Wednesday, June 23, 2010

90s Teen Magazines

A quick perusal of 90s teen magazines leads us to a simple conclusion: publishers don’t have particularly high standards for their publications or expectations of their target demographic. Though arguably many magazines for grown women stoop to an equal level of insulting stupidity, teen magazines in their heyday functioned on the assumption that teenagers required a dumbed-down of grown up information. While perhaps an elevated level of discourse could have encouraged teenage girls to engage intelligently with their reading material, the general consensus was that they would rather read about their peer’s fake embarrassing moments.

That’s not to say all teen magazines featured solely vapid airhead-in-training material, but for every informed, timely article these publications featured more than their fair share of silliness. Whatever qualms feminists may have found with their content, one thing was certain: teen girls ate these up. Content was almost an afterthought; before the wane of printed publications in the 2000s, many of us were pretty happy to lap up whatever these magazines fed us. It may not have always been the most enlightened perspective, but they were arguably fun reads.


Featuring standard columns like “Say Anything” and “It Happened to Me,” YM once held a major corner of the teen magazine market. “Say Anything” gave us allegedly true first-person account snippets of self-proclaimed most humiliating moments. For any of us who ever wrote in to the column with a group of our giggling friends, though, it was clear that the majority of these stories were completely made up. They always went a little something like, “and then this happened and then this happened, and if that weren’t enough, then I ended up doing this!” Like their Cosmo confession counterparts, most of these moments seemed just a bit too bad to have actually happened to anyone.

In the real life drama section, we all had a monthly opportunity to be frightened by some obscure disease or life event that was indubitably unlikely to happen to us. YM advised young girls on health, boys, and other pertinent topics, repackaging many of the same topics year after year and glossing them up with current fashions.


Seventeen supposedly catered to an older adolescent audience (the magazine’s name should tip you off on the target age range) but in reality, its allure was more powerful to young teens. Just the idea that we were reading a magazine catered to 17-year olds at the mere age of 13 made us feel powerfully mature and worldly. It wasn’t of course, but it felt exciting nonetheless.

Like YM, Seventeen featured embarrassing moments columns and advice articles, though perhaps its most favored features were its monthly quizzes. Even as 13-year olds, most of us were savvy enough to outsmart the quiz; until the mag got wise enough to ascribe specific point values to each answer varying by question, we were wise to their consistent A, B, and C answers throughout. It usually went something like this: A was over the top, B was just right, and C was glaringly deficient. Miraculously, we all came through with the just-right classification. Remarkable.


Completing the teen magazine market trifecta was Teen, holding a similar market share to and YM and Seventeen. In many respects, these publications were nearly indistinguishable from one another: they mostly featured the same tired advice columns, style news, and “real life” features. Their embarrassing moments section, “Why Me?” was essentially the same as YM’s “Say Anything” feature, though the similarities did not make the stories any less amusing. Teen did feature its fair share of personal essays entitled “True Stories from Real Teens,” which were occasionally informative but more often just gave all of us uninteresting readers out there hope that we too someday could be published within the hallowed pages of Teen.


While a few of these magazines are no longer around, none seem to have left the same void in my life that accompanied the departure of Sassy. While it did cover many of the same issues as the other teen magazines on the market, Sassy often took a unique spin with an edgier feel. Unlike its teenybopperish peers, Sassy devoted space to indie musicians and feminist-minded ideals. When the mag was folded into Teen in the mid-90s, it took with it its adherence to all things outside of the mainstream. I held onto my Jane magazine subscription (created by Sassy editor Jane Pratt) for years hoping it would fulfill the Sassy-shaped hole in my life, but it was never quite the same.

Teen People

In 1998, Teen People started the wave of teen versions of popular grown-up magazines--following the teenification of people came Teen Elle, Teen Vogue, Cosmo Girl! and many more. While many of these adolescent magazines are now defunct--Teen People included--for a brief period following their debut there was a major buzz of excitement about these teen-specific editions of major magazines.

Like its grown-up counterpart Teen People featured stories about celebrities, though possibly less salaciously than typical People magazine coverage. Teen People premiered to high fanfare and adolescent excitement in 1998, but by 2006 People announced its teen publication would now be relegated to online articles. It seemed the market on celebrity news was remarkably oversaturated, particularly as most teens could find the dirt online for free. While it was a novel idea at its conception, Teen People failed to hold our long-term adolescent attention spans.

Tiger Beat/J-17/BOP

On the lower end of the teen magazine spectrum lay the glorified pinup publications. These magazines claimed to have articles, but for the most part they were stocked with fluffy interviews with teen stars accompanied by fold-out posters. It was by no means educational or informative by any stretch of the imagination, but it did encourage our mindless idle idol preoccupation.
If you’re looking to reminisce about kid’s magazines, check out this post--entirely devoted to children’s publications


Hope Chella said...

Wowser! I was all about Seventeen, YM and Teen...Teen People was great too! I remember most of these covers :)

Melanie's Randomness said...

I was obsessed with my magazines when i was little! I got Seventeen, Bop, Tiger Beat, YM...all of them. I remember having pictures of Zack Morris on my walls. Today I have NO clue who any of the people are. =P

miss jille said...

I remember feeling sooooo mature buying Seventeen when I was only 11 or 12

Ali said...

