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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 11-Apr-14 14:56:07

Guest post: 'Why we’re introducing feminist ideas into a tween magazine'

To celebrate its 500th issue, Girl Talk magazine has launched the campaign Girls Are Amazing to empower and inspire its young readers.

In this guest post, Girl Talk editor Bea Appleby explains the concerns that led to the campaign's launch, and why she believes the magazine will now be able to have a positive impact on the lives of the girls who read it.

Do read the post and share your thoughts below on the thread.

Bea Appleby

Girl Talk

Posted on: Fri 11-Apr-14 14:56:07


Lead photo

Girl Talk magazine cover

Girl Talk is the longest running tween girls' magazine in the country. We've been around for 19 years, and in our 500th issue we launched something brand new: a feminist campaign. Girls Are Amazing is an initiative aiming to show our readers new role models, encourage career ambitions and empower girls to achieve anything they put their minds to.

If I'm honest, the campaign was inspired by worry. Worry about the pressures on girls today and the messages they receive from, well, everywhere. Worry about sexualized pop and TV stars, about bad female role models in the news. Worry about Ofsted and Girl Guiding surveys telling us that what troubles girls most is their bodies, and that they believe women are judged on looks over ability. And worst of all, worry about the reported links between the media’s increasingly sexualized output and mental health problems in girls – eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

We ran a survey to find out more about our readers’ lives, role models and aspirations. The replies showed that the women they admired most were pop and TV stars. Sportswomen, writers and politicians barely made the list. We asked how they would like to be described and the top answers were “pretty”, “kind” and “funny”, rather than the other options of “strong”, “brave” and “clever”.

Sadly, I wasn’t really surprised by the results; what else could we expect our readers to say? When did we last feature anyone outside of mainstream celebsville? When had we ever run a “how brave and strong are you?” personality quiz? Never.

We asked our readers how they would like to be described and the top answers were "pretty", "kind" and "funny", rather than the other options of "strong", "brave" and "clever".

We realized that we had to do something to be part of a solution, not the problem. We had to show our readers some different women to look up to, inspire them to have confidence and encourage interests in areas that aren't traditionally ‘girly’.

I wanted our readers to look at some of society’s absurd, ubiquitous gender stereotypes and see them for what they are – highly questionable. Take the pointlessly gendered ‘girls products’ - pink toothbrushes, sweets, glue sticks, biros… Their message? Girls need a softer, prettier version, because they are decorative and delicate, whereas boys are active, adventurous and brave. And this matters.

If chemistry sets are boys’ toys and pretty dolls are girls’ toys, what are we saying to girls? That they have weaker minds? Some argue that girls are biologically drawn to caring and nurturing – but even if this is true, it doesn't mean they can’t also be strong, serious and influential. If we don't like the idea of men running the world, we have to encourage girls to become the people who are making the decisions. And the confidence to do that will require more of a foundation than just brushing Barbie’s hair. Of course girls can still enjoy girly time, but there has to be a balance.

Introducing feminist ideas into a pre-teen magazine whilst maintaining commercial viability is complicated. We’re making small steps. Rather than taking out the features our readers like, we’re adding in new ideas and celebrities. We've recently run profiles on racing driver Susie Wolff and activist Malala Yousafzai. And in every issue we print our Girl Talk promise:

· I will love myself the way I am
· By working hard I know I can achieve great things
· I will accept others for who they are
· I will have confidence to stand up for my friends and other girls
· I believe girls are equal to boys

To readers, the magazine won’t look dramatically different, but hopefully they will notice a new variety of women on our pages, as well as serious pieces to read and a sense that being pretty and famous isn't everything. I'm proud of the changes we've made – they might seem small, but in this industry it means something. And it seems to mean something to parents too.

The reaction to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive so far. It sounds like parents have long been frustrated about the effect of the media on their daughters, but felt powerless to do anything. It should be clear that we aren't turning the magazine into a radical feminist manifesto; we’re just trying to offer more to girls. I'm happy we've struck on something that people really care about. One father wrote to me: “Kudos on your stance. My daughters salute you”, which isn't bad for a day’s work.

By Bea Appleby

Twitter: @beaappleby

CheckpointCharlie Fri 11-Apr-14 16:03:53

My dd (11) reads this magazine and I think it's a great idea.
She loves Charlotte Edwards and has a signed bat and photo of them together on her wall which I love. Could she be considered for the magazine?

I haven't noticed it changing but the haven't read it for ages, look forward to sneaking a look over her shoulder next time she reads it.

myhandslooksoold Fri 11-Apr-14 17:11:23

Fantastic. I felt a bit teary when I read the promise! Good luck to the magazine I hope the new slant is a roaring success and as a mum of a nearly tween I would encourage her to pick out this mag rather than others because of this.
I can only hope adult women's magazines follow your example; some of the twaddle they come out with is outrageously anti-feminist and serves only to make women feel inadequate and worthless as they can't live up to the image portrayed by so called 'normal' women that are so idealised and fake.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

janebblogger Tue 15-Apr-14 05:50:49

What a great idea. I wish all teen mags would inject some balance. Our daughters need to know they can gain greater cred from brains and hard work, than by becoming an overnight reality TV star.

grimbletart Tue 15-Apr-14 11:25:47

Good for you. Better late than never. But why has it taken so long for a magazine to see what has been staring feminists in the face for, oh, since the beginning of time?

sotegsoteg Fri 18-Apr-14 00:55:47

I suppose it will be full of boy/men bashing content and articles about the evils of Page 3 and such-like?

