Photo by Tracy Fuentes
When I was seven years old, I first picked up my first issues of American Girl and Girls’ Life at a bookstore in the Philippines. Instantly, I was hooked. I was already a huge fan of the American Girl dolls and books, so the magazine was an immediate obsession. As soon as we returned to Vegas, I begged my parents for a subscription for both magazines. Amazingly, they said yes to American Girl.
My first subscription! From then on, I eagerly looked forward to my mom bringing in the mail, knowing that there was a chance a brand new issue could be there waiting for me. The pages of the magazine taught me how to do fun and easy crafts, encouraged me to respond to creative prompts, and taught me important life lessons through short stories.
One of my favorite things about the magazine, even now as an adult looking back, were the stories about real girls who were also young but doing amazing things for their communities. In third grade, I became interested in helping the environment. No, I did not understand anything about climate change and global warming. I don’t think I even knew what carbon dioxide was. All I knew was that there were girls around my age that were recycling and collecting trash and doing amazing things to help save the planet.
I was inspired. I began collecting all the paper in the house in a bin instead of throwing it away, using some for scratch paper, and planning to recycle the rest. I pestered my mom about recycling, asking if our community had recycling bins. She said that there was no recycling pick-up in our neighborhood, and she did not want to drive somewhere to drop off recycling. She told me to bring the paper to school and recycle it in the class recycling bin. I did not want to do that, as I thought I would be questioned. I basically gave up on that, but I still cared about the environment from then to this day (I recycle now, I promise).
I read an article about a girl who grew out her hair and donated it to Locks of Love so that it could be made into wigs for cancer patients. I really wanted to do the same, but I could never grow my hair out. But the desire to help someone in that way still remains. Now that my hair has gotten super long, the longest it has ever been, I remember that childhood desire and plan on donating my hair when I do cut it.
Girls’ Life was for when I hit my tween years. The magazine was packed with beauty and fashion advice, but I was not allowed to wear makeup and I believed that wearing Aeropostale and Hollister t-shirts was peak fashion. What hooked me were the advice pieces. How to make friends, how to throw the best birthday party, how to have the best summer break – I soaked up every piece of knowledge. I aspired to be that girl. You know, the one that has her life completely together. I believed these issues would lead me to it.
I never became that girl, but I still gained a lot of valuable insight from the magazine. There is a common misconception that these types of magazines, the ones for young girls, are only full of beauty and fashion advice that is not body positive or diverse and that they perpetuate stereotypes of what it means to be a girl. This could not be further from the truth.
With American Girl, the pages always had pictures of real girls, not celebrities, of all different backgrounds. They celebrated the creative side of girls and encouraged them to make a difference in the world. A lot of the content was sent in by readers, girls ranging from ages seven to thirteen.
Girls’ Life does look superficial from the covers, I will say. There is always a celebrity, paired with promises to help you land the guy and look your best this school year. However, beyond the cover are articles that are very inclusive of all races, sexualities, and backgrounds. The articles are backed with information from experts, such as doctors, psychologists, researchers. Inside, a girl’s life is not just boys, makeup, and fashion.
I am incredibly nostalgic for those days where I awaited the next issues in the mail, I admit. I read other magazines throughout my life of course, but none of them impacted me as much as these two. I realized this last year, when I had plenty of time to reflect on my past, how amazing those magazines were and how they truly shaped me into the person I am today.
I was so inspired by them, I even invented my own: TNF Magazine (based on my initials). I would staple some copy paper together, to imitate a magazine. I would draw a cover with some article ideas, and usually, the other pages would remain blank as I forgot about it. While TNF Magazine never became a reality, I think my younger self would be absolutely ecstatic to learn about Kindergarten Mag.