in the past couple decades among adolescents.

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  7. I mean, angry delusions don't lead to suicide *alone*.

    The hopeless, depressed loser in the '80s swallowed a bunch of pills and left everybody else alone. The paranoid, bitter loser of the '90s and 2000s harms a bunch of the group that he feels rejected by, before doing himself in.

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  8. ...Come for the visual analysis of teen mag covers, stay for armchair sociology of spree killings.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous3:16 AM

    the sexual revolution kept on going, perhaps even ramped up, over the past 20 years

    In the UK, teenage sociosexuality (number of partners, earliest age, etc) seems to have continued to rise through the 1990s to today, so at least here it is not crazy for parents to imagine that young people are more sexual than they were in the 70s-80s period, while violence has dropped.

    http://www.fpa.org.uk/professionals/factsheets/sexualbehaviour

    I think this trend is the same throughout Western Europe.

    http://tinyurl.com/peoa7xg

    So connections between teen sex and violence may not exist outside of the USA. Also, the violent periods of the 1900s - 1920s had higher first age of intercourse compared to today, and the data from the 30s-50s period indicates a fall.

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  10. Anonymous3:22 AM

    Women looked like natural animals back then, not engineered femme-bots.

    I find it striking that when the mainstream thinks about this at all, it is often credited to feminism.

    But of course, that's not really the case at all - its got to be more due to a confluence trends in

    1) wanting to look authentic (due to the world being a scary violent place where tougher people are admired)

    which 1930s - 1950s didn't really have so much of as 60s - 80s

    2) and lower inequality (which lowers the desire to shoot for superior and untouchable and increases the desire to be first or second amongst equals)

    which 1900s - 1920s didn't have so much as 60s - 80s

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  11. Love the reference to Depeche Mode in that 1991 cover, Agnostic. It basically means "fast Fashion" in French.

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  12. "...Come for the visual analysis of teen mag covers, stay for armchair sociology of spree killings."

    LOL, we appreciate all you do man. Regarding the perception that the sexual revolution is still continuing--I totally agree. I mean, I've had my share of experience, but it didn't come easily and I had to work for every bit of it. But like you, I'm not hearing stories of hook-ups and wild parties even though I work with mostly teens at my second job. It's just non-existent. I think every generation wants to think the next one is more debauched/wild than the previous one, and that's not necessarily the case.

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  13. "In the UK, teenage sociosexuality (number of partners, earliest age, etc) seems to have continued to rise through the 1990s to today"

    Just skimming through their bullet points, I didn't see much about teenagers in 1990 vs. 2000. Other than the age of first sex falling from 17 to 16.

    That's why I say we have to look particularly at young people because they're the most sensitive to the changing moods. Even in America, while the young generation was having less sex and showing lower rates of STDs, the older Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers were actually getting higher rates of STDs! They just didn't want to use condoms or something, I guess.

    Most of the shocking stats in GB seem to be looking at the older generations -- like a good amount having 5-10 "lifetime" partners. Even when they look at younger groups, they lump 20-24 in with 15-19.

    Here's one statistic that pretty reliably tracks teenage sexuality -- the teenage pregnancy or birth rate:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17190185

    "Teen pregnancy rate lowest since 1969"

    Here's a graph that shows the birth rate, abortion rate, and an index comparing births / abortions:

    http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/TP1968-2008.jpg

    I believe the American teenage rates peaked in the late 1980s, which is about what you see with that purple line in the UK graph, showing births and standardized by abortions.

    Whatever we look at, though, there's no continual rise from the '60s or '70s through today. If anything, a decline over the past 20-25 years.

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  14. "But like you, I'm not hearing stories of hook-ups and wild parties even though I work with mostly teens at my second job. It's just non-existent."

    Do you ever hear girls talking about how they wish they could go back to being a child, when they're teenage or college-aged? I don't hear that every day, but at least several times a year, and I'm not even constantly around them.

    It's not a nostalgic tone either, like "Hey, you remember how cool it was when we used to...?!?!?!" It's sad, disappointed, and wanting to hide under a pile of blankets to make the awkwardness go away. No sense of excitement about the transformation they're supposed to be undergoing, and where it's going to lead.

    Or girls using the phrase "non-boyfriend" or "practice boyfriend" -- again, not something I hear every day, but at least several times a year. When I shouldn't be over-hearing it in real life at all.

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  15. Dahlia9:31 AM

    Yeah, there are lots of covers from the early '90s about recycling, ecology, etc. The magazine is remarkably good at capturing the zeitgeist because it's so focused on what's happening NOW.

    During that period, 1994 I think, I went to a Lollapalooza. It was such an experience and despite the couple thousand people there, I didn't notice any young high schoolers, or high schoolers period. It was my first mass exposure to college kids...

    Anyway, one thing that surprised me, and by appearances, most everyone else, was that upon entering the field, after the security clearance, we were forced through a gauntlet of political Leftwing tents, each with at least one person standing in front with pen and clipboard. I remember my group clearing it and I turned back around (What was that? What do others think of this?) and I saw a bunch of bewildered faces walking by and one college girl stopping to sign her name to a cause.

    I don't remember the causes much, but I think pro-abortion politics was big. It certainly was with one musical act, L7 I think their name was. 17 magazine tipped up to that line, but left that to their big sister magazines.

    Looking back on it recently, and being more cynical, I've wondered which came first: the music or the politics? The causes were monolithic and set up so professionally and purposefully.

