Teen, Seventeen, and YM Magazines from 1991-1993

I published a piece on Hello Giggles about binge-reading some old teen magazines from the 90s. It was super fun to write -- I seriously had the best time re-reading these old issues. 

I had a bunch of reactions to them that didn't make it into the final essay on Hello Giggles so I thought I'd share them here. 

Teen Magazine: June 1990, December 1991, December 1993

If you’re a woman of a certain age, do this experiment: block off an hour in your calendar and Google “vintage Teen magazines.” See how long you last before you, too, end up whipping out a credit card. Because there is something addictive about Teen; with its straight-up neon color palette, the covers don’t just beckon you; they scream. They rap. They are a high-wattage high school musical in print form.

My prime Teen years were 1989 to 1992, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I remember every cover—the pinks, the patterns, the bold lips and bigger earrings. Something about those covers feels like home to me. Even now, I want to wallpaper my apartment with them in an attempt to siphon off the energy coming from their pages, the optimism and cheer. Forget coffee; a glance at a Teen cover is all the pep you need to get you through your day.

The thesis of Teen seemed to be that your teenage years are, above all else, fun. Though I couldn’t formulate this back then, I appreciated that notion when I was a pre-teen; it made me less scared. The magazines were busy, a veritable onslaught of ads and advice columns. The models were thin but mostly of average shape; their faces were downright chubby compared to what we see today. I promise you’ll recognize some models—Denise Richards, for one, who starred in a pull-out “dental health” booklet. (There were supplemental mini magazines about dental health!) The hair was big and the lipstick was pink; the models’ brow game was serious.

The advertisements in Teen matched the magazine’s style—sunny and carefree—and I remember them almost more than I remember the actual content: Love’s Baby Soft and Tribe!; Chill Out and Salon Selectives. There were Super Hair Searches and Sports Girl of the Year searches; multiple calls for girls to submit their photos, and I remember studying them intently as a kid, wondering how I’d match up if I were brave enough to submit my own photo. It was the thick of the supermodel generation, after all, where Kate Moss and Christy Turlington and the Taylor sisters were becoming household names. (In the December 1993 issue, Teen published the results of a reader poll, and girls said the women they most admired were their moms, their sisters, their friends, Hillary Clinton…and Cindy Crawford.)

Like many (most? All?) pre-teen girls, I was obsessed with getting my period. (Thanks, Judy Blume.) My memories had me convinced that Teen, too, was obsessed with it, but in rereading these three issues, I was clearly mistaken. Other than the occasional mention, and the Always-sponsored “advice” column (really an ad) in each issue, there wasn’t a lot of period talk.

Maybe that was Seventeen, I told myself after bingeing on three Teens and half a bottle of wine. (I am a lightweight these days.)

So back to eBay I went, for an old issue of Seventeen.

Seventeen Magazine: February 1993

If you follow fashion magazines at all, you know that the September issues are the best of the year. I fell in love with Seventeen during the summer of 1993, in between blaring the “Reality Bites” soundtrack and working at the local arcade. I couldn’t find that particular back-to-school issue for purposes of this trip down memory lane, but I did find the next best thing, which is the issue featuring Andrew Shue on the cover, because what girl who lived through the nineties didn’t have a crush on that do-gooder?

The thing about Seventeen is that it was so clearly talking to a different audience than Teen—older, cooler, more worldly. I distinctly felt like I had graduated from the bright neons of Teen to the plaid shirts, combat boots, mismatched florals of Seventeen; from a tinny tape deck blaring Whitney Houston to a skip-prone CD player blaring The Cranberries. Even the magazine’s fonts were different; more modern. Some of the clothes and accessories were attributed to what were surely expensive, hip stores in New York City, situated on Village corners that even now intimidate me (and I’ve lived here for years).

