Back then, the teen-mag space was hotter than Frankie Valli, Donnie Osmond and the youngest Hanson brother combined, so my story contained the shallow, unthinking boosterism usually associated with Magazine Publishers of America press releases. Since then, however, half the mags in the category went in the tank, culminating with this week's news that the print version of Teen People has been sent to that great detention hall in the sky. You know whose fault this is? MySpace. (Okay, maybe not, but I've decided to blame MySpace for anything bad that happens in the media world, whether the cancellation of "Arrested Development" or Diane Sawyer's freshly ironed forehead.)
It's not difficult to figure out why CosmoGIRL! (or is it COSMOgirl!, or CoSmOgIrL!? For the sake of this exercise, let's go with the former) has proven one of the survivors. Sure, the magazine traverses the same subject-matter terrain--fashion, beauty, boys, friends, yada yada--as the competition, and its writers and editors seem keen to out-exclamation-point all comers. I figured that it'd be entertaining to count the number of exclamation points in the August issue; I quit when, after reaching 28 by the end of the table of contents, the enormity of my endeavor dawned upon me.
Tonally, however, CosmoGIRL! seems the one magazine in the category willing to give its readers a little credit. Yes, teen magazines will always mostly concern themselves with bangs and crushes, but CosmoGIRL! nobly attempts to raise the intellectual price of admission. "Bored to Death" relates a few tragic tales of teens who hurt or killed themselves doing what adolescent developmental journals call "stupid shit" (e.g., inhaling Freon), while one of the first-person pieces recalls a gunpoint robbery at a retail workplace. No, these stories aren't exactly Pulitzer-quality journalism, but they address real-world concerns in a manner neither condescending nor flighty.
CosmoGIRL! scores points with its smaller items as well. In "Body & Soul," the mag conveys five quick tips about metabolism as well as info about coffee's health benefits and drawbacks. Equally well-presented are the results of a comprehensive survey on friendship (e.g., 30 percent of readers have "gotten into a fight with a friend because of something one of [them] has written on a blog or a Web page"), though the story deserves more than a token two pages. Even the mag's celebrity content doesn't grate, whether a rare PG-rated piece on Tommy Lee or a day-in-the-life photo journal featuring Jack's Mannequin (the band, not the mannequin belonging to Jack).
The issue falters in those places where it aims low. The "Get Real" Q&A with the DREAMY Deepak Chopra rehashes every flimsy afterschool-special moral ("Don't put poisons in your body in the form of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes, and stay away from toxic relationships and emotions"). The mag makes an unfortunate sojourn into Prince territory with "Get Him 2 Fall 4 U" and yips aimlessly about any number of tonsorial issues. As for the bonus pullouts, the poster and Playboy-ish questionnaire with some dude named Tyler or Taylor suggests that the lad has, if nothing else, a long career ahead of him as a Men's Health abs muse.
Additionally, the August issue drops the teen-empowerment ball at times. You don't expect the mag to ask Keira Knightley anything that might cause her publicist to blow a fuse ("Keira, how can a human being survive on 125 calories per day?"), but CosmoGIRL! preaches health and self-acceptance and all that good stuff. It owes its audience a token line or two addressing Ms. Knightley's seemingly 18-inch waist and protruding breastplate.
I'll also go into tsk-tsk-stern-humorless-guy-Larry mode and call CosmoGIRL! on its homogeneity of images. Just about every gal in the August issue is skinny, pretty and white, which flies in the face of the title's realness/inclusiveness mantra. No, the magazine's readers likely have no more desire to look at Martha Dumptruck than I do, but the mag's images are at odds with its overarching philosophy.
I can't believe I just wrote that a publication like CosmoGIRL! has an "overarching philosophy"; this humidity is messing with my head, not to mention frizzing my hair. On a more rational level, then, let me conclude by giving CosmoGIRL! a totally non-threatening pat on the bum for its attempts to raise the teen-mag bar. Not that I have the slightest idea about what makes teen girls tick--now as then--but I can't imagine too many wouldn't respond to CosmoGIRL!'s canny mix of substance and fluff.