Bobs, Boys, Brains, and the Bomb : Postwar Teenage Girls Speak Through Seventeen
Dancer, Adelaine R.
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Using Seventeen magazine as a case study, the goal of this project is not dissimilar to that of Helen Valentine's in "Seventeen Says Hello": to gain a greater understanding of postwar American teenage girls and their perspectives on themselves and the ever-changing times in which they lived. While much has been written by scholars on womanhood and youth culture in the United States in the years following the Second World War, far fewer works have analyzed the specific experiences of those at the intersection of these identities, and fewer still have sought to truly understand the ways in which teenage girls actually felt about their sociocultural place in the United States and in the world more broadly. Crucial to gaining this understanding through Seventeen is appreciation of the unique, multifaceted relationship the magazine built with its young readership; though modern memory has regarded it primarily as a beauty and fashion magazine, for the postwar teenage girls who actually read it, Seventeen was many things. Certainly, the magazine was a means by which they could access the expert advice that had so consumed the adults around them during the postwar period, through hordes of self-help books and advice columns on how best to raise one's children, save one's marriage, and ultimately lead a happy, fulfilling life.8 Though they were not yet wives or mothers, postwar teenage girls craved a similar sense of direction, and Seventeen, often referred to by readers as their primary "guide," "counselor," or even, on occasion, their "Bible," provided exactly that. With advice specifically-tailored for an adolescent female audience, Seventeen taught readers how to adapt to and survive in the confusing times in which they lived- a rare, fragile, and ultimately brief period of relative peace and stability following childhoods shaped by the Great Depression and the Second World War. But these teenage girls also quickly recognized the magazine as a public forum - one of the few available to them- through which to express their own thoughts and opinions on themselves and the world around them. Looking specifically at the "Thank You For Your Letters" section (included in all but the first two editions of Seventeen) of the magazine, as well as later features which encouraged reader input like the "Dear Beauty Editor" in 1948 and "Any Problems?" in 1952, this project analyzes the wealth of primary sources from postwar adolescent females in an effort to better understand their thoughts and feelings during a period of social and cultural flux. Through their letters to the magazine, the "High School Girls of America" demonstrated an awareness of the changing times in which they lived on an individual, local, national, and global scale, as well as an ability to think critically about them. This resulted in an adolescent female readership which was active in the construction and presentation of Seventeen magazine, offering both praise and criticism intended to shape the magazine in its formative years. This project will not only demonstrate the agency of postwar adolescent girls in the creation of "their" magazine, but evaluates the degree to which Seventeen magazine, in turn, lived up to the promises posed in Valentine's letter to produce a magazine that genuinely reflected the wants, needs, and lives of its readership. Ultimately, adolescent female voices proved to be hugely influential -though not all-powerful- in Seventeen's formative years; in turn, the magazine stands as a testament to the fact that these voices, both in the past and now again in the present, have always existed and have always had something to say. What matters is that Seventeen thought to look.