Jackie and Just Seventeen 'began' teenage agony

Young people’s mental health was a public concern 50 years ago, according to LJMU research of teen magazines.

A new exhibition at LJMU's Aldham Robarts Library shows how mental health was addressed in teenage magazines like Jackie and Just Seventeen.

Dr Joanne Knowles and her students Rebisha Singh (BSc Psychology) and Vrunda Chauk (MSc Psychology and Wellbeing) explored how popular magazines for teenagers handled issues of stress, depression and mental health from the 1970s onwards.

They accessed the Femorabilia archives in LJMU Libraries Special Collections to document advice given to teenage girls and compare it to today’s approach to young people and mental health.

Dr Joanne Knowles, project supervisor and senior lecturer in Media, Culture, Communication, said “The current mental health crisis we see affecting young people may have been ramped up by the pandemic, but it’s not just a recent invention. The project findings to date show clearly that teenagers of the 1980s felt depressed and anxious, sometimes for different reasons, but also about issues that we still see today.”

Vrunda said: “Just Seventeen, Jackie and others regularly carried an advice section where teenagers discussed their struggles and we could see that many issues remain relevant now – such as managing emotions, body image, friendships and understanding sexuality.

“I think the magazines played an important role in helping their readers navigate the challenges of teenage. Just Seventeen was quite ahead of its time, providing articles on topics that weren't openly discussed back then.

“While the authors may have had the readers' best interests at heart, there were instances where their messages lacked empathy and consideration. Some of the writings even reinforced stereotypes. Also, when it came to emotional problems, readers were often simply told to "get over it" without being offered management strategies like acceptance, self-compassion, or healthy communication.”

And Rebisha added: “Despite being a product of their times in some ways, it felt like the magazines were in touch with the human aspects really well. It was great to see them acknowledge that complex mess of feelings all teens experience, to validate emotions and encourage introspection.”

And she was surprised to find such content from the 1970s, though admits it varied greatly: “Just Seventeen” promoted content which was often very empowering, promoting the users to seek help when dealing with mental health difficulties and more, whereas “Jackie” issues only dipped into superficial topics about body image and only in relation to impressing the male perception.

“The messages were at times quite contradicting, where on one side the content promoted acceptance of body, telling it's OK to have hairy legs or flabby stomach all the while content in the same column also pushed acting or carrying yourself in a curtain way “to impress boys!”.

“It does make me wonder how it could affect my self-perception if I was a young teenager. The magazines knew how to target their younger audience and held quite a bit of influence over them.”

The exhibition emerged from a collaboration between the Media, Culture, Communication degree team and the Special Collections and archives team and was funded by an LJMU Curriculum Enhancement Internships award.

The exhibition is on display at the Aldham Robarts library until August. Staff, students and visitors are all welcome. If you would like to discuss using these materials with students in your teaching, contact Jo who’d be happy to work with you – j.knowles@ljmu.ac.uk


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