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good golly! teen mags back in the model search game

When I was of a teen mag consuming age, there was a competition that was run by a skincare brand. Centred on the theme of ‘best friends’, it asked pairs of perfectly tanned thirteen year olds to write in about their friendship with the chance of winning a glossy fashion shoot.

Now, I was a thoroughly un-photogenic young human, and would have made a terrifically frustrating model. I didn’t even care about make-up, and standing up for long periods for shoots would have bored me to tears. But I distinctly remember my own best friend and I mucking around for hours in front of the mirror, pulling stupid poses and deciding on which pics we’d send in to convince the judges that we were worth it.

This was before Tyra had offered up Top Model for adolescents to sink their teeth into, and in the intervening years teens have arguably become supercharged divas with even more savvy for getting brands to hire them. Still, this week has seen us come round again to that tried and true process of modelling competitions in magazines for teenage girls. Not everyone is happy about it.

When Dolly announced the winner of their 2012 Model Search, it was really the first moment that anyone in the mass media had noticed the mag had reinstated the competition. While it was an old fave in the late 90s, ex Dolly editor and current Mama Mia curator, Mia Freedman, got rid of the search in the 2000s, a move she explains as coming from her concerns about magazines prioritising beauty, not merely modelling, as a key concern for young girls.

The winner of the 2012 search, 13 year old Kirsty Thatcher, was unveiled this week and thrust into morning television interviews that wanted to question her over modelling as a tween and her celebrity crushes simultaneously. Onlookers who felt uncomfortable about the competition, however, seem to fall into two camps: those who think marketing modelling in teen magazines is insulting and fruitless, and those who think modelling is an insulting and fruitless profession overall.

The latter objection is a challenging one to pull off, perhaps because it involves denigrating a popular and legal industry and the young people who work within it. One can imagine that as a broadcaster, telling young Miss Thatcher that her career interests are shallow and unwise probably isn’t the easiest commentary to deliver.

Then there’s the argument that Freedman and others have put up against the focus on the catwalk in Dolly and other publications.

Editorial staff claim that the mags carry a message akin to “girls rule!” That’s great, but then why not have a competition that celebrates the achievements of young women across their target readership: in the arts, sport, academia and community work?

The popularity of beauty competitions within teen markets is a funny one given the rising concerns of body image and self esteem in young men and women everywhere. While magazines like Seventeen are purporting to axe airbrushing of their young models, it does seem a little counter intuitive for editors to claim that girls are celebrated best in promotional campaigns by ranking them against each other in a model competition.

Comments from online news and blog posts across the nation have also taken a stab at the lack of diversity of the finalists. While from varying cultural backgrounds, is that standardised tall, smiley, lean look really representative of 12-18 year olds across Australia?

It’s a tricky one because all you can really do is wish Dolly’s thirteen year old winner and the other young finalists luck for their futures. Claiming that they’re destined for mental anguish or to be thrust into a cutthroat industry doesn’t help the concerns over the placement of the competition. Certainly Miss Thatcher appears enthused by the opportunity and attention.

There’s a difference, perhaps, between mucking around in front of your bedroom mirror as a pre-teen and being splashed across the front of a magazine because you have the best looks in the nation. This is what’s so curious about Dolly and other mags at present: one page asks you to love your body, the next ranks it against finalists from other states.

What do you think of the rebirth of Dolly’s Model Search? How did you feel about fashion searches when you were a teen? Would you have entered them? Leave your thoughts below.

(Image credit: 1)

2 thoughts on “good golly! teen mags back in the model search game

  1. Who better to model in a magazine for 13 year old girls, then a 13 year old girl who reads that magazine? I agree there should be more focus on academia but honestly I wish people would lay off the drama. It’s a magazine that’s making an effort to include its readers in its spreads. Geesh!

  2. Ash -

    I think the problem for me with these kinds of competitions is that the fact they’re encouraging young women to compete based on their looks.
    There’s enough of that being promoted in society, it would be nice if there was just one forum where teenage girls could go for refuge from all the various messages about how they should look, and who looks ‘better’ than them.

    At the end of the day, a competition suggests a value judgment and that, to me, is automatically a negative.

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