A girl's best friend? Socio-cultural definitions of beauty in teenage magazines

Willetts, Sacha
Peters, Geraldene
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

There are many magazine titles available in the local New Zealand market targeted at teenage girls. This study closely examines four mainstream titles, the internationally produced Seventeen (USA) and Dolly (Aus) as well as the local Crème and Girlfriend. I begin with the proposition that such titles reflect specific discourses of beauty that includes socio-cultural ideologies relating to gender and consumerism. These beauty discourses focus on creating both a cosmetic culture (Tebbel, 2000) and a negative relationship with the body. Through reading teen magazines young women are equipped with tools they require to pursue ideological ideals of feminine beauty. Such discourses and ideologies impact on young women’s understandings of what constitutes beauty and the development of their female subjectivity. Although connections to a specific culture are displayed through the inclusion of local discourses incorporated into the content of local magazines, this conflicts with the extent to which hegemonic discourses of beauty subordinate local to global discourses.

The differing standards of beauty between national and international magazines reflect conflicting messages concerning female subjectivity for young women. The emphasis on physical beauty reflects the societies from which each are produced and the varying content encourages a sense of belonging to a wider geographic community of like-minded peers.

This study sought to investigate ideological messages concerning beauty within written text and image of teen magazines. Information on how the targeted audiences interacted with the magazines was gathered carrying out four focus groups with teenage girls. Analysis of magazine data showed the four titles engaging differently with a generic beauty discourse influencing reader’s experiences with the magazines. Focus group analysis showed that the broader the content included in the magazines the more connections readers had with the title. While all magazines followed generic conventions for teenage magazines, the New Zealand magazines were found to include a variety of content that was not necessarily linked with beauty or fashion.

Beauty , Teenage magazines
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