I don't have children. I don't have teenage relatives. I don't read teenage magazines. But I did write for one, and based solely on that experience, I had decided that if I ever have daughters, I will allow them only to subscribe to ElleGirl.
Of course, I was biased. I read ElleGirl because I wrote for it. And, I was partial to the fact that they paid me money to write for them. That's always a good way to get a person to like you. But above all, the magazine paid me money to work on a super-cool project. ElleGirl was running a series called "Class of 2008," in which a handful of high school freshmen girls from across the country were profiled monthly until their high school graduation. Thanks to an editor friend who thought I might be decent at the project, I had the privilege to follow one such girl here in Chicago. I don't know about other freelance writers but for me, but a project that's interesting and steady doesn't come along very often.
I was nervous at first, since I wasn't all that familiar with the magazine. After all, I'm 26 years old. While I like to think I'm still a 'girl,' I know now that to the government I'm a single adult. I had stopped reading teen magazines probably when I turned, yes, seventeen. But when the first in the series from "Class of 2008" was published and I got my comp copy of ElleGirl in the mail from my editor, I fell in love.
My memory of magazines for girls from when I was a teenager actually consists more of the advertisements in the publications than the actual magazines themselves. I remember ads for Bongo jeans, Ex'cla.ma'tion and Electric Youth perfume, Bonne Bell products and Noxzema facial care. The ads sold me the image that I was supposed to attain. I also remember there were some content in there about the embarrassment of having your dog drag out a sanitary pad from the garbage can while a totally cute boy was in the house. Some quizzes about whether you were a good friend, what kind of a romantic you were or what your personal style is were sprinkled in the mix as well. I do remember one funny and sharp back page article sending up ridiculous model poses in Sassy, but I read this at the doctor's office, as I was too young to subscribe to it before it folded.
Maybe the bar for teenage, and even young women's magazines has been set extremely low and that's why I was so impressed by ElleGirl. While I will pretty much read any magazine, I remember the sad day when I first realized that I had outgrown certain popular publications (while many of my friends hadn't). I couldn't believe that one of them (that shall remain nameless in the interest of my continued employment) had published an article that endorsed rubbing a rock against a man's private parts in order to stimulate him (I'm going to go out on a limb here, contradicting the "sexperts" at the magazine and say that this is not a great idea). I couldn't believe that we were being given tips on how to look sexy and thin for a man while having sex, as if just having sex with the guy in the first place isn't enough.
I never saw anything approaching this level of ridiculousness in ElleGirl. It handled sex professionally: it didn't ignore it, but it didn't use twenty different cute euphemisms for it.
ElleGirldidn't deny what it was: a magazine for girls. It was not devoid of fashion, or pop fandom (and neither am I, in my so-called adult life). To pretend that your average young girl isn't interested in such things would be silly. But it did seem hipper, less corny, than when I was a teen, with an unashamed pop-culture awareness and a refreshingly sardonic love-to-hate-it-hate-to-love-it tone to match.
Above all, ElleGirl published articles designed to actually make girls think. I was proud of the magazine when I saw a feature article on "Hell House," a church-sponsored haunted house in Texas that uses horrors such as abortion and homosexuality to set visitors on the path to righteousness. I couldn't remember reading such a provocative article about religion when I was 16. Actually I couldn't remember any articles published on the topic of religion.
I was surprised by how sad I was when I found out ElleGirl was shutting down, especially when I found out that it experienced a spike in ad pages and circulation last year. It maybe would have felt a little more inevitable if girls were passing ElleGirl up for its competitors and it was hemorrhaging money. But instead, this closing spells a loss of a solid publication for many girls, not a dedicated few.
I hope that ElleGirl is able to live on in Internet form but to me, teenage magazines are meant to be read in hard copy, passed around, cherished, saved, even cut up for collages. But maybe that's the difference between a teenager from the '90's and a teenager from the '00's. I prefer the outdated mode of print.
Like I said, I am biased. Every businessperson mourns the loss of a good client. But I really believed in ElleGirl, enjoyed reading it, was proud to write for it, felt like it brought me to attempt to listen to some younger people in a way I wouldn't have before. I hope something comes along to fill its place. Even if the other girls' magazines are as good (because I still haven't read them), that's OK, because you can never have too many quality magazines for girls...and women.