Friday 17 May 2019

You and I can't be friends anymore, Jackie - Tracy Darnton

Teenage magazines from my (distant) past include Look In, Smash Hits, Just Seventeen and Cosmopolitan. But the one I remember most is Jackie

I loved that magazine. I remember it fondly as where I learnt how to wear my ra-ra skirt with panache, to talk to boys as my school was single sex until 16, and how to manage my ridiculous curly perm with an afro comb which was forever getting stuck.  

I particularly liked the photo strip story which, as I remember it, usually involved the teenage main character leaving her curling tongs on while snogging the ‘dish’ next door and causing terrible burns to the little sister she was meant to be babysitting. I have carried this somewhat horrific scenario with me through life always triple-checking hair straighteners are unplugged, but I digress. The point is, Jackie magazine and the Jackie annual in my Christmas stocking were a formative part of my teenage years.

So I should never have looked back at one. Nostalgia is a bad thing. Out to lunch with my teenage sons, we picked up the Jackie Annual 1977 which was calling me from the charity shop window. A princely £1.50 later and sitting in the cafĂ©, the boys were laughing hysterically but also rather shocked at the pages within. They couldn’t believe I, feisty feminist Mum, had put up with this rubbish. And looking back, neither could I.

It seemed constructed to make you feel bad about yourself and especially the way you looked. Even if some of it is well-meant or tongue-in-cheek, which to modern eyes seems like the only explanation, the steady drip, drip, drip of the same stereotypes and insensitivity grinds you down. The most shocking section was on clothes to fit your figure. I kid you not, it actually says in the “Fatties” section: “Fashion can be frustrating when you’re fat. You love all the latest looks but you know in your heart of hearts that they don’t look as good on you.” And then helpfully tackles individual pieces. I’m amazed I ever left the house.

There was no respite from feeling bad about your appearance in fiction/reader’s true experience:

 Or in the horoscope section with advice like ‘the secret of catching him and keeping him is to intrigue him with a touch of mystery. Be intelligent and don’t chat his ear off.’ What???

And I bravely read the makeover section for Tracy and Wendy.

My namesake who subjected herself to this process was deemed ‘pretty with a small face and large, expressive eyes, but she does have one or two problems, just like everyone else. Her nose is just a little too big, for instance, and she has a slightly greasy skin that’s prone to outbreaks of spots now and again.
Luckily, once Tracy wore blue eye-shadow her life changed (OK, I wrote that bit).

Surely it wasn’t like this, week in, week out? I was only 11 in 1977. Maybe it was better in the early ‘80s, wasn’t it?

Never mind, let’s do one of those personality quizzes for a bit of fun:

How dreamy are you?

1.       When a boy hasn’t looked at you, let alone smiled at you, for a whole month, do you daydream that you’re-

(a)    Miss World

(b)    A fashion magazine cover-girl

(c)     Sought after by legions of fanciable boys

(d)    The girlfriend of some handsome American millionaire

Again, what???

Or let's do something to develop our practical or creative skillset with suggestions for 'things to do when your get up and go has gone…'

That’s just plain weird, Jackie.

Oh dear, Jackie. I’m afraid you and I can’t be friends anymore.

How things change …

I’ve had a run of articles recently in TEEN Breathe magazine. It doesn’t have celebrities or unrealistic photo-shopped pictures of girl models. It has no photos – just beautifully drawn illustrations, and it’s packed with articles about well-being and creativity. 

For instance, a recent issue has 28 upbeat articles including creative activities on writing songs, tackling a problem in the way your heroine from literature would, memory games to play with your family (my contribution), gardening with pineapples and pieces on learning languages, the perfectionist trap and navigating social media. It also tackles important issues like loss and anxiety. The tag is ‘for a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life’ and every cover has ‘Be inspired, be brave, be kind, be yourself’ across the top.

A grizzled old Jackie fan might start muttering about snowflakes and cheesy taglines but they can go and rub a giant bean-can ice-cube over themselves because in this modern, crazy world, I like that TEEN Breathe is not consumerist or materialistic and has practical suggestions for how to spend your time delivered in a friendly, positive manner. Most of all, it’s KIND. And we want our friends to be KIND, Jackie.

So, what’s my conclusion. Times have changed. Thank goodness, times have changed. It was heart-warming to see such disbelief and outrage from the current generation. I’m also alive to my responsibility as an occasional writer of articles for teenagers to do it well. I'll always keep in mind my own teenage self in her ill-fitting ra-ra skirt stuck at home on a housing estate in Stockport but wanting to change the world. One day. 

Tracy Darnton is the author of The Truth About Lies which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. She has an MA in Writing for Young People.

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton


Penny Dolan said...

Great post, Tracey. Those tips and hints still have the power to make me worry about how I look, even now. So much about "looks" and getting and - implied - being grateful for any boy's attention at all, and developing false "pleasingness".

Good wishes to the new TeenBREATHE magazine, too. Drawn rather than photographic images looks like a good start. I'll look out for it on the shelves - though I may, personally, be way out of the demographic.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Good grief, that's appalling! How on earth did we survive it?

A. Colleen Jones said...

I'm sure if I looked back at the North American equivalents like Tiger Beat and what not, I'd be just as appalled! Best to leave those mags in the past! :)

Moira Butterfield said...

I wish times had changed out of all recognition but the likes of the Daily Mail sidebar suggest not. Glad to see the new mag.

Emma Perry said...

Oh my word... the ice-cube tip!!!
Great post, Tracy!

Lynne Benton said...

Lovely post, Tracey. No wonder so many women of a certain age worry so much about how they look - they were carefully trained to by Jackie!

Tim N said...

I think, from the other side of the gender divide and of a similar age, that the most notable difference is that magazines that aren't "for girls" are a little less likely to assume that their only audience is boys. Airfix Magazine no longer describes the kits as suitable for boys aged 12+; football sticker albums include female players; the Doctor Who Annual will have a female doctor, much to some people's dismay; and the war stories that are still a popular part of teenage-boyhood sometimes make a female character the protagonist (one of the pupils where I work was astonished to learn that female Russian fighter pilots weren't fictional, even if the adventures in his comic were). It's not until you get to an older age-group that men's magazines start talking about fashion and "how to look good".