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  16. Dahlia9:35 AM

    BTW, at the L7 concert, which was sparsely attended, they began with a rant about a recently killed abortionist.
    A man in his twenties took his shirt off, walked up to the stage, and through it at them in disgust and walked out.

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  17. Dude, how lame are our "first concert" stories?! I mean, at least it's not Avril Lavigne, Kanye West, or some other complete and total loser. But still...

    It's not like hearing your parents talk about Woodstock (mine were too young to go, but I had friends whose parents shared stories), or seeing Journey in a mega-stadium summer concert, Hall & Oates, the Ramones, or whoever.

    My first live show was the Foo Fighters, before they had a record out (I wanna say April of '95, 8th grade), at the Black Cat in DC. I went with a fellow Nirvana nut, and his dad who drove us down there but respectfully kept out of our hair.

    Compared to all the other "alternative in the wake of grunge" bands, I guess they were pretty good. And it was rockin' enough to make us feel like it was worth hearing and moving along to in person.

    I think a Millennial would've gotten more out of their first Foo Fighters show sometime later, though, because we still had Nirvana in our minds. It had only been one year since Kurt Cobain's suicide. We didn't expect to hear a bunch of Nirvana covers or anything, but I think we had the expectation of Nirvana v.2.0 in the back of our minds.

    Well, as underwhelming as our "first concert" stories may be, just think that the next generation won't have them at all. It's very rare to see teenagers at concerts and shows these days. Definitely no 8th-graders like me and my friend.

    It's back to the mid-century pattern of young people listening to the radio, records, or TV performances, rather than mega-concerts.

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  18. Dahlia11:13 AM

    Agnostic,

    One of the acts at mine was the Beastie Boys. That place went absolutely nuts. I mean, insane!
    They came on much later, though not the last, that was Smashing Pumpkins (groan, we walked out as they were playing).

    I did not like the Beastie Boys at all and couldn't see what the big deal was. It was the only stand-out moment where I showed my high school kid side as at some point I sat down while everyone around me was going crazy; my legs had given out after so much polite standing.

    Anyway, the biggest impression left on me was during their set. We had gotten seats extremely close to the stage, but the seats in front of us had been empty the entire time. Strange. So during a lull before the Beastie Boys came on we had left and then returned. All those seats were filled up when we got back.

    Frat Boys.

    These guys were HUGE! I had just finished my sophomore year and was 16 and thought the seniors were big. They looked like such kids compared to these guys!

    There was nobody else there who looked like them and I only recognized them because of the education provided by 80's movies, LOL!

    So, my biggest impression left that day was that college guys were really huge, especially the frat boys.

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  19. Dahlia12:28 PM

    One more comment about Lollapalooza as I've taken a trip down memory lane and have read what wikipedia and others have said about it in the nineties...

    They make it sound a lot more free-spirited and organic than it really was and one lie by omission is quite glaring to me.

    They said that it was boisterous with moshing and crowdsurfing. Okay. They did have a set-up mosh pit in the back, and there was a lot of moshing during Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins; we were up front and one of my cousins pointed it out, but it was hard to see.

    Anyway, they had guards who pulled down anyone who started crowd surfing. The sources I've read don't tell you this.

    One of the frat boy/jocks I mentioned earlier? He started crowd surfing during the Beastie Boys set and just before he got to me, a guard came over, yanked him down so hard, even kind of angrily. The movement was so sudden and violent that this huge jock kicked his legs out and one of his feet got within inches of my face. I remember being so angry with the guard and it struck me as inherently uncool to do that and also far more dangerous to others than if he had just let the surfing continue.

    Finally, I remember most everyone trying to escape the cloying political tents, political poetry jams, and just wanting to drink, party some, outcool each other with their grunge outfits, and hang out with their friends. The attendees were mostly cool, but the event itself was not, but there were bright spots.

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  20. "Do you ever hear girls talking about how they wish they could go back to being a child, when they're teenage or college-aged? I don't hear that every day, but at least several times a year, and I'm not even constantly around them.

    It's not a nostalgic tone either, like "Hey, you remember how cool it was when we used to...?!?!?!" It's sad, disappointed, and wanting to hide under a pile of blankets to make the awkwardness go away. No sense of excitement about the transformation they're supposed to be undergoing, and where it's going to lead.

    Or girls using the phrase "non-boyfriend" or "practice boyfriend" -- again, not something I hear every day, but at least several times a year. When I shouldn't be over-hearing it in real life at all."


    Oh yeah, I hear them reminiscing about their childhoods as well. Of course, I'm probably egging them on too, as I'm always thinking about the topics you cover. I tell them how I miss the 80s and early 90s, how it was so different. It's almost like they're longing for something they never had, or had heard about others having.

    I haven't heard the "non-boyfriend" thing or "practice boyfriend" (thank goodness). Honestly, I don't hear them talking about boys at all. It's almost made me wonder if they can be so different from how girls used to be...am I missing something? They basically look at me like a peer, I think. I look like I'm in my early 20s, I don't look almost 29. It's weird though, the lack of emotional response they display.

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  21. Anonymous9:03 PM

    I can't help by feel sorry for those girls reminiscing. Its an honest recognition that they weren't allowed to have a healthy adolescence. The attitude is: "If we were kids again, we would get to grow up normally and be allowed to have sleepovers and date in high school".

    -Curtis

    ReplyDelete

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