Our Fashion Magazines Can and Should Be Political

Daisy Koffler

There’s more then what’s on the cover; fashion magazines are starting to dive into topics besides clothing and trends.

It is a feeling like no other when a package arrives with your name on it. You can barely wait to rip it open and reveal what’s inside. In 2017, my camp friends and I were particularly excited about packages with the prospect of receiving magazines from our parents. It was of the utmost importance to know if Nick Jonas had a girlfriend and what color to paint your nails based on your zodiac sign. Issues of Teen Vogue and Seventeen were scriptures for sharing, annotating, and discussing.


One day I received a package from my mom containing a Marie Claire magazine. After skimming through perfume ads and upcoming fashion trends, I came across an article towards the end. It was a few pages long with a couple of pictures about a woman from a tribe in Africa who led her community to make significant changes in access to clean water. The movement she created was improving the lives of those around her, according to the article. Her story seemed to be the longest one in the magazine, reporting on her inspiring leadership qualities and contribution to society.


I thought about this article, and how it impacted my perception of Marie Claire. It had nothing to do with fashion, yet it was planted in the middle of the magazine.


A year later I was getting my nails done while flipping through an issue of Vogue. As usual, there was a female celebrity on the cover and an ample number of ads for makeup products and clothing. After skimming the colorful images on the pages, I began to read an article about a woman’s international experience helping to end an adolescent tradition of female genital mutilation. I was surprised to have found an article on such a serious topic only pages away from an advertisement trying to convince you to buy a mascara.


It seemed relatively new to me that womens’ and teens’ fashion magazines contained so much serious political content. I felt that these magazines decades ago advocated different messages to their readers, and noticed some differences when I examined older magazine covers.

Seventeen magazine covers from 1980 (left) and 1998 (right)


In the presidential election of 2016, Vogue publicized their political stance and endorsed Hilary Clinton, the Democratic candidate running for office against Donald Trump. She received support from the magazine for a variety of reasons, including her policies on heated topics such as immigration and tax proposals for the middle class.


While Vogue’s open endorsement of a Presidential candidate was a little surprising, it was marginally more alarming to Americans on the internet when Teen Vogue openly bashed President Trump, discussing the lies he’d told to the public. Reactions to the Teen Vogue article once and for all exposed certain assumptions about the audiences of fashion magazines. The surprised online responses screamed the message that girls interested in fashion trends and pop culture are probably not also interested in politics. Even I had been taken aback by that article from Teen Vogue.


I contemplated whether makeup, horoscopes, and analyses of Shawn Mendes should be segregated from news on climate change, foreign policy, and other complex topics. To truly understand why I felt surprised by the Teen Vogue article, I looked into a variety of sources to gain their perspectives.


There were tons of reactions to Teen Vogue’s anti-Trump article on social media platforms and other news outlets; many were negative.


An article in The Federalist harshly tells Teen Vogue to “stick to fashion.” I read this article, and considered the reasons as to why it condemned Teen Vogue for talking about politics. At first, the author notes a couple examples where some of Teen Vogue’s political content is sharing their opinions without any facts. They had me slightly convinced, but then I remembered that lots of other news sources can be biased and opinionated. Why should Teen Vogue be held to a different standard?


The Federalist had even gone on to say, “by aggressively politicizing fashion, Teen Vogue is not saving the world, but furthering one of the most destructive trends in our culture…shut up and show us the fall lines.”


By the end of their article, I felt offended and realized the narratives told in this article were exactly why I felt surprised to see political coverage in Teen Vogue. The writer defines in her words why women read fashion magazines. “Women don’t read fashion magazines because they’ve misplaced their copies of Das Kapital, but for style and beauty tips they can use.”


This statement stuck with me, because I’ve always believed that women should be able to have both interests in beauty and politics.


“As a human being, I am allowed to care about multiple things at once. My political analysis is not less precise or rigorous just because I also care about how to best treat my hair…Nearly every publication covers these topics. The New York Times has a Style section,” says Aristo Originos, the AP Literature and Composition teacher.


Never before had I wondered why news on politics from CNN and the New York Times possessed different credibilities than the same news coverage coming from Teen Vogue.


Famous primarily from her TikTok page, Amelie Zilber is an online Influencer and a freshman at Georgetown University. She is the founder of 2 Minute Times, a platform that explains current political events in an understandable way for young readers. In a video on her YouTube channel, she says, “I do think that it’s important that girls who are beautiful and confident and love themselves can also be smart and intelligent and empowering.” Zilber hopes to end stigmas that only certain types of girls can be intelligent and politically engaged, and I hope to see this too.


Alina Hadzovic is an eleventh grade student who likes to get her political news from CNN and the New York Times, but states she is open to exploring different sites.


“[Fashion magazines] are not my initial instinct when searching for a political news source,” Alina said, “but I’d try them for sure!”


WESS faculty member Chrissy Grenier finds that flipping through fashion magazines is a great way to relax sometimes and is particularly drawn to the editorials and interviews.


“Every morning on my commute to WESS I listen to the podcasts Up First, What a Day, and The Daily,” Grenier said. “I am subscribed to the New York Times.”


Teen Vogue magazine cover from 2016

Michele Balsam, the AP United States Government and Politics teacher at WESS, revealed, “I used to absolutely love fashion and teen magazines in high school and college…when I read fashion magazines [now] I’m drawn most towards the celebrity interviews and the human interest stories,”

When asked if she believed that arguably “frivolous” or “girly” content of magazines like Vogue undermines their credibility to write about politics, Balsam replied, “absolutely not.”

“Fashion and beauty are inherently political,” Balsam said. “The history of fashion and beauty are closely tied to ideals of feminine perfection that are dictated by the society at large and whether or not we cognitively recognize the political nature of fashion and beauty, that political nature exists.”

I agree, considering the lack of diversity seen throughout the history of fashion magazine covers, a topic that is certain political and complicated.

As I thought about how womens’ magazines have changed in the last few decades, it made me realize that the politics changed too. Considering that America desperately needs more women in government, Teen Vogue and Seventeen are prime platforms for introducing political topics to the future generation.

Eleventh grader Madden Shuffler thinks that these magazines are a good way to deliver this content to young people.

“It is very important for people, especially younger people, to be engaged in what is going on,” Shuffler said. “Even if it might not be the best political commentary, at least they are getting a little bit of knowledge because the worst thing that we can have is uninformed citizens and uninformed voters.”

I’ve realized that to be extremely surprised or dismissive towards women and teen magazines that discuss politics in addition to style and entertainment is oblivious. Today, young people are speaking up. Just look at Emma Gonzalez  and Greta Thunberg. Gen-Z continues to dominate the internet, posting political content in addition to TikToks.

I hope that young readers will continue to be aware of what’s going on in our world, and we keep listening to new voices, such as those from Teen Vogue. Let’s end the discrimination towards certain sources of political news; you never know where you might learn something new.