If you open the pages of Teen Vogue today, you won’t be likely to see too many articles about weight loss or hair care tips. The traditional content of this teen magazine has been, if not replaced by, then supplemented by, a healthy dose of awareness and activism. The publication has begun to treat its young readers not only as consumers but as members of society who have both an interest in and a responsibility to the world they live in – a world which is unfortunately full of problems much worse than oily T-zones.
The cause of this enormous perspective shift stems from one woman: Elaine Welteroth.
Hired by Teen Vogue at just 29 years old, Welteroth is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is she the youngest-ever editor-in-chief of a Condé Nast publication, but she is also only the second black woman to hold the position. After graduating from college in 2007, Welteroth worked for Ebony, then Glamour magazine as a beauty editor in 2011, and for Teen Vogue just months later, as the magazine’s beauty-and-health director. Now, in her time as editor-in-chief, Welteroth has devoted herself to rebranding Teen Vogue magazine in an era characterized by an informed and interested young populace, a growing demand for online presences over print, and a woefully short average attention span.
When asked by New York Times associate editor Jazmine Hughes about her initial determination to rebrand Teen Vogue, Welteroth responds, “I felt like there was an opportunity to go a little deeper and to feature a different type of girl: someone who actually used their platform to be a role model and to be a thought leader.” This is what Teen Vogue did, shifting from its original purpose as a magazine dedicated explicitly to fashion to one that can fairly reasonably be described by its ad copy as the “rebellious, outspoken, empowering magazine that you need right now.” What this translates to is the inclusion of “body positivity instead of diet tips and… topics like feminism and intersectionality and L.G.B.T. rights.”
Welteroth’s project seems to be turning out pretty well for her so far, but that’s not to say that she hasn’t faced her fair share of criticism. In an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, the talk show host asked her, “If you guys have haters who say, ‘What do you guys know about journalism?’ how do you respond?”
It’s a fair question to pose to the editor-in-chief of a teen magazine. Welteroth has her answer perfectly prepared: “I would say that Teen Vogue has as much right to be at the table, talking about politics, as every young woman does in America right now.”
And that, ultimately, seems to be the crux of it. Under the guidance of Welteroth, Teen Vogue has become a magazine that inspires young women to become active participants in their world. The next step of Teen Vogue’s mission, according to Welteroth, is “[to activate] this audience that we’ve galvanized.” This statement is referring to the current development of Teen Vogue “live experiences, products, and services,” but more importantly, it hints at a deeper truth.
Teen Vogue and Welteroth’s efforts, as well as those of all similarly “woke” magazines, all depend upon the activation of the reader. The information contained in the glossy pages must be used to enact change, or it’s as good as useless. As Welteroth herself puts it, “You’re woke. OK. Now what?”
To read more about Welteroth and Teen Vogue, see Jazmine Hughes’ full New York Times article here.
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