On a break in the afternoon today at work, I made a cup of tea and picked up Girlfriend magazine, orphaned in the kitchenette. I flicked through, turning my body away from the page-flipping arm slightly in anticipation of someone walking into the tea-room and seeing me engrossed in a magazine which literally makes me feel dumber as I read it. I imagine my brain as a kind of sausage-like tube, and even the most casual of flipping through Girlfriend crams a whole lot of inane in one end, forcing things of value, like multiplication tables and my ability to design a layout out the other.
The Girlfriend demographic is slightly older than the one I'm concerned with-certainly girls up to their armpits in adoloescence-but the problem is the same. Really, truly tell me that what that magazine represents aren't the only options for girls: Celebrities, shopping, clothing, boys, and more shopping.
I wasn't somehow above these things as a teenage girl. I read DOLLY and Girlfriend wih a detailed intensity I felt was due to the life manuals I fully thought they were. I wanted badly to have the effortless, playful good looks that the models in these magazines had/have. I used to imagine I was the only girl who didn't have the means to buy things like jeans every week.
But I flicked through Girlfriend today, as a grown woman, and I just sort of felt sorry for myself at 12 years of age. How nice it would be to whisper into the ear of that kid - that what I was reading was by no means a reflection of any kind of reality, and because of that, the fact that I didn't match up didn't matter. I would tell me that thousands of girls just like me were reading the same things and feeling the same way I did. There's more to life than being attractive and having stuff. Being a cheeky brat, or a scarily flirtatious nymphette doesn't in any way approximate feminism. Marketers of products are intentionally making you feel that the next purchase is the one that is going to set things right in your world. The attentions of boys, or men for that matter, do not validate you. There are thrilling, bigger things in your life ahead of you - travel, art, passionate loves of scholarly things like history, love, incredible meals, amazing acquaintances to be made, there is family, career, community, friendship-there is much, much, much more to life...
Consumption is a curious phenomena because the acquisition of a thing leaves a hole of sorts in that the 'having' of the thing make one aware of the other things they don't have, and the things necessary to bring the newly acquired item into focus are still wanting. But still there is always the hope that the next thing will bring satifaction, always travelling as it does with emptiness, and lack of satisfaction. It's like a nonsensical hole that the more earth you shovel into it, the more earth is wanting, and the more aware you are of needing more earth to complete the impossible fill. In the meantime, while you are competing with yourself on this never-ending treadmill, and no one is watching, your mind is completely taken up with the senseless minutia of products, and the practicalities of gaining them, and there is no room, time or energy left for daydreaming, or the other big loves you are yet to discover.
I recalled how in Catholic primary school we did a class on NEED and WANT - a sort of ethics and values primer, on what a person must have in their lives (not much, when you think about it) and what we desire. That lesson stuck with me, because I started to tally, mentally, the items depicted which I would call items a person NEEDS, and came up with few. There were many "must haves" though, all of them only life embellishments. I'm not going to pretend that pack acceptance isn't mportant to teenage girls, but the exercise was interesting anyway.
Girls want this imformation though. Most are on admirable paths of self-betterment which make them feel that they are gaining some ground if they learn how to control their weight, learn what music to download, or make wise accessory purchases. But how do they know that there's more to life, if more isn't offered them? The distraction is massive. And snapping out of my trance, I fought distraction myself, and closing Girlfriend went back to work.
Tomorrow, if it's still lurking on the counter, unclaimed, I may take it away with me so that can post about the visual language and conventions used. I'll stick the rolled mag up my jumper to make my get-away though...