The Teen Magazine Raised an Entire Generation of Girls. Where Is It Now?

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Like many chronically online professional creatives today, Fiel Estrella grew up on the teen magazine. She might even go so far as to say that they determined the trajectory of her life, influencing everything from her current set of interests to her career path of choice. So when the print titles that raised her eventually folded, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed in the lack of existing online archives that documented their existence and testified to their excellence.

“I’m a fan of sassyscans on Tumblr and thankyouatoosa on Instagram, which both post pages of magazines from the 80s to 2000s,” the 27-year-old writer and editor told VICE. “I got to thinking about how there’s not really anything like that for Filipino teen magazines, when it’s already so hard to dive deep into Pinoy pop culture.” 

Armed with a scanner, a pretty sizable collection of magazines, and a dream, she thus began the noble task of keeping their legacy alive.

The culmination of these efforts is glossyarchive, a Twitter account that dutifully catalogs features, photoshoots, and advertisements that capture the distinct spirit of the early aughts. As of this writing, the project has almost 13,000 followers, some of which include Drag Race Philippines contestant Turing Quinto and former Miss Universe title holder (and model) Pia Wurtzbach.

Estrella notes that her content has been the object of fascination of both “people who grew up with these magazines, obviously, but also younger audiences who are living vicariously through these published photosets,” which can easily be attributed to their generation’s increasing interest in appropriating Y2K aesthetics. But this also seems to point to a longing for the unique guidance and glamour that only teen magazines could provide in their heyday.

The origins of the teen magazine as we know it actually date back to the 1940s. In her book Everything I Need I Get From You, culture writer Kaitlyn Tiffany pinpoints that this was the era when psychologists had just identified “teenagers” as a distinct demographic capable of consuming popular culture without parental supervision. As a result, there were barely any products or services that spoke directly to this age group. Seventeen led the pack and was the first to fill in this need; soon after its rise to fame, other titles like YM, Teen, and Teen People emerged in the United States and were eventually produced in several countries worldwide.

During its early years, the teen magazine admittedly catered to a prototypical definition of the teenage girl: very wholesome and pure, preoccupied solely by fashion, beauty, and boys. Thankfully, these brands learned how to evolve alongside their readers, who began showing interest in current affairs as well as arts and culture. Some pioneers include Sassy magazine, which was widely regarded as the feminist counterpoint to its contemporaries, and Teen Vogue, which has struck a successful balance between fashion-focused content, activism, and social issues. In certain societies, magazines were also one of the few places girls could turn to for sex education. Sometimes, these pages were sealed in a pocket that the reader would have to cut out.

What ultimately drove the success these magazines enjoyed was their ability to tap into the lived experience of their audience and speak to them as well-meaning equals rather than condescending authority figures. 

“[In Candy,] we had a section called ‘Me, Only Better,’ which was anchored on the belief that you don’t have to be anyone but yourself, but there’s still room to work towards a better version of who you are,” shared Marla Miniano-Umali, former editor-in-chief of Filipino teen magazine Candy. Articles under this category didn’t shy away from covering taboo topics like mental health, grief, and politics, which Miniano-Umali considered “really progressive in a conservative country,” where the publication’s target market was most likely from all–girls Catholic schools or strict families.

And yet, since these issues were first published decades ago, it’s no surprise that some mistakes were made. Miniano-Umali admits that she personally could have doled out better advice when it came to matters of the heart: “I remember finding an old issue a couple of years back and being so embarrassed because we had an article telling readers to not make the first move,” she said. “There was this undercurrent of ‘if a boy likes you, he’ll make the first move and you should always wait for him to do that.”

Based on Estrella’s observations after perusing her collection, many other teen magazines back in the day also made use of ableist terms as trendy slang, were weirdly obsessed with “oriental” fashion, and featured celebrity crushes or “it girls” who have lost favor with the public. “It’s a 20-year difference, so a lot of things were bound not to age well,” she admitted.

Despite these boo-boos, many teen magazines became the cultural cornerstone they are today because of their commitment to do right by their impressionable audience. In fact, they valued their readership so much that it became a common practice to recruit a selected few to participate in the creation of certain issues. 

“I think we always took our Candy Girls very seriously. It’s one reason why we established the Council of Cool,” Miniano-Umali shared. Every year, Candy’s editorial team would assemble a team of correspondents from all over the Philippines, who had their finger on the pulse of teen issues and were very much willing to write about them. “We wanted to understand what they really wanted us to talk about. No matter how small they would be in hindsight, we wanted to talk about these small things in a way that didn’t make them seem small.”