"your readers about loving themselves the way they are"

Should this logic apply to readers who are underweight or overweight? Does that mean they should forget about trying to aim for a healthier weight and just "love themselves the way they are"??

TheOldestCat Fri 18-Apr-14 01:11:12

This is great. Thanks girltalk. It's not 'men bashing', sotegsoteg, to promote equality (and, of course, there is no equivalent to Page 3; hence it should go).

You can't encourage a healthy lifestyle by promoting self hatred. By encouraging people to love themselves the way they are, you've a better shot at getting them to understand and truly embrace healthy living. Otherwise it's self reinforcing.

Interested in an answer to Buffy's question though.

sotegsoteg Fri 18-Apr-14 01:16:21

But what if someone is under or over-weight to the extent it is adversely affecting their health? Should they be encouraged to love themselves "the way they are"?

"there is no equivalent to Page 3"

There are women's magazines who post topless pics of readers' male partners for no reason other than female readers to drool over. Isn't that the same thing?

TheOldestCat Fri 18-Apr-14 01:25:36

Women's magazines = a daily newspaper with a circulation of millions?

Nope, not at all. You surely can't be arguing that men are more objectified than women? Because that would be idiotic.

That aside, of course children should be encouraged to love themselves the way they are - because that's not just about their physical state. What's the alternative? Make the fatties (and the underweight) HATE themselves more by showering them with MORE photos of the ideal slim and beautiful ones? Because that's worked so well, right?

Encourage children to find their self worth in ways other than the physical and then show them how they can feel even better by being a healthy weight and getting fit.

sotegsoteg Fri 18-Apr-14 01:48:18

I don't think topless pics "objectify" anyone. I don't care if tabloids want to print pics of topless women and I don't care if women's mags want to print pics of topless men.

But I find it hypocritical how feminists only think topless pics of women are "sexist"

sotegsoteg Fri 18-Apr-14 01:49:43

I hate to say this but there's a bit of an epidemic of fatties in the UK. Both genders and all ages (walk down any high street in the UK and see for yourself). Instead of a "love yourself" campaign how about a "get healthy" campaign?

TheOldestCat Fri 18-Apr-14 01:57:41

What about both? (love yourself and get healthy because you do). I don't see why they are mutually exclusive.

TheOldestCat Fri 18-Apr-14 02:00:44

And look at this then please direct me to the equivalent campaign to get men's moobs removed from daily view on such a huge scale. For there must be such a campaign if men are being equally shown as topless in a daily rag.

TheOldestCat Fri 18-Apr-14 02:05:45

From No more page 3:

Q. I bet if it was half-naked, sexy men on Page 3 you wouldn’t complain. What about torso of the week/the diet coke advert/David Beckham ads?

A. Sometimes people mention features like ‘Torso of the Week’ as though that makes the situation somehow equal but there is no male equivalent to Page 3. A topless man pictured in a weekly magazine with a relatively low circulation doesn’t come close to a daily topless woman in a newspaper that reaches millions every day. These images are also not placed amongst serious news.

A topless man is very different in our society, we see topless men on the TV before the watershed or going about their business in the summer. But we don’t see topless women in the same way. A child looking at Torso of the Week in Heat magazine wouldn’t find it nearly as odd as seeing a picture of a woman in her knickers, amidst page after page of pictures of men in clothes doing things like running the country and achieving in sport in a newspaper. Men are also not posed as passive and sexually available and willing as the Page 3 models are. Breasts are secondary sexual characteristics which a male torso is not, so there is nothing sexually revealing about a topless man.

That being said many people who support No More Page 3 don’t like Torso of the Week either.

We are seeing more and more objectification of men nowadays, so it is hardly surprising that we also are seeing a rise in eating disorders and body dysmorphia amongst young men.

We’d like both women and men to be treated with respect, so “getting our own back” by ogling photos of men is not a great idea. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

In addition it is important to consider that women have been treated in a derogatory way and had less rights in our society for centuries. They are also far more likely to be the victim of rape, sexual assault and violence from a male partner. There is evidence that sexually charged photos of women are likely to lead men towards thinking of women as permanently sexually available, and to more harassment of women. Unwanted sexual attention directed at a woman always has overtones of physical threat. It’s difficult to think of pictures of half-naked men taking on that threatening aspect.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

eggeggduck Fri 18-Apr-14 08:06:32

It saddens me that this has taken 19 years.

CailinDana Tue 29-Apr-14 07:04:27

This magazine and practically every other magazine out there exists only to advertise, the content is secondary to that, so the owners/publishers/editors will not do anything to jeopardise advertising. Unfortunately, it says a lot about our society that any feminist message beyond a watery "love yourself" has the potential to seriously damage revenue for magazines like this. The cosmetics industry is worth billions and depends on women idolising celebrities and feeling inadequate. The amount of money the give magazines in advertising allows them to have a lot of influence over a magazine's content.
This, like everything else, is a campaign to increase revenue and advertising. That said, I am really heartened by the fact that the "hot topic" to suck readers in is, for once, feminism! It's a very small change but a positive one IMO.

cuxibcuxib Sun 04-May-14 01:24:27

I don't think anyone is saying overweight people should be "shamed". But obesity is not healthy and should not be glamorised. And we should stop using euphemisms like "curvy" to refer to women who are overweight.

cuxibcuxib Sun 04-May-14 01:25:47

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

cuxibcuxib Sun 04-May-14 01:28:27

But hey, let's forget about healthy eating and getting regular exercise.

Let's all be feminist and tell fat people it's ok to be fat and they should love their excess layers of flab.

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