Conventional Thinking: Going on seventeen
The first magazine published in America specifically aimed for teenagers is reportedly Seventeen magazine. The publication, which sells some 20 million copies annually, has long defined what fashionable secular society says a teenage girl ought to look like, sound like and act like.
A survey of recent covers shows headlines including “Perfect Party Hair,” “Twighlight (the movie) Exclusive,” “Get Your Best Body” and “Look Pretty Now!” So obsessed with looks had the publication become that 14-year-old Julia Bluhm of Maine led an online petition drive calling on the publication to stop altering photos of women beyond reality with Photoshop. The petition, which collected tens of thousands of signatures, succeeded as the publication promised to “show real girls as they really are.”
While it would be best if people spent time reading other publications for reasons that are obvious, this event does show than even mainstream society is becoming weary of the messages we send to young women.
Listening to the messages sent by magazines and TV to young women today, it is easy to see why many women feel they are living in a barbarians’ paradise. Society caters to what Terrence O. Moore defines as two extremes of young men, which he calls wimps and barbarians.
“Many young women today look upon the world of dating with anxiety, hopelessness, disappointment—even dread. They express disappointment with young men’s stubborn immaturity, with their own slim chances of finding love and with the sad fact that whereas in the past, everyone expected women not to have sex before marriage, nowadays everyone, especially their boyfriends, expects that they will,” says Moore. “’Heather,’ today’s young woman, is tempted continually to compromise her ultimate happiness for the momentary attention of an undependable young male on his terms.”
Indeed, the current arrangement and trends within society put women at a tremendous disadvantage to live a godly life. The rise of radical feminism has sown a bitter harvest that today’s young women are reaping. God and the timeless standards of the Bible, however, call us to more.
One of the unique hallmarks of Christianity is that it is pro-women, so to speak. While first-Century Roman society did not accept a woman’s testimony in the court of law, the Gospels record women as the first witnesses to the resurrection of our Lord. While ancient civilizations were quick to discard widows, the Apostle Paul instructed Christians to remember and care for them. And while pagan societies have remorselessly used women for sex, Christianity sets up God-given boundaries so that women may be protected in marriage.
Too often we Christians allow ourselves to be labeled as old-fashioned or prudes for upholding such ideals. In reality, Christianity offers the golden mean between two extremes. Certain Muslim cultures insist women are covered head to toe, while the MTV-America culture tells women to wear practically nothing. Christians, meanwhile, simply have godly standards.
Christians understand something else the world does not. Outward beauty is not what matters most. 1 Pet. 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
In spite of the strong cultural current toward the bad, there is reason for hope in the fact that a renewed call for chivalry and manners is reappearing. There are titles in Christian bookstores, such as Raising a Modern-Day Knight. Moreover, even the renewed interest in princesses and the code of conduct surrounding it suggest we long for something higher and nobler than what the world has to offer.
Our ultimate hopes for propriety among men and women will not be fulfilled until the Last Day. C.S. Lewis once said, “If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here.” That is the realization that every reader of Seventeen magazine—that each of us—must come to in the end.