This particular issue celebrated Valentine’s Day with lots of romance tips and inspiring quotes from Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay. (I swooned at those now, but I’m sure they didn’t register with 14-year-old me.) Seventeen seemed to like its actresses; there was a profile of the three Wagner sisters (Katie, Courtney, and Natasha Gregson, the only one I knew), and there was a long interview with Wendy Benson, who starred in the short-lived drama “I’ll Fly Away” (I never saw it). In both pieces, the writers appeared so sure that these girls would be the Next Big Things that I felt mildly guilty for needing to IMDB each of them.

The Seventeen girl was more sophisticated than the Teen reader; that much is clear from this re-read. She understood things; she read between the lines. She didn’t have many more questions about her period, and she didn’t want Bonne Bell Lip Smackers. The Seventeen girl wore real lipstick, preferably something matte and purple-y to go with all those flannels. She wasn’t afraid to have streaked hair or smoky eyes—in fact, it was practically required. Your mother might not have liked the Seventeen girl, and of course, when you’re fourteen, that is part of the appeal.

Apart from fashion, makeup, and boys, Seventeen shared content about real issues. This issue in particular touched on abortion rights and hate crimes; Saddam Hussein had several mentions. And there was a blurb bemoaning the number of women in Congress (54 at the time). Unlike Teen, Seventeen wanted me to give a damn about the state of the world. It just wanted to make sure I was doing it in style.

That said, my memories of this issue were nowhere near as strong as my memories of Teen…and my level of enjoyment was less, too.

Now, listen. I have to bring up the elephant in the room now. And that elephant’s name is YM.

During my eBaying, vintage issues of YM kept popping up like a bad zit. (Or, more appropriate to my age, a stubborn gray hair.) The third magazine in the triumvirate of teen girl magazines (I’m purposely excluding Sassy, which ran for a mere fraction of time that Teen, Seventeen, and YM did, and anyway, Sassy was really in its own category), YM was like the quiet, slightly annoying neighbor that your mom always insisted you invite to your birthday parties just to be nice. It was always there, harmless and nondescript, and no one could quite remember why or how.  

I had to be fair. I bought an issue.

YM Magazine: September 1992

I first came across the August 1993 issue featuring Krissy Taylor (and Dan Cortese) on the cover. I felt a pop in my chest at the sight of her; even for casual readers of teen magazines in the nineties, Krissy and Niki Taylor were revered. Not revered enough for me to pay the ridiculous asking price for the magazine, though, so I had to settle for a Luke Perry issue. Considering I used to unironically wear a sweatshirt with Luke’s likeness airbrushed onto it, boardwalk style, in middle school, this was not the great sacrifice you are perhaps imagining.

Flipping through its pages I was struck by how classic, in a way, YM was. It didn’t feel dated the way Seventeen and especially Teen did…but it didn’t feel fresh, either, and certainly not urgent. It actually didn’t feel like much of anything. I just re-read the issue, and even still I can barely remember it.

Style-wise, the blue jeans were baggy and clinched and very blue, and the hair was shellacked and the lipstick was bright, but there was no defined palette, no personality. Page after page, I looked for something that would strike me – a memory, a model I recognized, an advice column I remembered – but not much of it resonated, then or now. Even the ads didn’t speak to me; I hadn’t been an LA Gear or Gitano girl.

This issue had lots of focus on the actual models, like Claudia Schiffer and Tyra Banks and Linda Evangelista, but even those features about the “real” lives of models felt off-tone. In retrospect I realize it’s because I didn’t care about the models necessarily; I cared about feeling like them, looking like them, imagining the kind of life where I’d be famous like them.

Lest you think I’m ripping on YM too much, I will say this: first, this issue had a whole section on getting a part-time job, which was very relatable and positions YM as a more serious, functional sort of teen magazine; and second, as someone who recently purchased some leopard print flats, I fully appreciated the “how to add leopard to your denims without looking dumb” feature, which was timeless and useful.

Ultimately, though, let’s just say I am very, very grateful that wine-soaked me had the smart financial sense to not purchase the Krissy Taylor issue. This Luke Perry one only set me back a few dollars.


