The Secret of Seventeen Magazine Covers / by Emilia Morano-Williams

Seventeen, March 2002, Image via Famous Fix

Seventeen, March 2002, Image via Famous Fix

I met Seventeen at the candy store. While the other kids grabbed M&Ms and Sour Straws, I craved the glossy on the shelf beyond my reach. Unlike the childish titles on my nightstand — Discovery Girls, American Girl along with Limited Too and Delia*s catalogues, which I read like magazines — Seventeen covers spoke to a vibrant, mature world. I wanted in.

This was the early noughties and the periodical’s design was switching from news to neon. The title was no longer black-on-white but not yet italicized. Fonts were sans serif, article titles a size or two smaller than the main heading. Reflecting the subtitle “The All-American Magazine”, cover girls exuded intelligent innocence. If, in the nineties, Seventeen was Vogue’s little sister, the new millennium saw Seventeen paint her nails pale pink while Vogue insisted on keeping them inky red.

The magnetic orbit I constructed around the magazine drew me in and pushed me away. I envisioned a world beyond the playground, which my teachers obscured with walls of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But my throat hurt from screaming during recess and boredom blurred my eyes. Only Seventeen’s universe of responsibility, boys and teenagerdom could revive me.

Every month, I counted down the days to the new cover who’d become my friend for the next four weeks. One month I’d be enamored with Britney Spears, the next Alicia Silverstone and then Christina Aguilera. With cool clothes, self-confident poses and casual smiles the images synthesized their secrets without betraying the information inside. Come the 30th, as I bored my eyes into the cover to scan it into my brain, I fantasized about my new friend. I was never disappointed. 

I began to hoard my lunch money so I could buy passage into the universe. The clanking quarters in my pockets slowly accumulated and helped to muffle my rumbling stomach during silent reading. Just when they were becoming too heavy, I had enough. Hiding myself behind the gaggle grabbing Goobers, I stood on my tippiest toes and reached. One little hop and Jennifer Garner’s smiling face tumbled to the floor. I placed the magazine on the counter, handed over the money when bidden and nodded for a bag. I held the secrets.

I remained a loyal Seventeen subscriber for nearly ten years and reluctantly cancelled my subscription when I realized the neon, slanted, all caps FUN covers were unrelated to the ones I had fallen in love with. Rather than craving the secrets of Britney, Christina and Alicia, I laughed at the pseudo-confessions of Taylor, Lauren and Lucy. The answers lay elsewhere. 

Today, surveying the magazine rack, I wait for the next spell. I’m rarely enchanted. Vogue, Elle, Glamour: they announce their secrets on the cover. I don’t want what’s here; I want that over there. Sometimes a simple, monochrome design hooks me. But then I reach for it and the illusion shatters. With Seventeen, I’m still waiting to uncover the secrets.