You're a 17-year-old-girl, within weeks of entering your senior year at Hometown High. "Hot Hair." Check. "Sexy Shoes." Check. And you're armed with the one "Flirting Move" that "Guys Can't Resist!" All thanks to Seventeen magazine's all-important back-to-school issue. Since 1944, Seventeen has helped angst-ridden good girls fend off fashion faux pas, broken hearts and acne breakouts, and catch up on fresh-faced celebrities.
So in an era when being bad is the teen-girl rage, what is Seventeen doing? It's letting Us Weekly and People obsess over Lindsay's relapses and Britney's breakdowns. Seventeen's back-to-school cover girl is singer Ashlee Simpson, who is "Crazy in Love" and has no rap sheet. "She's gorgeous," swoons Ann Shoket, Seventeen magazine's new editor. Shoket picked Ashlee, the younger sister of Daisy Dukes-wearing Jessica, because she is "living life to the best of her potential"—unlike the bad girls who get all the ink. "Girls are very smart," says the 35-year-old Shoket. "If they are giving attention and respect to a celebrity who's not repaying them with the same respect, it's not fair." In the back-to-school issue, Lohan is mentioned only once, when Shoket advises her to "sleep more, party less," and notes, "Everybody needs some downtime, Linds."
It's all part of the Seventeen way of seeing the glass as half full (and not with a cosmopolitan consumed on a pantyless drive down Sunset Boulevard). "Seventeen differs from celebrity gossip magazines because the whole magazine isn't based on pointing out the faults in celebs," says Cathy Lee, 14, of Honolulu. Since the April issue, which featured a "sunny ... pink-cheeked" Avril Lavigne, the Hearst Corp. magazine has seen monthly newsstand sales climb an additional 18,000 copies through June. Monthly newsstand sales for this year's first half averaged 356,000 copies, up almost 9 percent from a year ago. It has 2 million subscribers and 13 million readers a month, says Hearst. A relaunch of Seventeen.com in April has been drawing 1.3 million unique visitors a month, up 25 percent through June.
Succeeding in the teen-girl category is no easy feat: Elle Girl and Teen People both closed last year amid circulation and ad pressures. Shoket, a guest judge on "America's Next Top Model," says she has to continue tapping into her "inner 16-year-old" and be in "denial of my outer 35 years." Shoket helped launch Hearst's Cosmo Girl in 1999, took over its Web site a year later and was promoted to executive editor in 2003. Then, in January, she succeeded Seventeen's long-running editor Atoosa Rubenstein. "She gets the girls and knows how to translate that onto the page," say Ellen Levine, editorial director of Hearst Magazines.
For "our girls, everything has to be fun, interactive and inspire confidence," Shoket says. Much of the fun centers on assisting readers in dressing and looking "amazing," a favorite Shoket word. She's also sought to make the pages interactive: by design, she says, the pages are "messy," seemingly with "a million snapshotty pictures," like, say, a MySpace page.
Like the rest of the media world, Seventeen is moving aggressively to reach its 12-to-24 core audience on the Internet, mobile phones and beyond. And Shoket, who launched the online Web zine Tag back in the 1990s, knows the terrain. She blogs daily, and almost every page in the magazine is designed to drive readers to Seventeen.com. There's an online game called Editor's Assistant, where girls get to act out the fantasy of helping Shoket. Unlike the bosses from hell depicted in "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Ugly Betty," Shoket says, "I don't bark or throw my handbags" at assistants.
Not long ago, Shoket was in a clothing-store dressing room next to a stall with two teens trying on jeans. " 'They make my butt look big'," she overheard one girl lament. "It was such a heartbreak for me." What to do? She's introducing a "body peace treaty" online and in print in which girls vow not to obsess over their body shape, but rather "respect it for what it can do, treat it well and feed it well." Of course, for those who don't want to sign the treaty, Shoket's Seventeen will still help you "look amazing." The August issue features advice on "The Best Jeans for Your Butt—And Budget!" Helpful advice for the 17-year-old in all of us.