Excerpt: 'Packaging Girlhood'

Excerpt: "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes," by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D

Are You a Hilary or an Avril?: Cosmo-Girls Categorized


Teen magazines are everywhere a high schooler or middle-schoolers. From age 11 and for the rest of her life, she will be confronted, at the very least, with the covers of these magazines on a weekly basis, covers that tell her what she should be interested in and what she should be anxious about. Rather than expose the sheer amount or repetitiveness of stereotypes about bodies, consumerism, and romance in these magazines, we thought we'd look at a few issues that are less obvious.

Fashion shoots, faux stories and Q & A columns all provide girls with a variety of categories with which they can label themselves. The magazine's message about girls being individuals is really telling them they need to fit into a set number of boxes. Those ever-present questionnaires will tell girls after they count up their scores whether they are a "chilled-out chick," "fair weather fan," or "sunshine sistah." Fashion features will have them label themselves as either a "busty babe", "curvy chick", or "skinny sistah" or just label their bodies as "star" "pear" "apple" or shaped. These articles answer that all-important teen question, "who am I" over and over via predictions and advice. They take advantage of your daughter's genuine self-analysis at this age and make a mockery of the heartfelt questions she has.

Surveys in teen magazines seem harmless enough, and of course the girls who take these quizzes don't take them totally seriously. The incessant categorization, however, gives a stronger message – you'll be categorized so get a head start and do it yourself. Moreover, the most important categories are about style. As if in neon, they proclaim, you will be READ by your style, so you need to know everything you can about it.

Below we've listed the kinds of stereotypes about girls that are presented over and over in these magazines with examples of headlines and text from the articles. Here's a game you'll never see in one of the real magazines. Match the stereotype with the article title below:

Stereotypes:
• girls love to shop
• a makeover fixes anything
• if two girls are popular there has to be a rivalry between them
• the most important thing in the world is getting a boyfriend
• to get a boyfriend you need to look sexy

Articles: match them to the stereotype!
• "Look sexy in those new jeans"
• "Finding your inner super-model"
• "Who's the queen of the Divas?"
• "How does Hilary handle the haters?"
• "I want her hair"

If you matched each and every one of these to "girls love to shop" you are right on target! (Of course other stereotypes abound too!)

Pretending to be a girl's best friend, these magazines tell girls secret after secret, whisper tips as if standing right behind her at the mirror, and they dish gossip galore. These magazines are fickle friends. Look how they treat the stars! On one page they will make a reader feel like Lindsay Lohan's BFF as the reader learns her intimate woes; on the next page they have the reader learning about her cat-fight with another star. In this back and forth, showing no loyalty to any star, willing to betray any confidence or share any tidbit of gossip, they recreate the middle school scenario of cliques and status problems. They, in effect, ARE the popular girl, and you'd better stay on her good side.

Packaging Girlhood. Copyright © 2006 by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. All rights reserved.
St. Martin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

  • Brian Dakss

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