In 2014, The Hairpin ran “The Tragic History of Fallen Teen Magazines,” chronicling the rise and fall of these and others. Of Teen, they said, “it never had much of a personality.” I bristled reading that, but it’s probably true.

But maybe that’s why I loved it so much. In its pages, filled with a certain level of inanity but also an accessible camaraderie and a whispered promise that everything was going to be okay, Teen let me find whatever I was seeking at the time. It let me find me. 


Teenage fandom

137964I just saw a selfie some fans took at the "Divergent" premiere and got a serious pang of jealousy. I have never read Divergent and don't plan on seeing the film, so this is not about Divergent, but it's about fandom, and more specifically, teenage fandom. Here's where I'm going with this: a lot of people read and loved Divergent. And just like with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Twilight, they get to see every part of its journey, from being something a friend told them about in geometry to being a household name that people get tattooed on themselves. From being a cool book you and your friends read to being a real brand, with actual merchandise.

I wish I had had that as a kid. I'm trying to imagine what it must be like, at that formative age, to have something you love become so...big. When it's already all-consuming in your head and then it turns an all-consuming love of the larger world around you, I just can't even picture it. It must be like what my first Tori Amos concerts felt like, magnified by a billion.I would have passed out if something I love(d) as much as Tori was mainstream the way young adult literature is these days. Do you all even know how cool that is? How new? How lucky you are? *now get off my lawn*

Sometimes I worry I picked the wrong time to be a teenager. Teens in the eighties had malls (and I am sorry/not sorry to see their mall culture eroding), and teens in the aughts had/have the Internet, but what did we nineties teens have, apart from some flannel and Spice Girls? Was there even a defining book of my teenage generation?

Since there's not, I'm thinking of the ones I wish could be it. Like the Sunset Island series. No, wait! It would be the entire Christopher Pike oeuvre. In fact, here it is; I'm declaring it now. Dear fellow peers who are couched on the border between Generations X and Y, Christopher Pike was our Divergent, our Hunger Games. (It wasn't our Harry, because let's be real, nothing can compare to the Harry phenomenon.)

Now. Where's my movie premiere? (I'll settle for a tee shirt.)

(Also, I had no idea Christopher Pike was a pseudonym!)



Looking east

4788_117277103427_6224336_nIn the summer I listen to Jackson Browne because that was the music of my sixteenth summer, and even then it was old, it was the music of my boss at my summer job, but it played in our store on the best corner of Long Beach Island and I memorized every word without realizing it. My boss loved him so much she even named her son Jackson; I babysat him one winter, in the off-season, and I kept dashing into his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing. Babies are terrifying and also too simple. A few summers later her car wrapped around a tree on her way home. I can’t remember how I found out about it – I suspect my mom broke the news – but I do remember standing around the kitchen of my summer restaurant, hating the looks of sympathy my coworkers were sending me in between waiting tables. This wasn’t about me; I didn’t want their emotions.

I can’t think of summer, I can’t live summer, without thinking about her. Or this: the lingering concern that I spend too much time trying to get back to those July days when a cut of blue air would land on my heart, when the hours drifted by in a haze of cotton, a distant radio, sand tracked on tile floors. Shift work. Lunch breaks. A register ringing. Crushes on the coffee boys, a car that rarely started.

At 16 I swept the floors on an empty August afternoon on the block between beach and bay, after everything had been folded and refolded and straightened and restocked, and waited for night. The doors were open and I rested against them; frowned upon, but the salt air was too tempting, and there were people to watch in the ice cream line. I waved to my boss as she crossed the street in her running clothes. She always liked me; a treat, since I knew she didn’t like everyone. Jackson Browne was playing, of course, and when she entered the store she hummed along.

How many nights did I spend like that, watching the ebb and flow of the island, watching the girls in short shorts and the boys in flannel, watching the others, watching, listening. How many nights now am I hit with a breeze, or a scent, or a song, that swirls and swirls around me until I hear her voice singing that song?

