June 1998 Tiger Beat cover
I love magazines.  I don’t know why, I recognize that the majority of their content is fluffy and useless (and let’s face it, after 15 years of reading I’ve read the same fluffy uselessness multiple times), but I cannot get enough.  It all started around the age of 10 when the Hanson brothers and Jonathon Taylor Thomas were gracing the covers of fine literary publications like Tiger Beat and J14 (which I believe is short for Just 14…no idea).  Bored in the grocery store, I’d mill around the magazine aisle until it was time to go, beg my mom to buy me one or the other, and then hole myself up in my room tearing out pages and putting them into clear plastic sleeves in my trapper keeper.

Once when I was 11 or 12, I begged and pleaded with my mom to let me get TEEN magazine, I’d even pay for it with my allowance!!  She said no.  She said that I was not yet a teenager and didn’t need to be reading about how to be “hot” (which in retrospect is completely valid).  I was livid, as is often the case with mothers and daughters, we know how to push each others buttons, and definitely ended up in a screaming fight in the car on the way home (not in the store of course, it would be undignified to fight in public).  Anyhow, I eventually was allowed to buy TEEN magazine, then Seventeen and Teen Vogue.  Somewhere in the middle of high school I graduated to reading the height of journalistic integrity and good advice, Cosmopolitan, and the magazine of “engagement chicken” fame, Glamour.

As you can imagine, I learned a lot of great things from these magazines.  I finally learned how to be “hot”, what guys want, what products would solve all of my adolescent woes, the best workout for flat abs, and what celebrities were wearing that I could find at my local TJ Maxx.  The most profound, and quite frankly sick, thing I learned however was how I should look.  There weren’t any articles that outlined the specifics, nor lists, nor quizzes to find out where I stood on the “spectrum,” but it was the clearest message that shone through in every single publication.  I was supposed to be thin.  As a white girl, I shouldn’t really be curvy, that was the sole right of more exotic looking women.  I should have flawless skin and long flowing hair.  My freckles and curly hair could be ok, but they weren’t ideal.  I should be pretty (which I think means big eyes, small nose and full lips…cue belief that my nose is too big).  On a conscious level, I have always been completely dismissive of all this.  I am confident in the woman I am, and for the most part always have been, and I KNOW that what I see on TV and magazines isn’t reality, but rather a heightened version of an already unrealistic world called Hollywood, but it’s hard to prove that to your subconscious.

So I set out on a lifelong subsconscious competition against the pretty people in magazines.  I compared myself to them, feeling victorious whenever I grew my hair out or lost 5 lbs, seeking something magazine worthy in myself.  I never made myself crazy, or did anything dangerous or seriously messed with my self esteem, because my rational brain knew (and knows) that I am a healthy person who takes good care of herself and that is enough, but as I’ve gotten older, the reality that this sincerely affected my life has become blatantly clear.  But you know what folks, none of it is real and now we have the internet to prove it:

Left: Actual Kim + amazing lighting, styling and professional hair and makeup/ Right: Super Kim + photoshop

Is this woman absolutely gorgeous? YES!  Is she perfect? NO!  I’m so glad that the American Medical Association is taking a stand about photo retouching.  Even though the effect it had on me growing up was fairly minimal, I knew many many girls who developed eating disorders and serious body image issues, and I am confident that the perfected reality we were presented with had something to do with it.  Do I still love magazines? Of course, but nowadays I know not to take them so seriously (and remind myself to google the perfect looking women to see un-photoshopped pics of them doing normal things..like being human).


About the Author Aubrie Fennecken

Aubrie Fennecken is the Chief Alchemist at Opportunity Kitchen | work + wellness strategist | nonprofit fundraising expert | providing productivity and self-care support for mission-driven humans

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