Dear Beauty Editor … Am I Normal?

On 2 April 2019 we had the pleasure of working with year 10 and 11 students from Essex schools at the Digital Arts Festival on campus. The theme this year was ‘Challenge Your Reality.’ We ran two workshops called ‘Am I Normal? Body Image from Agony Aunts to Instagram’ with the aim of encouraging the students to think about how teenagers in the past understood their realities and offered challenges to them.

First we introduced the students to the idea of agony aunts. Jackie magazine ran from 1964 until 1993. In the 1970s it was Britain’s best-selling teenage magazine with sales figures rising to 600,000. During the 1970s, Jackie published a mix of fashion and beauty tips, gossip, short stories and comic strips. The centre pages of the magazine usually contained a pull-out poster of a popular band or film star, and there were often humorous interviews with pop stars. But one of the most popular features of teen magazines were the problem pages or the agony aunt column. Problem pages were where young people could write in and ask any question they didn’t want to ask their parents or friends. Even if they never wrote in themselves, people read problem pages avidly either to find amusing stories, or to hope that someone else had asked a question they wanted to know the answer to.

We gave the students an opportunity to test their agony aunt skills with a quiz. You can have a go here:

This led to discussions about the similarities and differences between teenage life in the 1970s and now, and conversations about where young people today go for advice.

We talked about how the way we use social media has some similarities to how agony aunts operated. Sometimes we can learn useful things, but other times unrealistic expectations of beauty can be reinforced.

To counter the negatives, the students drew some fantastic pictures of what they would like to see on their Instagram feeds to Challenge Their Reality.

We had a great day – thanks to the organisers and all the students who took part!

  • Daisy Payling, April 2019

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