Editor in chief Jamie Martin on the value of empowering and educational media messaging.
Back in early September, a photo of two young-adult magazines went viral. It was taken by Matt Frye, a dad from Kansas City, at his local public library, where Boys’ Life and Girls’ Life magazines sat side by side on the shelf. With the image, Frye wrote: “A sad microcosm of what our society says being a girl vs. being a boy means.” As a mom of two young girls and as a magazine editor, I knew I had to pay attention.
A quick glance at the covers explained Frye’s frustration. On the Boys’ Life cover, the headlines read: “Explore Your Future: Astronaut? Artist? Firefighter? Chef? Here’s How to Be What You Want to Be” and “True Stories of Scouts in Action.”
By contrast, the Girls’ Life headlines: “Wake Up Pretty! Because Mornings Are Rough . . .” and “Fall Fashion You’ll Love: 100+ Ways to SLAY on the First Day,” among others.
Where the Boys’ Life cover lines are empowering, those on the Girls’ Life cover are superficial, playing on the physical and emotional insecurities that too many girls in our culture struggle with from a startlingly young age. (Note: These two magazines are not affiliated.)
A week later, I cheered when I saw that Katherine Young, a Minnesota-based graphic designer, had designed an alternate version of the Girls’ Life cover to match the aspirational messaging of Boys’ Life. In addition to a new cover photo featuring the 2015 Google Science Fair Grand Prize winner, new headlines read: “Wake Up Hungry? Healthy Foods to Power You Through Rough Days . . .” and “Girls Doing Good: 100+ Ways to Help Others in Your Community.”
I was midcommute when a Minnesota Public Radio interview with Young aired; I was struck by her insights: “There are girls out there who will never see themselves reflected back at themselves in the media,” she said. “And no matter what science fair they win, no matter what solo they sing, they will still judge themselves based on whether stores carry their jean size or a magazine cover looks like them.”
I found myself nodding along in agreement. This type of messaging persists across all types of media, and we can do better.
Experience Life’s mission to do just that is what drew me to it more than a decade ago. If you put this magazine on the newsstand next to other health and fitness magazines, you will see disparities similar to the Boys’ Life and Girls’ Life example, from the main cover image to the tone of the cover lines.
Our focus is on strength, health, and empowerment — regardless of gender — rather than superficiality. We aim to reach men and women of all ages, of all skills and abilities, wherever they are on their health and fitness journey. We’re intent on educating, empowering, and inspiring you, our readers, so you can use what you learn to make real, sustainable change in your life, at your pace.
What’s most important to us is that you see yourself here, as part of a community of people with common aspirations to be healthy and happy — not because of how it looks, but because of how good it feels.
It’s easy to let those other headlines get to you; they’re everywhere. Together, though, we can push for something better, so that young boys and girls understand they can be and do anything they set their minds to.
Photography by Chad Holder