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Not-So-Sweet Seventeen

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Seventeen Magazine is the bastion of stereotypical teenage girl-dom. Need advice on hair, boys, clothes? Just flip open a page and, like the fairy godmother turning Cinderella into a princess, you too can be so magically transformed. But, just like Cinderella, the magic of the magazine only lasts for so long and, until your next issue comes, you will inevitably turn back into the sad toad that Seventeen believes you truly are.

I've been disillusioned by Seventeen's pixie dust more times than I would like to admit. Something about its sure-fire, "We've got you" attitude makes the magazine's advice hard to ignore. Seventeen is like a well-intentioned friend. It concocts advice that makes us raise our eyebrows but, more often than not, these words of the "wise" are such a temptingly simple fix it's hard to resist it. A recent 25-step flirting plan suggested, among other things, that girls "Linger for three seconds when you hug him" and "Don't just say you like his shirt, say it looks good on him." The advice may be met with initial skepticism, but when it is given as part of such a concrete plan and when other sources for guidance are hard to come by, it's hard to pass up.

What scares me about Seventeen is that its advice is not only dumb, but it often sends girls the wrong messages. Next to pages on body confidence are reams of paper explaining how to fix your flaws. I remember reading through Seventeen thinking, "Am I supposed to feel insecure?" Magazines like Seventeen manufacture self-doubt so girls will buy the quick-fix products that are so conveniently displayed on the glossy pages.

Teen magazines' conflicting message of body confidence mixed with the incessant dwelling on remedies for insecurities left my middle school mind in a perfume-induced haze. I felt fairly confident about who I was, I could play piano and get good grades, but magazines like Seventeen didn't seem to value any of those undertakings. The magazine stripped me down to my outer appearances and let my personal accomplishments wash down the drain. Now, it wasn't as if Seventeen was ruining my life, but it always seemed that upon the arrival of the magazine, my self-confidence would slowly begin to erode. I would collect up the pieces of my self-worth only to have the hazardous publication come at me like a wrecking ball. Lucky for me, my self-confidence often acted like a shield against the fiery, Seventeen dragon. I could fend off the blasts of self doubt-inducing flames that Seventeen spewed at its readers. But for girls who lack that armor of self-assurance, the insecurity I felt after reading Seventeen must have been even more unbearable.

Seventeen's one image of a girl -- a make-up clad ditz who is obsessed with nothing but boys, boys, boys -- is a constricting mold for teenagers. Forget the lesbian girls: in this heteronormative culture, all a girl could care about are buff and "OMG"-worthy guys. Of course, Seventeen had tips on how to snag the hottie and what to do when that coveted 14-year-old just wasn't that into you. The advice ranges from laughable to mortifying. One year at summer camp, my friends, both boys and girls, laughed over the Seventeen flirting tips, "Wear dangly earrings!" "Bump into him and pretend it was a mistake!" "Drop a note into his pocket with your name and number on it!" If any of these hints had been used, it would have been a true traumarama.

Seventeen seems to have forgotten that girls can be smart and put-together and, shockingly, guys just might like them. Even if a guy does not fall hopelessly in love with you, the sky will not come crashing down and, believe it or not, Seventeen, life will go on.

As I turn 17 in the next few months, I'm glad my life does not read like an issue of Seventeen. I am able to close those sugary pages and opt for true life lessons from the women in my life who actually know a thing or two. I urge girls to put down that magazine and fill the void by reading books on revolutionary ideas, talking with moms and sisters and girlfriends, and actually accomplishing true "body peace." If we want to raise a generation of self-loathing women, let's continue to publish and support Seventeen. However, in this time of increasing self-hate among teenage girls, we don't need any more magazines and publications that prey on a young woman's lingering insecurity. We need magazines that let girls know that it's okay to feel content and even, gulp, happy about who they truly are.