Oh, how I miss all of these!

Tracita Linda (Tracey) said...

LOL- Bop looks so cheesy. How "safe" those magazine covers are compared to today.

I want to go way, way, way back to the times of Highlights...that magazine made me so smart!

Anonymous said...

Our middle school library wouldn't let you check out Seventeen magazine unless you yourself were 17. Which, at the time, made sense, but now I'm forced to wonder how many 17 year olds there actualy were in our middle school.

CJ said...

I had 5 years free of YM that lasted me through 8th grade and High School through, that I got through some promotion they had with Neopets, which I was really into at the time. But I still remember coveting my BFF's issues of Seventeen.

مى said...

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Pana said...

Oh man, I miss Sassy AND Jane. And reading the BOP cover was the highlight of my week!!

SL said...

I loved, loved, loved teen magazines. I was just telling my mom yesterday (who in the early 90s worked at the local library) that the greatest day ever was when she brought me home the entire year's worth of Seventeen, from 1986.

ALL these covers look familiar to me. And hah, I remember being traumatized by a YM "It Happened to Me" called, "I got pregnant and I didn't even have sex!" I TOTALLY thought that was likely.

The Mapless Traveler said...

WOW, this brought back memories. I got Teen, YM, and Seventeen, and my big sister had her own subscriptions to those three (because we fought over the issues - we never learned to share very well) and Sassy too. I remember thinking of Teen as the goody-goody mag, YM as the bad girl mag, Seventeen as the somewhere-in-between, likes-to-read-more mag, and Sassy in a whole different category.

nikki said...

I was a 100% Sassy girl! Before Jane sold it to YM.

Heather Taylor said...

I miss Teen People. Good stuff. I also still subscribe to Seventeen...that magazine is nowhere near as good as it used to be.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Sassy was a pretty cool magazine!!! I think I had a lot of these issues

Diana said...

The ORIGINAL sassy rules over any of these.

Lil' Woman said...

When I moved back home I cleaned out my room and found a whole bin full of ym's, seventeeen, and teen people. I'm going to blog some of them.

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Anonymous said...

I remember reading those magizines when I was younger. I loved Bop and Tiger Beat, and used to love the centerfolds. But I have to admit that sometimes I'll browse and skim through them when I am at the store especially when I am in line.

Jamie said...

I loved Seventeen. I remember I ended up getting a subscription once I went to university as I was finding it so hard to regularly source a copy (in Australia).

It used to cost AU$17.95 a copy. I remember it getting up to around $20 a copy at one point when the exchange rate was at its worst. I think it was my one indulgence while I was at uni! (and over 17 years of age myself!)

Man, I loved that magazine!

Allie said...

I'm almost positive I owned all those exact copies featured in the pictures. Bordering on hoarder status I think I only finally threw out my old teen mags a few years about age 24.

Vani B. said...

Hmm... where's the "Like" button on this entry?

Anonymous said...

You forgot "Twist" magazine! It was the first-ever teen mag, my mother bought for me. I still remember my nine-year-old self staring at Fiona Apple's(!!) face on the cover, in amazement, the glossiness of it all sinking in. I felt so grown up. Oh, sigh. The '90s were a shit-show for little girls who would be future feminists.

Amanda Rose said...

All About You! remember that teen magazine? that was the first teen magazine i ever got into when i was 10. the next couple years i bought every teen magazine on the market, even came across a UK teen magazine called "Sugar." All About You! was eventually bought by Teen, which I felt was the most useless magazine of the bunch. I was too young for Sassy and by the time I got into magazines Sassy was no longer around :( definitely wish I could find a copy somewhere but not willing to buy any issues on ebay.


eventually I grew out of reading teen magazines in 8th grade when I realized they didn't offer much of anything with substance.

Elle Girl was a great one! I remember reading that Jane was apart of that magazine too I discovered it too late though, about a year before they went under. I had thought they were just like all the mindless teenage magazines on the market. I was pleasantly surprised!

chris green Philly said...

Good lord, I remember all of these (in fact, I remember that exact Claire Danes cover & even the (now discontinued) lipgloss she wore on the cover because I ran out & bought it. But anyway, yeah, I read ALL of them-Bop & Big Bopper, Tiger Beat, etc., then when I became more 'mature', I moved on to the fashion type ones. I would save my allowance for a subscription to YM, & then my older sister would get Seventeen & 'Teen, & we'd borrow each other's when we were done reading them. And yes, I did feel very mature & worldly that I was reading Seventeen magazine when I wasn't actually 17 yet, I suppose we all did lol. And I confess my sister & I did spend the better part of one Sunday afternoon creating a fake embarrassing story to submit to YM's 'Say Anything' page. You're 100% spot on when you say the stories always went something like 'and then this happened, and that happened, & if that weren't bad enough, this happened too!'. I can't recall the exact fake story we came up with, but it was basically like, the ultimate nightmare culmination of every humiliating scenario a teenage girl could have possibly imagined in her mind. I think when you were really young & first started reading YM, on an act of good faith you believe the stories, then it one day occurs to you that there's really absolutely no way they could be proven or verified, & they didn't put your name, so you have that eureka moment where you realize 'hey, I could submit a made up story!' & you think you're really clever & swear that you're the only one that had ever thought of doing so.

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