One of the lucky girls chosen to be part of this intimate circle was Cidee Despi, a 26-year-old law student and professional in the development sector. After being featured twice in Total Girl, Candy’s sister title, she became determined to secure a more long-term stint in publishing. Thankfully, she bagged the highly-coveted position that would allow her to attend fashion shows and PR events and rub elbows with some of the most famous stars of her time. 

“As a middle-class, small town girl, it was so important for me to have access to these opportunities, to feel like I was on the same footing as the pretty girls I would see in magazines,” she told VICE. “When I was applying for college, I chose communication courses because my time in Candy made me feel like I genuinely had a future working in the publishing industry. Even if I was writing a random essay for them that had no academic or creative merit, it was still something for me. Its impact remains unmatched.”

Marielle Tuazon also experienced something similar when she joined the Junior Total Girl Team over a decade ago. This lucky batch of readers-turned-writers had the opportunity to create their own mini-issue of the popular tween magazine Total Girl over the course of their summer break. Having grown up “reading TG like a bible, buying their slambooks and bringing their planners to school,” this was Tuazon’s ultimate goal. So when she was accepted as a staff writer, she dutifully commuted to the office every day for a week, working on an actual computer in an actual cubicle, and pitching and producing her own content.

“I’d say that the highlight of my entire stay was getting to interview Kathryn Bernardo, who eventually grew up to become the huge star she is today. I made my own questions, transcribed, and even translated my interview. It really made me feel like a legitimate reporter,” she shared with VICE. “I also love how we were able to pitch our own ideas to the TG ates (senior staff)—I remember that we were able to execute a One Direction-themed photo shoot that was my idea and it felt great to really feel seen and heard by these people I respected so much.”

Her experience in the team eventually kickstarted her love affair with writing. Since then, she’s pursued a degree in creative writing and Philippine studies and even won herself a prestigious Carlos Palanca award. But Total Girl’s impact on Tuazon’s life goes beyond passion and profession: “I didn’t exactly have very close female figures in my life growing up. I had five brothers and a mother who was already quite old when she had me. So to me, Total Girl was a friend and sister I needed while I was coming of age,” she shared. “When I’d read Total Girl, I would learn about what I was supposed to do during such situations. I would even know more about what was in or cool among people my age. It was a very personal relationship for me during a time when I didn’t always have anyone to talk to.”

Despi echoed this sentiment, having grown up in an environment that definitely “could have intensified [her] ‘not like other girls’ complex.”

“When I was in elementary school, I was very overly feminine. I had a stronger affinity towards beauty products compared to other people in my class, so I would often feel their judgment towards me,” she said. “Getting to come home to my little magazines and see all these girls who shared the interests I had made me so unashamed to be a girl. It made me proud to own who I was.”

This effortless feeling of community and connection is what many miss most since Candy and Total Girl folded their respective print editions. Like most titles that came before them, teen magazines were no longer deemed realistic or feasible to maintain in the age of social media. Even as some of them shifted to digital, their consumer influence was no longer of the same caliber: “Youth publications may still exist online but they either publish only a handful of substantial and thought-provoking articles a month, or they publish several times a day and only ever bite-sized pieces of information that only count for clicks,” Estrella observed. 

“There used to be an air of mystery surrounding magazine releases, a monthly excitement that comes with seeing an issue on the rack with your favorite artist on the cover,” Despi explained. But that no longer exists now that we have unprecedented and unparalleled access to the lives of anyone on a social media platform, “with hundreds of influencers constantly screaming at you to buy something or go somewhere.” 

Influencer culture has replaced intrigue and anticipation with noise, and authentic content with thinly veiled brand sponsorships. Back in the day, any aspiring thought leader would need to go through a rigorous application and vetting process before getting their words on paper but today, anyone can pick up a device, set up an account, and start shooting a potentially viral 30-second video. 

This lack of quality control does not stop today’s generation from revering content creators, who Miniano-Umali calls “brands in themselves,” and therefore the closest we have to the magazines of yesterday. 

“People also have better boundaries now between themselves and the brands they follow. They’re more aware that while a product can impact your life in a positive way or be a part of your daily routine, it will never be a person. It’ll never replace real-life friendships,” Miniano-Umali elaborated. “Candy was kind of the pioneer in coining that term [‘best friend’] during a period when it was nowhere near as overused; anyone who tries to stake that claim today probably won’t fare as well.”

While the TikTok generation has revived physical and analog media again such as CDs and cassettes as well as film photography, it still feels overly optimistic to predict that print will see the same resurrection soon. But thankfully, the copies we own live on through accounts like glossyarchive. Their legacy will continue to ignite new ideas in future trendsetters and tastemakers while also reminding us former readers of far simpler times.

Follow Angel Martinez on Twitter and Instagram.

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