Today, Ellyn von Huben offers a Catholic perspective on "The Seventeen Magazine Project," a blog that chronicles the experiences of a young girl who attempts to spend a month living out all of the advice offered by the popular teen magazine,
When I was Seventeen...
it was a very good year. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Afflicted with the usual insecurities of the age group - though certain that I was unique - I was on a never ending quest for ‘self-improvement.’ Perfection was right around the corner. The perfection that would be the reward for my efforts at obsessive, narcissistic fault finding Only one more coordinated outfit, beauty routine, diet adjustment away. Just one more magazine! Mademoiselle, Glamour, Seventeen.
Almost forty years later, my inner teenager was awakened upon hearing about a blog by a girl who was attempting “to spend one month living according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine. 30 Days According to the Ultimate Teenage Handbook!” (http://www.theseventeenmagazineproject.com) 'Gospel' is a word applied very loosely and certainly not as ‘good news.’
The rules of the project: The author would read the entire June/July issue of Seventeen magazine from cover to cover, follow all diet and exercise tips, utilize at least one "beauty tip" (hair/makeup/skincare) and one fashion tip, apply for every single "freebie" offered by the magazine, consume all media recommended by the magazine at least once (books/movies/music), hang all provided pictures/posters of "hot guys" in her living environment and participate in every activity recommended by the magazine (i.e. host a fright night, score your hottest summer hookup ever, be confident in a bikini, etc.) I admire her ambition and energy. That is something I couldn’t attempt if I wanted to - even with short cuts such as the natural conflation of fright night and my confident appearance in a bikini.
There are various schools of criticism of the ‘girls’/women’s magazine’ genre. Some would say that they prey upon fears of inadequacy in order to sell products. Others would say that through the promotion of products and ideas female feelings of inadequacy become collateral damage. Commercialism, patriarchy, feminism, sexism, racism, the fabulousity-industrial complex . . . everyone can find something to disdain while reading the same magazines.
Jamie Keiles, the Seventeen Project blogger, and I would go about righting these perceived wrongs in radically different ways. Some of this could simply be an age thing. The older, wiser me wants to tell her, “You sound very idealistic now, but call me in thirty-five or forty years; after the adjective ‘grown-up’ isn’t such a novelty; after you’ve had four daughters who question authority as much as you ever did; after the most that you could do in any week to ‘fight the power’ was to turn over the latest Cosmo in the magazine rack at the supermarket checkout so that your five year old, or any others in line behind you, didn’t have to try out his or her phonics skills on Seventy-Seven Super Seductive Sex Positions.” (“What’s that, Mom?” “Umm, alliteration.”)
Older, wiser and graced with a clearer vision I see where the answers to my doubts were to be found. Where I could find beauty secrets of supermodels such as Blessed Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day’s inspirations for entertaining and St. Therese the Little Flower’s teen career influences.
Funeral planning is tangential to my ‘day job’ as a church secretary. I’ve noticed that Proverbs 31:10-31 is a popular Old Testament reading for the funerals of women. It contains a summary of praise for the traits of the “wise woman.” The cheeky teenager that I was would have been loath to aspire to be a “worthy wife, (whose) value is far beyond pearls.” Though I might be insecure and wanting Five Easy Summer Hair Styles and 15 Minute Tummy Tighteners, I didn’t have much need for my parents telling me that I looked just fine. Nor did I wish to remember any Sunday School teachers who might have taught, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)
But now I can face whatever publication that catches my eye without trepidation. Vogue won’t make me feel ugly. Oprah won’t make me feel like I’m not living my best life. And, Martha Stewart won’t make me feel like an unworthy wife, even if she doesn’t offer “25 Amazing Crafts Using Clumps of Stray Dog Hair,” or “That Stain on the Living Room Ceiling - Don’t Paint Over It, Make It Work For You!” Why? Why not? The real Gospel tells us that we can know the truth and it will set us free- free from sin’s oppressive urging for the soul to turn in on itself; free to see beauty abounding.
. . . clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.