Girls’ fashion magazine takes on religious issues

Kara Ohngren and Kara Ohngren

“What’s your party personality?” “Find out how to create these cool ponytails!” and “Who’s your celebrity beauty inspiration?”

These are typical issues addressed in the pages of any teenage fashion magazine.

But one venerable girl’s publication is featuring columns ranging from prayer to gay adolescents attending church.

Popular teen fashion magazine, “Seventeen,” recently launched a section focusing on religion, in an attempt to provide a forum where young girls have the opportunity to discuss spirituality.

This issue was brought to the attention of The Rev. Bill Barnard from Sylvania, Ohio.

“Teens do not have sufficient outlets when it comes to religion,” he said. “I feel that places where teens are able to talk about religion don’t allow them to express themselves and ask questions.”

Rebecca Nyquist, 17, is a long-time “Seventeen” subscriber.

“I was pretty surprised when I saw articles in the last magazine about religion,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool that they are giving girls my age a place to talk about religion.”

The magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Atoosa Rubenstein, told the Associated Press recently that she started the section not to spread a religious message, but to provide a forum on an issue she believes is important to this generation of girls.

And according to a recent study conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research group in Northbrook, Ill., the topic may be well read. The group has produced data stating that 58 percent of teens ranked faith as among the most important parts of their life.

“My friends don’t feel comfortable talking about their faith,” Nyquist said. “I think this is a good place for girls to get some questions answered and really figure out what they believe.”

When Rubenstein started at “Seventeen” a year ago, she was determined to soon implement a religious section. As the founding editor of “CosmoGirl!,” a similar teen fashion publication, she suggested the idea of a faith section.

But the response from the magazine’s other editors was less favorable with most stating that a fashion magazine was no place for God.

“There is a sizable minority of teens who think religion is important, but the ones who do find it important in their lives, find it quite important,” Barnard said. “Teenagers’ lives are incomplete without some attention to spirituality.”

Inspirational messages, personal stories of spiritual struggle and testimonials were all part of the section’s first issue which debuted in August. The section also includes verses from the New Testament, sayings from the Prophet Muhammad as well as the teachings of Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.

According to Rubenstein, the reader response to the section has mostly been positive. The magazine has caught some heat for the section due to the fact that it was placed just after an article on contraception.

Rubenstein calls it “a very modern and realistic” presentation.

University junior Jessica Guinness, who considers herself to be strong in her faith, said she would not take a section like this one seriously.

“I have read many magazines like “Seventeen” and I just don’t think it fits,” she said. “There are so many opposing view points in religion that a section like this may be more harmful than helpful to impressionable young girls.”

To insure accuracy, Rubenstein appointed an advisory committee to oversee the teenage religion debate. The interfaith board includes a Christian preacher, a priest from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, a Reform Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist teacher and two Muslims.

For Barnard, the section may at least be worth a glance even if students don’t necessarily agree with all the views being presented.

“As long as all religions are well represented, I would recommend that teenagers take a look at this section,” he said. “I always support spirituality being discussed in any form.”

Teenage Research Unlimited told online news source that the broad approach to spirituality fits with the direction of “Seventeen.”

“While other teen fashion magazines have a niche, “Seventeen” wants to appeal to all girls,” said the company’s Vice President Michael Wood.

Guinness disagrees.

“I don’t think one section on religion would attract a broader audience,” she said. “As a teenager, I only read those magazines for entertainment.”

The spirituality section is just the beginning of many changes “Seventeen” will soon experience, according to Rubenstein. In the near future the magazine will feature stories on issues such as safe sex, charity work and the presidential election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.