Just a little more than year ago, Teen Vogue, little sister to the grown-up fashion magazine Vogue, got woke—to wild cheering from the rest of the media. Under a brand-new editor, Elaine Welteroth, then aged twenty-nine, Teen Vogue started to add to its mix of celebrity gossip and style and makeup tips for adolescent girls a category that the A.V. Club website called “surprisingly good journalism.” The phrase “surprisingly good” turned out to mean predictable leftist activism coupled with predictable knocks at President-elect (and later President) Donald Trump. As A.V. Club contributor Laura M. Browning wrote on December 2, 2016:
Teen Vogue still includes more conventional features on beauty and fashion, but featured headlines on its website this week included pieces on why orgasms are good for your health, tips on applying to Ivy Leagues, and why the Cherokee Nation filed a lawsuit against the federal government. In an article yesterday called “Donald Trump tweeted that he’s stepping away from his business to focus on the presidency,” writer Chelsea Stone is quick to point out that Trump isn’t actually putting any of his business concerns into a blind trust, and the questions about his conflicts of interests haven’t actually been addressed….There’s also an interview between Zendaya and Michelle Obama on girls’ education, a list of ways to help victims of the Tennessee wildfires, and the 21 Under 21 feature is almost entirely made up of people of color, and includes “girls and femmes.”
Quartz contributor Sady Doyle chimed in on December 19, 2016: “Magazines for women and girls, ranging from Teen Vogue to Elle and Cosmopolitan, understand that political advocacy and more traditional lifestyle or entertainment coverage are not mutually exclusive.”
Well, we all know what happened after a year or so of that: Condé Nast, the parent company of Vogue and Teen Vogue, announced recently that it will soon be pulling the plug on Teen Vogue’s print edition (an online Teen Vogue will continue). Now, one reason may well be that the sixteen-year-old Teen Vogue is simply joining a host of other similar publications—Time’s Teen People and Elle Girl—founded when the market for magazines aimed at adolescent girls was strong two decades ago but killed off when advertisers started switching their dollars to digital media and video. Even by late 2016, Teen Vogue’s print circulation had dipped below one million and it had been pared down to four instead of ten issues a year.
Still, maybe it wasn’t a good idea for Elaine Welteroth to listen more intently to her fellow social justice warriors on the media left than to her actual Teen Vogue audience. Most fifteen-year-old girls tend to be more interested in what’s trending in block heels and eyeliner—or how to get that boy sitting next to them in Algebra I interested—than in whether Trump used a blind trust properly or what the Cherokee Nation is up to in federal court. No one reads grown-up Vogue for the articles, either. Furthermore, while going down the “why orgasms are good for your health” road (“there are few things that hit the spot as much as achieving orgasm”) might have titillated Teen Vogue’s adolescent readers, it undoubtedly alienated many of the parents who write the checks for their daughters’ subscriptions and think that they, not Elaine Welteroth, ought to be in charge of household sex education. A graphically illustrated July 2017 follow-up on the orgasm article—which had informed readers that masturbation was a “cool” way to ensure a good night’s sleep—was headlined “Anal Sex—What You Need to Know.” It was the last straw for many conservative parents, who set social media aflame tweeting that Teen Vogue was instructing their children on sexual positions that they considered degrading, disease-transmitting, and immoral. “If u text the content of this article to a 12 yrs old girl, you’d lose ur job and probably be prosecuted,” one man tweeted.
Instead of conceding that the outraged parents might have a point, the liberal media that had egged Teen Vogue on in its brand-new social-justice war sprang to the magazine’s defense on the anal-sex front. “The tone is dispassionate, bordering on clinical, but it still manages to be accessible and nonjudgmental. The perfect—and not easy to achieve—delivery for all things sex ed,” Heidi Stevens wrote for the Chicago Tribune. “Parents should be happy Teen Vogue wrote about anal sex,” Jackie Melfi wrote for the Huffington Post.
So naturally the liberal media were shocked and saddened that Condé Nast decided to cut back what the company clearly regarded as one of its weaker publications. At the A.V. Club, Sam Barsanti launched a jeremiad: “While media organizations run by out-of-touch people struggle with how to connect to modern readers and remain relevant in a world where women and minorities are constantly being attacked, the president and everyone in his administration is an unrepentant liar, and savvy consumers are always ready to call out hypocrisy for some sweet retweets. In this new era, Teen Vogue made a concerted effort to get with the times…” A New York Times article headlined, “Who Will Mourn Teen Vogue?” lamented the print-version passing of “articles that criticize racial insensitivity, trumpet black feminism and explain how to be a transgender ally.” Which means, unfortunately, that Teen Vogue’s editors haven’t learned much from their year-or-so experiment with wokeness. For example, Hillary Clinton will be guest-editing one of the last print issues, and her statement to readers promises that it will be quite a didactic one:
Have you ever noticed that whenever a teenage girl takes a stand on an important issue, people seem surprised? That’s true even in 2017—a year that has seen young women turning out in force at the Women’s Marches, smashing expectations in sports and STEM, demanding diversity in books and movies, rallying to protect affordable health care and Planned Parenthood, even holding a quinceañera on the steps of the Texas Capitol to protest attacks on immigrants’ rights.
And it’s unlikely the online version of the magazine will back away from its excesses of wokeness either; a brand-new online article for the magazine, for example, is all about “microinvalidations”—a new and even more subtle form of snowflake-slighting. Teen Vogue, bring back the lip gloss and the Taylor Swift!