I remember the first time a lady mag let me down. I was fourteen. Seventeen Magazine featured a small DIY segment before DIY was chic or marketable. "Turn the cuff of an old sweatshirt into a stylish headband!" chirped the copy. I did not let the fact that I had no sewing machine or any real knowledge of stitching stop me from wanting to look like the apple-cheeked brunette model in the feature, who seemed positively thrilled to be sporting her new, very stylish, sweet, sweet sweatshirt headband. I found a white sweatshirt I was willing to sacrifice, fished out my craft scissors, and got to work.
"Is that, like, a piece of a sweatshirt in your hair?" asked Matt, the cutest boy in my grade who I liked, loved, liked totally. My poor, over-stimulated pubescent brain started firing on all cylinders: "DENY!" screamed one part; "RUN AWAY!" screamed another; "OWN IT NO MATTER HOW TERRIBLE OR EMBARRASSING BECAUSE OMG MATT IS TALKING TO YOU!" I chose to listen to the third hormonal banshee because this is the fate of the hopelessly unhip: deluded into thinking that this one time, taking the path of cool might just pay off. It did not. "Yeah! I made it and everything!" I said a little too enthusiastically. "I can tell," said Matt with a smirk that turned into a giggle. Burn. I shrugged, pretending I could care less, which we both knew was a blazing lie. The "sweatshirt headband" situation dogged me for the rest of the year. Maybe it would have helped if I had not continued to wear it. Minor detail.
This was the first inkling I had that 'zine life and my life were never going to intersect. Like so many other young girls, I regularly picked up copies of magazines like Cosmo, Marie Claire, Seventeen, and SELF to follow style and make-up trends that I would never be able to pull off and to read sex tips I could barely pronounce let alone use. I read these magazines because some part of me wanted to look like the thin, pretty, fashion fabulous girls in the pages even as I knew I was a lost cause. But more than that, I read them because I thought that's what you did as a girl; I thought that the rules of doing girl culture the "right way," meaning the way of flawless skin and shiny hair and bathing suits that didn't ride up over your non-breasts were secreted in the pages somewhere between the perfume ads and the stuff about celebrities' dogs.
How wrong I was. I mean, duh.
I was in college leafing through an issue of SELF -- I had yet to discover BUST and BITCH and felt SELF was less tailored to the sex and style model of print media -- when I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed with the magazine's perky, peppy tone assuring me that healthiness starts with the right work-out gear and a good night's sleep is just the thing to jump start your sex life, believe it or not! (the over-use of exclamation points alone was enough to make my teeth start to ache). It was in that instant that I realized this mag was no different than its sister publications -- it definitely did not speak for or represent me in any way other than its whiteness -- it had just found a slicker approach to sell the lie of feminine perfection. I decided that day I was done with lady mags.
I refused to spend any more time or energy investing in someone else's ideas of girl culture or womanhood, not to mention the serious, serious doubts I had about all those sex tips. I decided I no longer wanted to be a part of supporting a culture that capitalizes on girls' self-doubts and insecurities. I stopped giving my money to media that consistently skews girls' images and promotes unhealthy attitudes towards style and the bodies warped to fit fashion. I made a promise to do my version of girl the same way I did my version of that damn sweatshirt headband: mostly imperfect, but all me.