News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

'I have a law degree which shows that intelligence and a keen interest in lipstick aren't mutually exclusive'

Jess O'Sullivan is Editor of Irish teen magazine 'Kiss'

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

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A model on the catwalk is snapped at the House of Ronald show during Fashion Foward in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Stuart C. Wilson
Jess O’Sullivan

Every day we're inundated with Facebook comments, tweets, emails and handwritten letters, either telling us like it is or asking for advice, and we take our responsibility very seriously. We're extremely lucky to have such a vocal readership because the content we feature is very much based on this interaction.

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Adolescence is, and always has been, like fighting a war on three fronts – emotional, physical and social.

And while the growing pains stay pretty much the same – beauty, boy troubles, embarrassing bodies, school and best friends – the rules of engagement have changed drastically. As a result, magazines have to change too.

But it's not a case of women's magazines leading the charge towards early sexualisation and an unattainable feminine ideal just because we teach young girls how to flirt, pluck and put on make-up.

These digital natives now have an endless supply of online celeb images, explicit material and Instagram accounts (some dedicated solely to the thigh gap) to influence them, which is why we've recently run features on everything from the dangers of sexting to how Instagram can be bad for your mental health.

There is no point in burying our heads in the sand about the fact that teens are growing up a lot faster.

A recent study by Unicef revealed that 54pc of Irish teens have admitted to watching explicit material online and, in my opinion, the female ideal portrayed in porn is a lot more damaging than a feature on how to achieve a streak-free tan.

I am a firm believer that information is power, and this is what young women need – current, empowering information delivered in a responsible, considered way. Whether it's how to deal with acne and unwanted pubic hair or how to deal with self-harm or preventing STDs – no topic is out of bounds if it's important and relevant to our readers.

Otherwise they will look elsewhere for guidance and not necessarily in the right place. Magazines are answerable for what we print; most blogs, websites and social media sites aren't.

We recently conducted a reader survey, which revealed that our readers wanted more articles on fitness and health. With childhood obesity on the rise, it became apparent that our strict no-diets policy needed revision in order to responsibly steer our readers towards regular exercise and a healthy diet.

And it's no surprise that teens are concerned with how they look. With a legion of smartphones at the ready to record every BHD (bad hair day), and epic zit, they have to be constantly 'on'. This is a lot of pressure to place on someone living on a learning curve and leaves no room for mistakes.

So, if concealer and frizz-free hair make you feel more confident, then why not indulge? Blaming women's magazines and photoshopping for perpetuating today's beauty ideal is dated.

Teens aren't just aware of photoshopping, good lighting and flattering angles, they're mastering it themselves.

Of course, I'm biased. I am a magazine girl. And I wouldn't work in this industry if I didn't adore all the trappings of being female, even those perceived as shallow.

But hey, I also have a law degree, which shows that intelligence and a keen interest in lipstick aren't mutually exclusive. I do believe that women get more comfortable in their own skin as they get older. I know I certainly feel that way.

When I turned 30 I didn't flinch, and I think part of that was because I was already working at KISS and dealing with teen woes on a daily basis. When I did a quick mental check-in with myself to see whether it bothered me that I was getting older, I clutched my well-developed sense of self-worth a little closer and realised that I didn't envy today's teen girl one iota. I would never want to go back. But I am prepared to let our teen readers dictate the agenda, so I can help them through it as best I can and give them the information they need.

This is my only vagenda.

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