When I go back now, of course it’s different, and of course I try to make it the same, and of course I will forever fail at that. When I drive I drive there, when the stoplights are off and the tide is high, and when I hear summer coming up my driveway I hear that road, that etched sidewalk, that jangle of coin.  In the store where I spent so many summers, after she died a plaque was hung – her photo, her dates, “In memoriam.”

The store’s owners divorced a while back; whoever ended up with the business in the settlement has changed things, renovated, redecorated. The plaque is gone. When I visit it’s so different I can’t even pretend it’s the same. I can’t even pretend I’m sixteen again, learning everything for the first time.


Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 12.29.27 PMI was 21 when I took my first flight, a commuter jet to Boston, and it rumbled and shook and I held my first passport close to my chest. My second flight was more substantive -- Boston to Brussels, the one where I actually needed the passport -- and since then there have been dozens just like that one, soaring over Europe, leaving windmill imprints behind my eyelids. Layovers, turbulence, crying jags in British Airways business class when a friend and I chose to watch "The Notebook," not realizing how it, combined with little sleep, would leave us red-faced and ashamed, but gleeful too. Buzzed flights, productive flights, painful flights; missed connections in Swiss airports where no matter how fast I ran I knew I'd never make it; Heathrow runways where I took my time, confident I was already so late, only to be surprised by a delay that meant I would get home on time. Flights where I welled up looking out the window, wondering if I'd ever see him again, wondering why an ocean has to be so big. Dozens of short flights, and one long flight to and from Sri Lanka, where, at three hours in, I realized I had only hit the 25% mark; where I and some other passengers came down with food poisoning. Flights where I fell asleep even before takeoff; flights where my boss had pulled out her laptop and typed away, so I, in turn, did the same. Flights where I tuned out, and some where I tuned in. The airport in Vermont is a charmer. Currently under construction in one area, once you get through security the bathrooms are literal port-a-potties, with thin painted plywood built around them to give the illusion of a room; with a running sink in which you must pump your foot in order to actually access the water. Whatever. We ate lunch at The Skinny Pancake and waited, and waited, as weather delays in Newark put our plans on hold.

The thing is, I never mind waiting at airports. It's not like there's nothing to do -- one can always buy books and magazines, or food, or martinis with fat olives that wake you up three hours later with a ring of salt burning your throat. There's always ample opportunity for people-watching, for catching up on Twitter, for reading a type of magazine you would never purchase but were delighted to find on an empty seat. And there's always time for reflection, for deciding which memory from your trip was your favorite, the one you'll hold close always.

For me it was this moment, sitting with my mom and my sister on a deck on Lake Champlain, feeling like summer is mere moments away.



Happy year-end

I’d be alone in the backseat of her Geo Tracker, but surrounded by stuff – Beastie Boys cassette holders, pom poms, duffel bags, water bottles. A stray pair of sunglasses. A scrunchie. I’d be alone, because even though the driver’s and front passenger’s seats were filled, the air would whip through the Tracker so fast it would build a wall between us, rendering me deaf in the backseat. And I would look out the windows and stare, and think. It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes, these memories of high school flood my canals. Today it’s of a fall day, junior year; of my best friend’s first car; of the country music I didn’t listen to. Of slurpees and study halls, coasting down the pine tree roads. Of a promise of more, more, more; so much more than Jersey offered.

I make fun of it all the time, and I’m allowed to, but the truth is there’s something about southern coastal Jersey that is overly formative. I am sure you can all say that about your hometowns, whether they are Midwestern or Californian or Canadian. I am sure you are feeling a pinch inside as I imply here that mine was different, special. I don’t blame you.

But there is something to a hard blue sky and a horizon of deep green pine trees. There is something to a Jersey Devil legend and unblemished, near-empty beaches. There is something to the cranberry bogs, the duck crossings, the grainy, sandy dirt that blows across empty football fields.

