In some ways, the axing of Dolly magazine is the end of an era. After all, Dolly has been teaching young women about everything from fashion to how to deal with periods since 1970.
Whether you were a girly-girl or a tomboy, Dolly held a certain appeal to us Gen Xers. Melissa Hugzilla of Hugzilla Blog, remembers Dolly as a sort of teenage Bible that got her through her formative years. Rebecca Bowyer, of Seeing the Lighter Side, was more into surfing magazines but still has vivid memories of the real-life stories. “Magazines,” she says, were the only way to “satisfy voyeuristic urges in the days before reality television!”
Let’s Talk About Sex…And Stuff.
Regardless of what sort of young person you were, a common theme in our collective memory is learning about sex and how our bodies worked. Melissa recalls “sealed sections” that ironically detailed how menstruation worked; unthinkingly reinforcing societal taboos around women’s bodies. Rebecca remembers reading about sex and wondering if she was the only one not doing it, at the tender age of 13: “I remember reading Dolly and getting the impression that everyone was having sex like a pro and I was being left way behind”
Dolly was a source of information that many young Gen X women wouldn’t have otherwise had. Melissa is a prime example, remembering how it was for her: “I didn’t have an older sister and my parents never spoke to me about this kind of stuff so it’s literally all I had.”
The Problem With Dolly…
While Dolly had a positive impact on many of us, hindsight shows that it wasn’t perfect. Going through recent issues, I see that many of these problems are still present. The models in the fashion shoots are uniformly thin and often not wearing much. The annual model search contest, retired in 2002 when then editor Mia Freedman was concerned about the message it sent to young women, returned in 2012.
Dolly still publishes articles aimed at losing weight or getting thin rather than being healthy. Chasing boys, Melissa recalls, was often emphasized back in the early nineties and today it’s much the same. Women, whether they are 13 or 30, need a man. You aren’t a successful person without a partner. And it might not be explicitly stated but that partner should probably be of the opposite sex. That’s what is pictured and discussed, after all. The sex education and information in teen mags now continues to blur the lines between being sex-positive and actually encouraging young people to have sex, perhaps before they are ready.
Should Our Kids Read Magazines Like Dolly?
As a mother of teenage girls, I’m not entirely sure that Dolly is a magazine I’d want them reading.
Melissa observes that “(Dolly) offers an incredibly limited representation of what girls are like and defines too narrowly the things they should be interested in” and I tend to agree. On the flip-side, Rebecca notes that Dolly was and is “created and curated by educated, well rounded women” and she also has a valid point. Women like Lisa Wilkinson, Marina Go and Mia Freedman have worked as Editor-in-Chief at Dolly. It begs the question: Why then have magazines like Dolly have consistently been a voice for patriarchal ideals?
Don’t get me wrong. Dolly was an invaluable source of education when we were younger. Not only on our own bodies but on sex and the practical aspects of life as a teen. There were lots of positives for me and women of my generation. But it can’t be ignored that it contributed negatively as well. From modelling contests and articles on weight to tips on how to get a boyfriend, Dolly missed an opportunity to help young women to see themselves as something more than the sum of their physical features and their appeal to the opposite sex. In a sense, I’m sad to see it go. I learned a lot in those glossy pages. I just wish it had reached it’s full potential.
N.B. This piece was written for the Certificate IV in Professional Writing and Editing I am doing, as an assignment in my Journalism elective, in case you were wondering about the slightly different tone. Thanks so much to Mel and Bec for letting me interview them!