(Not) Sexy and (Not) Seventeen (Hot Topic #1)

So my dear Sian gave me last week’s topic to write about, and the bad news is — I didn’t do it justice.  But the good news is that I LOVE this topic and will do more with it, so here’s my rough draft.  And the best part, and not planned — this is Day 17 of The 100 Day Project.  I love happy coincidences!

Back in the olden days of the early 1980s, I would go to the grocery store with my mom and spend all my time at the paperbacks and magazine rack.  It was there I’d furtively read Flowers in the Attic and Carrie by Stephen King, and look at all the beautiful magazine covers but never really diving in, except for maybe The National Enquirer by the registers.  My mom subscribed to McCall’s and Good Housekeeping and Colonial Homes –boring recipes and decorating stuff —  but never Vogue or Bazaar with their gorgeous cover models, or Cosmopolitan that I thought was a little too sophisticated and sexy with their cleavage and headlines about pleasing a man in bed.  Even though I was reading about an incestuous love affair in Flowers in the Attic, I still wasn’t quite ready to take on pointers for myself.  I figured it would happen eventually, but I wasn’t in a tremendous hurry.  These were adult magazines, and at 12, I was okay waiting.

But the one magazine that fascinated me the most was Seventeen.  I couldn’t wait to be old enough to read that one.  I had a subscription to ‘Teen which was fine — it really encouraged me to buy Noxzema and Phisoderm and Bonne Bell Lip Smackers — but Seventeen was mysterious.  It was slicker than ‘Teen with prettier models, doing prettier things, and I figured it was for the glamorous older girls.  I could wait for Vogue and Cosmopolitan, but I was itching to get my hands on it.

When I’d bring it to my mom and say, “Can I get this?” she’d shake her head.  “Not yet,” she’d say.  “It’s a little old for you.”  (She had no idea that I was reading about brothers and sisters getting it on in an attic and prom queens being covered in pig’s blood.)  But one day, oh one glorious day, we were at Long’s Drugs and either she was distracted or figured okay, and when I asked if I could get it, I was allowed to put it in the cart.


I will never forget it — it had Phoebe Cates on the cover, lacing up ice skates with her hair in multiple braids. And I pored over every single page, surprised to see some crossover from ‘Teen — like those Noxzema and Phisoderm ads — so I felt like I already knew what was going on.  But everything looked more beautiful in Seventeen somehow, and there were ads for hope chests.  I didn’t know what hope chests were, but I instantly wanted one.  There were book and movie reviews, and oh, fiction! Stories!  Short stories were new to me, and I was thrilled.  And apparently there was an article about Miss Piggy that probably made me feel a combination of relief — it wasn’t too sophisticated — and irritation, because Miss Piggy bugged me.  And there were crafts!  That issue had a how-to on making your own baker’s dough that you could create cute Christmas ornaments or gifts, like little cat heads and candy canes.  (I dutifully did it, and, well, let’s say mine didn’t look so great.  But I remember trying — in fact, every time I try to bake or do a craft, I think of that night in November, 1980, attempting to replicate the little cat heads in the picture, and I forgive myself and love that 12-year-old for trying.)   And pretty fashions that seemed classy — I wanted those party dresses, even though I was never invited to any fancy parties.

Seventeen was my ticket into feeling like a girl.  I was not a tomboy, though tomboys were “the thing” at that time — everyone wanted to be Tatum O’Neal or Kristy McNichol.  But I wasn’t popular, and I just felt so blah.  Seventeen helped me gently navigate the angsty terror of growing up. I loved it. That Christmas I got a subscription, and the feeling of excitement and pure joy I’d get when opening the mailbox or seeing it on the kitchen table when I got home school has never been matched.  I’d take it to my room and read it cover to cover, absolutely thrilled.  The holiday party isssues, the skimpy summer/July, but the August Back to School issue!  So thick!  It meant hours of reading and poring and coveting.  It was heaven.

Of course a few years after that I rebelled against the things Seventeen stood for.  I didn’t want to belong or wear preppie clothes or be popular or get a hope chest.  But still, I kept my subscription.  They still had some good articles about things like The Go-Go’s and oh, the short stories!  And maybe I still wanted to keep my hand in about what it was like to feel like that kind of girl.  Maybe part of me still wanted that, though I defiantly shunned it.  (And ironically, that article about The Go-Go’s is what gave me the confidence to do so.  Thanks, Seventeen!)

By the time I turned 17, I felt like I was too old and let my subscription lapse.  I felt like i had gone a step above Seventeen to Mademoiselle and from there I would graduate to Glamour, but nothing would ever come close to how I’d felt about Seventeen.  And I was reading short stories about adults more than teens, so I was okay letting it all go.  Still, I felt a pang when I saw it on the newsstand — a new issue and a new cover, and I wouldn’t know what was inside.  New models replaced my old favorites like Phoebe Cates, Willow Bay, Lisanne Falk, Pam Gidley (and Whitney Houston!)…  It felt like graduating high school, and a whole new class had come in.

I wish I had kept all my old issues of Seventeen, but hindsight is 20/20 and now they cost a mint on eBay.  (And so do the truly vintage ones, which I really want.)  If I could have only one, though, I’d get that old one with Phoebe Cates on the cover, lacing up her skates.  And then maybe I could make that baker’s dough and perfect those little cat head ornaments.

I do have one Seventeen Magazine book, though.  My ex found The Seventeen Book of Etiquette (copyright 1963)in a thrift shop and bought it for me,  saying I needed to learn how to be a lady and sit in the S-Position like Jackie Kennedy.  Whoops.  i guess I never studied hard enough.  I’d best get cracking — i’ll be FORTY-SEVEN soon and I need to learn how to be a good hostess!  It’s never too late.


Thanks for everything, Seventeen.

Throwback Thursday

When I was in junior high, I was cursed with the worst thing that could possibly happen to an adolescent girl circa 1980: my hair did not feather.

Back then, feathered hair was paramount to success.  All the popular girls had feathered hair and glossy lips and satin jackets.  I, on the other hand, had limp, red hair that never did anything right, much less did anything at all except hang there, looking greasy. Kissing Potion lip gloss made my braces stand out more, and my mom refused to buy me a satin jacket or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.  To make matters worse, I wasn’t cute or coordinated in gymnastics, two other tickets to pre-teen success.  I couldn’t roller-skate very well, nor did I have a winning, flirty personality.  I read ‘Teen and Seventeen magazines, hoping that I would stumble upon the secret that the other girls seemed to inherently know, that was navigating them through the horrors of adolescence with confidence and pizzazz while I just felt irritated and gross and like a giant dork.

But one day I found the secret, and it wasn’t in any magazine — it was in the bins at the record store at the mall.  Thanks to an album with five girls in towels and face masks on the cover, I learned that I didn’t need feathered hair or designer jeans or to fit in; I learned that I didn’t need to fit in at all.  I learned that I could like what I liked and to pay no mind to what the popular girls may say — it didn’t matter anyway.  Hey hey hey.

I’ve heard this song maybe about, oh, a million times since the first time I put the needle on that record all those years ago, but every single time I still feel that joy I felt the first time I heard it — that life was filled with possibilities and I was going to find an escape from the angst, even if it was only for the two plus minute duration of the song.  Back then angst was more about zits and bad hair while now it’s more about paying taxes and bad hair, but still.  No matter how old or dorky I am, there’s always joy.

Here’s some joy for you.