Seventeen Project Teen Finds Hope OnlineS

Earlier this month, we wrote about eighteen-year-old Jamie Keiles's project — following all the advice in the June/July Seventeen. Now she's done — and we chatted with her about makeup, advertorials, and how the Internet gives her hope.

Keiles followed Seventeen's tips — and blogged about it — from late May until her high school graduation last week. She wasn't a big fan of the magazine to start out with, calling it a "guilty pleasure" of her earlier teen years — but over the course of the month, she says, "I just felt so boxed in that like instead of this being a pleasure, it just became guilty." She mentioned that the magazine offered "a really limited idea of the right way to do things," one often informed by whatever brands it was trying to push. Watch out, editors, this teen is onto you:

They are not only directly advertising to kids and teenagers in the form of explicit, actual advertising, but now they're kind of subtly saying, we're going to give you all this non-biased advice, but it's all advertising, so that just kind of bugged me.

Keiles said that reading the magazine so much might have influenced her to "put that extra mascara in the basket" at the drugstore, but mostly she went the other way. During the project, she started wearing her hair naturally curly more often, rather than straightening it, and she found herself especially disgusted by the magazine's makeup recommendations. She explained, "the idea that when I wake up in the morning I have to just have to pack all this foreign crap all over my face, it just doesn't really make me feel that attractive."

She also made it clear that she wasn't the only one inspired by her project to think more deeply about beauty, body image, and the problems of the mainstream media. Her female friends, and even "girls that I would have initially pegged as actual Seventeen readers," were interested and supportive. Her guy friends were into it too — though, she said, a few dudes gave her "the get into the kitchen and make a sandwich business," others became "closet readers" of her blog and "I was impressed with how much boys seemed to get it and enjoy it." She's also gotten a lot of virtual support — her favorite thing about the project was, she said, "to see this community form around it of people having really articulate discussions about things." This discussion, she added, "has been a really eye-opening experience about how great people are" and has given her hope that society can solve problems bigger than magazines' misleading ads.

Keiles herself is incredibly articulate, and it would be easy to dismiss her as an outlier — a lone teen not taken in by the siren song of sales and marketing. She said, however, "I'm not some kind of child prodigy or something, I'm just kind of a person with a computer" — and that in fact magazines were missing out by not recognizing teens for the "pretty broad group with diverse interests" that they are. She says that if a lifestyle publication really wanted to reach teens, "I'd love to see them really do it right, like instead of just being hair and makeup, and saying that's what a teenage lifestyle entails, I'd love to see them be an actual lifestyle with books and movies and current events and crafts and sex advice and things that teenagers actually think about in life beyond looking pretty and getting boys to like them."

It's unclear whether any mainstream media company will have the wherewithal to take up Keiles's challenge (although maybe her new project will convince them to), but maybe her generation is better served by the diversity of the Internet anyway. As we mentioned before, teens with computers now have the ability to reach audiences so wide they boggle the minds of people even a few years older, and maybe the kind of content teens really want will be created by teens themselves. This in itself is a pretty hopeful idea — that a generation of kids often condemned for their obsession with technology might actually use this technology as a form of self-determination (or maybe this is what adults are so afraid of?). Keiles, at least, is optimistic for the future. When I asked her to describe people her age, she said, "I'm hoping that we set a standard, because we have access to resources that no generation has had before us, and I'd like to see us make the most of them. And I think we have the potential to."

Image via The Seventeen Magazine Project.

The Seventeen Magazine Project [Blog]

Earlier: "Teenom" Girls Convince Us That The Kids Are All Right