WHAT POSSESSES A twenty-seven-year-old writer without publishing success, without professional employment, living in a new country and with no networks, to begin publishing a magazine? Frustration, an attachment to her own writing, despair and a dislike of teenage girls left over from high school trauma. That, and time on her hands to do so.
I admit I wanted to make young women over in my image. So I began publishing a magazine. From the start I understood that girls who seasonally clear their wardrobes, smoke socially and smear on full make-up to go the movies will most likely not want to read my magazine. But you never know. Teenage girls are amazing.
If lip magazine can reach one girl who has a tendency to be nasty to a classmate or fake inanity or pash friends while drunk at underage parties, that would be excellent. If that girl, even for a moment, rethinks a choice, decision or action or empathises with someone she would not have expected to, well then, I’ve achieved a goal. Mainly, though, I want young women like I was to not feel so alone; to know that, yes, it does get better and this is how.
Setting out to do such a thing and successfully doing it are two different matters. Especially when the editorial drive of lip is to allow girls to write about what they want to write about in the way they want to write about it. It is not my magazine, it is theirs. I don’t necessarily understand teenage girls, but I have an agenda. I was a teenage girl too. I learned things that I’d like to share, because I needed someone to teach me: that you can choose to have hairy legs, that you will grow out of embarrassment, that awkwardness during sex is normal. Especially that last one, I often wondered if it would have helped me knowing that. I was so petrified of sex.
I wrote those articles and I published them and it was a relief. But those articles weren’t the ones that turned out to be important. At least, they weren’t the ones that I was told about. What young women most need to read, hear and discuss is honest stories about the experience of mental illness. Self-harm, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and most often, most heart-breakingly, eating disorders.
Some girls are slowly disappearing. And when they reappear, having survived hospitalisation and self-hatred, they want to write and make art about it. How unglamorous wasting away is, how disgusting life is when food is the enemy. It’s not a new topic. There have been television specials and double-page spreads. Self-deprecating memoirs and educational websites. There’s even a fabulous feast. But still girls need to read their own voices. Some need to see their own voices appear.
Feminism is also wasting away, some say. It isn’t true. Young women are feminist, they are idealistic and they are fighting. But the issues have changed. Anorexia is a feminist issue. The mediation of sexuality is a feminist issue. Advertising is a feminist issue. Girls today know that their sexuality, their bodies, are battlegrounds. Their self-confidence and resilience are commercial/consumer war zones. Keep us obsessing about our tummies, watch us waste time shopping and preening, encourage us to drain our energy posing for boys in a pointless pursuit of empty power and we do not have the time, energy or confidence to fight for our equal being in this world.
Girls know this, yet the draw to consume, to obsess, to be wanted is a sticky substance. We scrub much of it off and we write and volunteer and savour chocolate and try to help other young women get unstuck. What I want is for lip to cut out the girl from the pre-packaged tale. Or to let the fly-away girl know that she is not a character without a readable story, but a protagonist that can slip comfortably into a book of short stories, free to leap from tale to tale and, most importantly, write her own.
Does lip do this? Are my thought-frenzied nights worth it, is anxiety my constant companion for a good reason? Am I useful?
I know that lip is important to some young women. They tell me so. I have a staff of keen and bright young things who write, learn, share, explore. Does this change the world? No. Does it change their worlds? I think so, but what I know for sure is that it has changed mine.
“EVERTHING SEEMS TOO much of a challenge anymore – housework seems an insurmountable burden; figuring out what I want to do on Saturday night is a monumental effort; making a doctor’s appointment, grocery shopping, and deciding what to eat for lunch are chores that send me into a minor depression. Figuring out what I really want to be doing is an impossible task.”
I wrote that when I was twenty-five. It sounds so melodramatic, but I felt burdened at the time, and still do. I recently turned thirty. Not much has changed since the evening I tapped at my keyboard, facing the wall in my small, but not terribly small, New York City apartment. Having worked a full day as an editorial assistant and hearing my boyfriend watching television in the bedroom with a bottle of beer to blur the depression of a crowded, dirty city, I knew that this was not happiness. But I didn’t know if it was permanently real life. Is real life mostly hard or boring work or can it mostly be something much more?
The inevitability that school would end got me through school. I longed for university and heady intellectual days. I was so very disappointed. I graduated from university. Where was the fun I was promised? Where the paint-the-night-fantastic evenings on the town with giddy girlfriends? Where was the fulfilment from a job well done and the houseproud chuffed-ness and the growing ever more in love calmness of a long-term romance?
I felt like I was promised all that. Movies got me through school and novels through university but where was the adulthood I deserved? Like a child I still want to throw a tantrum because I have to work and I have to feel sad and angry and bored.
I’m going backwards. At twenty-five I was disillusioned. At thirty I am angry. lip keeps me suspended in a haze of hyper-awareness. I was fuming over an advertisement on city buses that featured a picture of a cartoon chick with big bust and pigtails, accompanied by the words Tickle me. Slap me. I was livid at the start of Tropfest, which advertised itself by way of trampy, half-naked party girls jumping around the bed of a dying old lecher. Even worse, I am becoming more obsessed with my own attractiveness. This worries me deeply. The fight with my body needs to end and a truce brought about. I thought I was making progress but now I study my stomach in passing windows and worry that no boy will look my way when I tromp on the beach in board shorts and tank. I hate it when boys look at me in that way so why do I want this? I know my ability to attract lecherous looks is of no significance to anything, so why do I care? I know that every time I see a skinny actress on the cover of a magazine, bearing her flat tummy and fake perfect skin I am merely being sold something. So why do I want to be tummiless with perfect skin? Why do I want that every day?
I understand that when I thought life would be easy I was being sold something. Moulded to fit. I could not put out a magazine about how disappointing and difficult being an adult is – that won’t see anyone through a rough adolescence – but I don’t have to lie either. I don’t have to mould girls into raunchy passivity. I don’t have to sell them something. My writers have learned that romance is in the everyday and being with yourself makes you wonderful to be with someone else and that giving and doing makes you rich. lip can, and does, present the reality, diversity and difficulty of happiness.
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