Jamie Keiles is following all the advice in Seventeen magazine, and she's doing so in a hilarious and critical way. She and a crop of other teen phenoms — teenoms — are giving us hope for the younger generation.
Keiles explains her project, chronicled at length on her blog, thusly: "I will live my life according to the tips provided by the June/July issue of Seventeen magazine and Seventeen.com from today [May 21] until the weekend of my high school graduation (June 21)." Her experiment could be annoying (and previous stuntsters like Robyn Okrant leap to mind), but instead her blog is a treasure trove of observations about real adolescence and about Seventeen's boy-crazy, appearance-obsessed version. We've mentioned her thoughts on pigtails, but here she is on food and body image:
I will have you know that for lunch I had a massive chocolate ice cream cone into which I dipped curly fries. Afterward, I did not talk about how fat I felt, or how "bad" I was for eating it. I will eat whatever I want in moderation, and I will not let any magazine's limited idea of what is beautiful stop me; I suggest you all do the same, or find another way of thinking that makes you feel good about being you!
90% of getting ready for prom is for the pictures. Once you actually get to the prom, it turns out that its a dark, sweaty room where everyone looks less good within 15 minutes of dancing.
To go with my "Bright Prints" look, I also got my nails done to follow the "Bright Colors" trend that Danielle, age 15, from Minneapolis speaks so highly of. She writes, "Whenever I'm feeling down, I can just look at my nails and feel peppy!" This is bleak. I wish Seventeen would suggest a hobby for Danielle so she didn't have to look to idle nail-gazing as her only source of joy.
Seventeen Style Council member Anna, age 20, feels "remarkably 'West Coast'" in her cutoff sweatshirt. To be honest, I am not sure to which west coast she is referring. This photo is featured in the June/July issue of Seventeen. Even in my tee shirt variation on this outfit, I was sweltering amidst eastern Pennsylvania's high-80s temperatures. I can only imagine what it would be like wearing this in mid-summer Los Angeles. [...] Perhaps Anna summers on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
This Anna can tell you exactly what it would be like to wear a sweatshirt, even cut-off, in mid-summer Los Angeles: stupid.
Keiles (also interviewed on The Stir) takes on more serious subjects too, like race in Seventeen, and shows an analytical bent ("I counted a face as a head with at least one visible eye. That is, backs of heads and disembodied mouths or eyes were not included in my data") that should stand her in good stead when she pursues economics and gender studies at the University of Chicago in the fall. And her entire blog provides great support for her rule for talking to teenagers: "don't make assumptions." Keiles expands,
Don't assume that teenagers need things "dumbed down" for them. Don't assume that just because you know and understand one teenager that you know and understand all of them. Don't assume that our opinions are a function of our age. Don't assume that when a bunch of us are hanging out that we are up to no good. Don't assume that what we are going through is exactly the same as what you went through as a teenager. [...] Don't assume that everything we do is the result of an insatiable desire to be cool or liked.
To hear the naysayers tell it, young people today are confused, narcissistic, and desperately in need of both more and less intervention. But the Internet — that supposed scourge of young minds — actually provides evidence that some of them are doing pretty great. While 14-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson's now big enough to have spawned a backlash, she's also wise enough to offer a nuanced analysis of the various ways Terry Richardson's photos are offensive to women. That early in my teens, I probably would have called Richardson a pervert and stopped there, but she actually explains how his self-consciously "pervy" persona turns women into "props." Is it possible that the sustained discussion among people with different backgrounds and viewpoints that's now possible on the Internet is actually making kids smarter?
Say what you want about 17-year-old haul vlogger Blair Fowler, she's clearly at home behind the (web)camera in a way that few older people were at her age (as my performances in various Spanish class videos will attest). And while what Hortense calls Fowler's "ability to give just enough of herself away to appear open and interested, without crossing the line into self-indulgence" may seem somewhat disturbing to those not used to Internet self-documentation, it's also savvy. To all those who say the Internet isn't actually a social environment, Fowler, Gevinson, and Keiles offer examples of communicative skills honed at least partly online, and honed to degrees that put those of us who were reared pre-YouTube to shame. And while I've been skeptical of precocity in the past, I wonder if these teens are remarkable less for their youth than for their extraordinary ability to take advantage of technological tools now available to many (though not all — Keiles, for instance, explicitly acknowledges her economic privilege on her blog). And I wonder if these tools, rather than rotting kids' brains, might actually improve them.
But really, Keiles et al are already over the hill — at least compared with Sylvia of Sylvia's Super-Awesome Maker Show. Hell with the teenoms, bring on the eight-year-olds:
Image via The Seventeen Project.