Why Teen Fashion Magazines Started Taking Their Readers Seriously

Teen Vogue wants its readers to know that they are  a force to be reckoned with. Since the 2016 election, fashion magazines marketed toward young women like Teen Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire have stepped up their politics coverage. It is  not a coincidence.

Younger generations have been a significant force behind the resistance to Donald Trump. From the March for Our Lives to the climate strikes to the midterm elections, young women have been leading every step of the way and editors realized that they had some catching up to do.

Elaine Welteroth, the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue through 2017, took over the publication in 2016 at just 29. She was the second black woman to edit the magazine and the youngest editor-in-chief ever at a Conde Nast publication. Welteroth’s tenure was about embracing what many older generations see as a contradiction. Women’s magazines now give their readers insightful political coverage sandwiched between a makeup tutorial and a fashion editorial.

One piece in particular called “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” went viral after the election. Established media figures like Dan Rather were pleasantly surprised. Rather tweeted a link to the article and said “Teen Vogue may be an unlikely source for a detailed look at “Gaslighting” + Donald Trump, but there you have it…”

These supposed contradictions have become the new norm as more young female politicians get elected. Teen Vogue ran a piece about how Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) wore hoop earrings and red lipstick to celebrate her Latina heritage. At the bottom, the article recommends red lipsticks and hoop earrings for readers to buy. But Welteroth knows that her readers deserve both lipstick and policy analysis. That is why Lucy Diavolo wrote an op-ed for Teen Vogue called “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Said Climate Change and Immigration Are Connected — Here’s Why She’s Right.”

It is not just Teen Vogue either. Other teen and fashion magazines quickly fell in line with Welteroth’s new model. The top five stories on Elle.com range from “Taylor Swift Has a New Look. What Does it Mean?” to “What Do 2020 Candidates Think About Reparations?Marie Claire has an entire “Politics” heading on its website where readers can find interviews with Women’s March organizer Alicia Garza and Columbine survivor Salli Garrigan. This transformation of women’s media is long overdue as women are just over half the population—but media aimed at them has rarely been taken seriously.

This rings especially true when compared to media targeted at Gen Z women. For example, GQ describes itself as “Men’s Fashion, Style, Grooming, Fitness, Lifestyle, News, & Politics.” Even Playboy, a magazine that exists to objectify women, is famous for its political coverage. Why should Dan Rather be surprised that substantive political coverage is coming from Teen Vogue when it has been coming from Playboy for generations?

Teen Vogue’s political coverage is  not just insightful, it is also unique and radical. The magazine recently hired journalist Kim Kelly as a labor columnist. Kelly has written articles like “Garment Workers are Paying the Human Cost of Fashion” and “Black Women Stand Up for American Workers and Always Have.”. Another new hire, freelance journalist Danielle Corcione has written “International Women’s Day is Rooted in Socialist Feminism” and “Everything You Should Know About Karl Marx” for Teen Vogue.

Kelly and Corcione’s articles show how far teen fashion magazines have come. In today’s media landscape it is a deeply radical idea that young women deserve to learn about leftist politics. It is even more radical to place these ideas in tandem with the top hairstyles for the summer.

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