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Dolly versus Seventeen

Dolly and Seventeen are both magazines aimed at teenage girls. Dolly though, is sold to girls in Australia and Seventeen is sold to American girls. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two, as a way to see the disparities in American and Australian media.

Curious, and enticed by the extremely low sales tag ($2.99), I picked up a copy of Seventeen magazine in the US. I needed something to flick through anyway. As I was reading, I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to compare Seventeen with Dolly, in Australia?’ Both have the same target audience, the same outlook on life (buying stuff can make you feel good), and same obsession with celebrities. Of course, it would be entirely wrong to say that the magazines represent the teenage market the way they claim to and that teenagers soak it all up like a sponge (and if you think otherwise, you might want to look here or here). What we can examine is the way teenagers are treated in their respective countries by publishers, writers, editors and companies. What the teenagers do with these messages, I believe, is up to them.

I also wanted to note, for the sake of my dignity, that I’d prefer to be reading Frankie (not that Frankie is without its problems) or lip or, you know, a book. I just wanted to make it clear that I’m doing this comparison because as far as my google searches have taken me, nobody else has, and now you don’t have to do it either. If it isn’t clear already, both magazines are kind of insipid.

I guess first impressions are a good place to start from. Seventeen seems like a bigger publication at a massive 170 pages (Dolly only has 146), but just flicking through, there is even more advertising content in Seventeen than Dolly could possibly hope for, and that’s not even counting the fact that ads and articles are, at times, so sophisticatedly streamed as to make a commercial look like make-up advice.

The second thing I noticed is the difference in cover images. Dolly has Katy Perry featured on the front cover, you know, the ‘I kissed a girl’ girl. I guess, as a celebrity she is somewhat wild and makes full use of her sex appeal. I don’t know who is on the cover of Seventeen, I tried to find a name but couldn’t. I assume she is a model whose age (or rather, whose looks) fall within the intended demographic of the magazine. She’s not puritan perfect – she has a tattoo – but she looks very happy, nice and no cleavage is to be seen in the picture.

On balance, the cover stories featured are about equally as insipid, although Dolly seems a little more ‘grown up’ in this respect. In terms of what I’d call ‘hard hitting’ articles, Dolly asks ‘Is Facebook making you feel bad?’ and advises you on how to tell someone you love them. By comparison, Seventeen features an article which plans to detail (and I quote) ‘the party drug that can make you fat and ugly’. Other articles featured are all to do with either celebrities or clothing/make-up.

Looking inside, here are some other observations:

- In Seventeen the word ‘sex’ is used only once. That wasn’t even in relation to the act itself, but in relation to how sex is affected by marijuana. On the other side, Dolly can be said to be sex-obsessed. It’s toned down a bit from what I remember as a teenager, but it still includes the ever awkward-to-read-in-public ‘sealed section’, possibly designed to supplement or replace school-based sex-ed. Of course, this section is largely (though not exclusively) heteronormative.

- Seventeen magazine sure likes primary colours, there isn’t really much variation to this. Dolly has at least picked up on the indie/hipster aesthetic which (ironically) has grown to become quite popular.

- Dolly, dare I say it, is much more complex. Articles are longer and any issues brought up are discussed with some degree of complexity. For instance, the Jessica Watson story is discussed and Dolly neither glorifies nor condemns the girl and her family, but rather asks the question ‘is it possible to be too young to achieve your dreams?’ Meanwhile, Seventeen only has one article which spans over two pages. I think Dolly has a far less condescending tone, a better balance between beauty and other content, far more actual stories than the ‘real product placement’ featured in Seventeen (e.g. ‘Cindy loves X brand mascara because it makes her feel confident and cool’ and other such rubbish)

- Both are equally bad at interviews, but so are newspapers these days, so it’s not exactly troubling. The interviews never really get below the surface at all, we never find out anything that we couldn’t have found out by reading the wiki page of that celebrity.

- Dolly has ‘airbrush free zones, which I wonder about, because the models are still full of make-up and prettiness that it doesn’t actually make you feel any better to know that they naturally look like that! They’re both very good at including the token ‘curvy-girl’ (who is still inaccessibly beautiful) now and then.

- Both are unfortunately packed with Twilight references throughout. It’s so pervasive! Both are also fairly celebrity-boy crazy. However, Dolly does a fair job at exposing Justin Beiber as a commercial shill, which I am thankful for.

In my eyes, Dolly wins as a publication. However, there is one category that Seventeen excels in, and that’s racial diversity. In most Australian publications, and on TV, it would be easy to extrapolate that (unless they’re watching ads for schools and tertiary institutions or from the government) there are in fact only white people in Australia.

There were about four non-white people featured in the June/July 2010 edition, two of whom were celebrities and one of whom was featured in an advertisement about donating to third-world Africa. Seventeen should be doing better, given that in terms of ratios and numbers, there is more racial diversity in the US. However, Dolly gives a rather strictly-white view of teenagers, which is another reason why these publications ultimately fail to capture their demographic.

While this comparison, for me, is useful in that we can see some of the differences in the way teen girls are spoken to and marketed to between the countries, what unites both publications is their frivolity, lack of diversity and condescending nature.

5 thoughts on “Dolly versus Seventeen

  1. The cover girl of Seventeen looks to be Rhianna before she went all dark and vampy. So both magazines have young, successful singing stars, both very racy on stage.

  2. Hey Anke, thanks for your comment. I was using the June/July edition of Seventeen, I think Rhiana is on the cover for August (correct me if I’m wrong, my knowledge of celebrities is somewhat abysmal).

  3. Definatley an article which was very insightful into an issue of teen mags im curently looking into, i agree with all you said, and it simply highlights the NEED for a certain stigma or stereotype to be removed from teens, i mean i magazine as is Dolly can surley afford to replace the monthly “how to get him to like you” article with something with a bit moe substance, it would not only encourage teens out there to value knowledge and simply use a more active involvement in reading then being passive and simply reading what they expect. Dolly has the perfect opportunity to inject a little hope for the future, in what is already becoming a worrying future with the advent of social networking eyc (which i myself am NOT immune to), and as an 18 year old really think is aa good thing to do (ofcourse i can also compliment Dolly on recognising a BIT of this intellectual outlet that i refer too). Also great to know that the aussies are at least straying from their US counterparts/companions (pun intended) and treating the taget audience a TAD better. Awesome article :)

  4. Thanks for your comment Nina! I must say that I was actually impressed with the way Dolly handled a few of their articles, even though the vast majority of the magazine was about make-up/celebrities/boys/clothes. I think there is a real opportunity to engage teenagers in issues that they really care about or alert them to important things they may not have been aware of through magazines. I guess though, there are alternatives out there (like lip!) they’re just really difficult to come across.

    I sometimes think that there’s no wonder why commentators talk about Generation Y in a disparaging way when we’re ‘represented’ in publications like Dolly and Girlfriend which lack diversity and don’t completely engage with the actual experiences of young people.

  5. no worries! sorry just saw this! i TOTALLY agree with fact ive focsed my whole research on the issue of teen magazine content and its ‘recycling’. i definatley do see the need for alternative mags.

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