There is something to being a teenage girl riding alone in the raised backseat of her best friend’s car on her way to cheerleading practice, eating her fruit lip gloss off her mouth and wondering what on earth is in store for her.

I haven’t been to my hometown in nearly three months, and since then there’s been a hurricane that ruined some of my favorite places, a couple of holidays, an engagement. This weekend I’ll hitch a ride down the Garden State Parkway and keep my eyes open for the memories I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten.


image via

All the girls here are freezing cold

The lights moved over me but mostly, I was thankful for the darkness, the space to embrace some stillness. Next to me, T. was silent, a hand over her mouth, eyes straining to watch the French quartet, whose strings were plucked with something between precision and abandon. They were beautiful. We had just had an overdue conversation -- she's one of those friends we've dubbed "the extra Baden sister" -- that was cut short when the lights went down and the music started. I'm having trouble writing this post, and have stopped and re-started multiple times. I don't want to be dramatic. But it's hard not to be when I think about Tori Amos; my life with her. This weekend I saw both shows at The Beacon; I've lost count, but I think they were shows 41 and 42. (It's important to note my number is actually quite small in comparison to many other Tori fans; I remember talking to some people at a show during my college years who were on their 100th viewing, and that was 10 years ago.)

The thing is, Tori is a barometer for me. She is a photo album. When she sings "Beauty Queens" and leads right into "Horses," I cry, remembering being 16 and 17, sitting on the carpeted floor of my bedroom in front of my 7-disc CD changer; how I was a senior in high school, driving my first car and stalling out on a perfect Fall day, what that meant, who I thought I was. Then she pulls out a U2 cover, and then does a "God"/"Running Up That Hill" (Kate Bush) mash-up, and I think about being 15, or 22, and the same things happens -- a tide of memories.

I hope everyone has a musician, or something, they can mark their lives against the way I can with Tori.

My best girls either came to the shows with me or met up with us beforehand, or after, and it was like I felt the shift happen right under me: that, before, wasn't a memory, but this, here, now, is.

Processing time

I slipped out in between rain showers last night to unearth Freedom from my car, where it had been sitting since my beach evacuation, and turned in early to catch up on it. it had been so long -- nearly two weeks! -- since I'd last picked it up that I had to re-read some pages, finding the groove I'd been in.

It came quickly. And so I read, the weight of the pages, the binding, tiring out my arms. (I may be too used to ebooks these days. I've lost my reading muscles.)

Anyway, a few pages in I was reabsorbed, and after some time had passed I looked up at a sudden noise and was surprised to find I was at home instead of on the Pearl Street beach. There was no sun -- just my ceiling light. A trickle of sand rained down on my stomach, nearly landing on my bed, but it wasn't the same, of course. It couldn't be.

I spent some time in Sri Lanka one January, rebuilding houses washed away by the 2004 tsunami. Back then I wrote this about it on 100words.com:

Underneath a waning moon we sat on the ledge of the bar, silent. There is too much to think about tonight, this last night here. The fact that we are all here together; that this trip has changed us all; that we will never be as close as we are right now. So instead of thinking, I am watching: the look of triumph in Czech Peter's eyes. The smirk on Buraq's mouth. The thatched roofs and surfboards lining this bar, reminding me of LBI. I am taking it all in one last time, because I will never be here again.

I just remember sitting there, carving out the moment, knowing it would never be able to be recreated. And I suppose that's what everything is, most of the time: a moving memory. Things change so quickly that we can never relive the best times; they're never quite the same, despite identical staging and direction. The planets just never realign. Freedom is just not the same in my apartment as it was on the beach.

Sometimes I coast alongside work and life for weeks at a time, and then suddenly stop and gasp for air, for time to process. It can take minutes or hours for me to realize what's happened, where I've been, what it means. Even when it's mundane. It all just has to find its way into my bones. It has to become part of my story.

I did that last night, listening to the alternating silence and showers, like footfalls on the roof. And I'm doing it now, and this is my way of thanking you all for letting me.