I was 12 years old when my dad let me buy my first “Dolly” magazine. I’d been reading old copies with my best mate, whenever her older sister (my teenaged life guru at that time) would share them with us, and I was desperate to be allowed to start my own collection.
It was the Summer holiday break, and we were about to go camping, and while we did the last bit of shopping before we left, dad asked me if I wanted to take a book or magazine with me for the trip. I seized my chance.
“Oh, yeah, I guess….Maybe just a Dolly magazine, or something, yeah”.
So nonchalant. Like, whatevs dad. As if my heart wasn’t pounding with anticipation, and my hopes weren’t completely pinned on his answer.
He raised his brows at me.
“Dolly magazine? Isn’t that a bit old for you?”
“Nah dad, it’s written for kids my age. Look at the cover!”
He took the magazine from my hand, looking very earnest, and to my horror, headed across to the cash register, where the bored older teenager stood, chewing her gum and staring at us under heavily applied eye liner.
“Excuse me, can you tell me, is this magazine likely to be appropriate for my daughter there? She’s 12, and I’m not sure that the….themes….will be a bit old for her?”
I stood behind him, cheeks ablaze, silently praying that this gothic chick would see the hope in my eyes, and give me the nod. She caught my eye, and smirked.
“Oh, this will be fine for her. It’s not like Cleo or Cosmo. It’s all very innocent. No sex talk or anything like that.”
And just like that, the magazine was mine.
I practically beamed sunlight as we left the shop.
I read that thing cover to cover, and from that day forward, every month, I’d take my pocket money, and buy another dose of my pre-teen crack, absorbing page after page of what to wear, how to wear it, how to get his attention, how to avoid mean girls, and what to do if I got my period on school camp (thanks Dolly Doctor, never needed to implement that knowledge, but it was good to feel prepared with my subtly packed GIANT BOX of tampons).
Goth girl was right. The themes were pretty innocent, but as I look back now, I realise there was a whole lot of subliminal shit going on within those pages. The supermodels were SUPER skinny (Kate Moss was in her hey day, and seriously, Elle looked BIG), the cover girls were all angles, wide eyes and innocently seductive faces, and in between the free posters of Peter Andre and his ridiculous abs, and the make up samples that were always two shades too dark for my pale skin, there was definitely the message that skinny was best. Sure, the words said “love yourself!” But the imagery said otherwise.
None of this struck me as odd until one day I was at the pool with a friend, and I found myself trying to position myself on my towel so that my tummy would look flat.
“Look at these belly rolls!” I lamented. “I think I’m getting fat!”
I was 14, barely developed, and weighed all of forty kilograms soaking wet in double denim.
My friend, bless her, looked across at me, and scoffed.
“Are you mental?? That’s skin, you dickhead. It has to go somewhere when you sit up!”
Of course, she was right. But, Kate Moss didn’t have belly rolls?! None of the pictures ever did!
It was at about this age that I learned about airbrushing, and photoshopping, and to think a bit more critically about what I was viewing, and I learned to appreciate my little skin rolls, and my body in general.
Now, raising kids, I’m really aware of this stuff. It pleases me to see more realistic body types in the media these days, but there’s still a long way to go. Women, in particular, are still targeted as being “less than”, which sucks. Clever marketing means selling products at the expense of our self esteem, and teenagers are the perfect market to begin the erosion process with.
Maybe dad was onto something after all, with his serious eyes and deep frown line.
I don’t think I could ever begrudge my kids the thrill of buying their first “grown up” magazine (although maybe magazines are lame now; there’s probably a whole realm of pain waiting for them on the internet, which scares the shit out of me!), but I’m going to do my best to keep a really open dialogue flowing about body confidence and why we need to view the images and articles objectively.
After all, without photoshop, even Kate Moss had belly rolls. Who knew?