Columns, Opinions

Miller ’19: When politics are in (Teen) Vogue

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The bright magentas, canary yellows and cerulean blues that line the pages of Teen Vogue present a glossy tableau of the latest in fashion, color and style. Yet, Vogue’s younger sibling has begun to emerge from its cocoon of teen bliss. Since 2016, two new monochrome colors have spread over its pages. Today, sophisticated columns in black and white challenge teens to confront and expand their views. Despite criticism, Teen Vogue’s political coverage plays an important part in the broader political and feminist discussion of our time.

Upon its creation in 2003, Teen Vogue’s founding editor-in-chief Amy Astley described its mission to the New York Times: “We are going to do what we do well, which is fashion, beauty and style.” For many years, the magazine stuck to that formula, focusing primarily on clothing, makeup tips and interviews with celebrity heartthrobs. But, after a 2016 editorial shake-up led to the promotion of Elaine Welteroth, the youngest and second African-American Condé Nast editor, Teen Vogue amended its mission to include providing sophisticated yet readable commentary on a broad range of social and political topics.

Most famously, Lauren Duca’s article in the Dec. 10 issue, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” likened President Trump to a psychological abuser targeting the American people. The article garnered 30,000 retweets, including some from journalists on National Public Radio and CBS News. Duca was then invited on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show, where he berated her for covering both politics and fashion: “You should stick to the thigh-high boots … You’re better at that.” These comments, deeply sexist and uninformed, echo the sentiments of many others who believe women and their magazines should stick to traditional “women’s” topics, such as beauty and fashion.

There are many critiques levelled at Teen Vogue’s change in focus. Some are already clamoring that Teen Vogue’s activist bent is “brainwashing” malleable adolescents in the midst of formulating their own political views before reaching voting age. Others criticize the juxtaposition of articles entitled “The Syrian Town That Was Chemically Attacked Was Just Bombed Again” and “Selena Gomez and The Weeknd Just Became Instagram Official,” arguing that the contrast may seem inappropriate in a fashion journal for teens and inadvertently trivialize serious issues. Many fear that the teens reading these commentary pieces cannot discern the difference between an op-ed and an news story aimed at objectivity.

Yet, all of these criticisms miss a fundamental fact: Teens nowadays have to navigate through an extremely politicized landscape. It is nearly impossible to escape politics and current events, and Teen Vogue is only providing its readers with the tools to better understand systemic issues. Teenagers will undoubtably play a vital role in future election cycles — 50 percent of eligible young voters between the ages of 18 and 24, or about 24 million youths, voted in the 2016 election. By 2020, many of Teen Vogue’s readers will be of voting age, and they must be ready to make informed political decisions.

Teen Vogue’s decision is especially admirable when placed in the broader context of women and teenagers in politics. It should not be surprising that a magazine known for promoting celebrity fashion to young readers is seen by many as incompatible with a serious journal. In part, this reflects the antiquated view that teens and women are not, and should not be, interested in politics.  But these notions were the very same ones used to undermine women’s empowerment in the twentieth century. Just as we have largely acknowledged that women have a major role to play in this country, we should realize that the same applies to teens.

In that respect, Teen Vogue’s stand is indicative of a wider trend encouraging teens to be informed and contributing citizens. Teen Vogue’s digital editor Phillip Picardi affirms this view: “I think young people, and perhaps particularly young women are so wildly underestimated by the world at large, and I want us to be a platform that challenges that idea.” Teen Vogue sees itself as providing a platform for its readers to gain a stronger voice.

Just as we must view Teen Vogue as more than just a fashion magazine, we should see its readers as informed political citizens hoping to educate themselves further on contemporary political issues and actively contribute to today’s complex narratives. But Teen Vogue’s editorial board must maintain vigilant oversight. As a start, the magazine should more clearly delineate its political opinion sections from glamour ideas, so that they do not underplay major issues. As long as Teen Vogue continues to use credible sources and produce relevant and thoughtful political content, it will serve as a powerful new tool to engage a nascent group of readers. Let’s take Teen Vogue’s new breadth as a serious opportunity to educate our next generation of teens.

Emily Miller ’19 can be reached at emily_miller@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.