Isabella Ainsworth loves magazines.
You name it, she’ll read it: Teen Vogue, Time, People.
But what she doesn’t love is the way many popular magazines make girls feel about themselves, the way they can make girls think if they don’t look a certain way, there’s something wrong, or less, about them.
“A lot of girls like these magazines that make them feel bad,” said the Emerson Junior High ninth-grader. “How many girls are self-conscious and do terrible things to themselves because they want to look a certain way?”
A few years ago, as sixth-graders, she and friend tried to create a magazine for girls that would be different, “but it didn’t work out,” Ainsworth said.
The idea stayed with her, though, and when it came time to decide on a project for her Girl Scout Silver Award, she set her mind to it.
“What I love most about Girl Scouts is it gets you to do these things you otherwise wouldn’t do,” Ainsworth noted.
The result this time around: “Guurl!,” a very professional-looking magazine featuring artwork, articles and photos all contributed by girls for girls.
In her editor’s introduction, Ainsworth explained her purpose:
“I love magazines. All of them. From Teen Vogue to the New Yorker to People. They’re all great. But I dislike how some magazines like Teen Vogue and People have negative impacts on girls.
“In the U.K.,” Ainsworth writes, “they studied 136 11- to 16-year-olds and found out that when these girls were exposed to ultra-thin or average-sized models they felt worse about their bodies. Teen Vogue has practically only ultra-thin models and so it’s only logical that it will make girls reading the magazine feel worse about their bodies.”
Ainsworth wrote that she wanted to make a magazine that “was designed to make girls feel better about themselves, not worse.”
“And I’ll start right now. You’re beautiful. And smart. And witty. And fabulous. You’re a great person. I don’t even need to see you or know you to be able to tell all those great things about you. If you feel bad about your looks, your personality, or are just feeling depressed, there are so many people who would like to help you: your friends, your parents, your extended family. I’m sure they’d all be happy to help.”
She even included instructions for contacting school counselors and various help lines.
The rest of the issue is full of contributions from Davis teens. There are “Tips for Junior High,” a fake advice column, a quiz, a horoscope and articles about socially conscious shopping, nail art, Davis destinations and more.
Ainsworth started work on the project last spring, finding contributors by holding an informational meeting at the library. There she explained what she was doing and invited teens to contribute. Nine eventually did.
Over the next month or two, “they submitted everything and I formatted and edited it all,” Ainsworth said.
Her mom, Kathy Olmsted, a history professor at UC Davis, helped with the editing, and her troop leader, Lynn Starr, supported her every step of the way, Ainsworth said.
Her goal was to publish in September and she missed her deadline by just a week or so, she said — not bad for a first-time publisher. She had to work on and off all summer long and definitely exceeded the 50-hour minimum requirement for the Silver Award.
Back in the early stages of the project, she researched publishing companies to get a sense of the cost of printing and settled on a San Diego company that would charge her $440 for 125 issues.
She raised the money through donations from family and friends and a $100 grant from the Davis Girl Scout service unit.
The day when all 125 issues arrived on her doorstep was a very good one.
“It was really exciting,” she said. “I’m really proud of it. I just really like it.”
More than anything, though, she’s relieved to be finished — to have actually pulled off what she set out to do.
Ainsworth approached Emerson Principal Alicia Cummings about handing out the magazines to seventh-graders at the school, “because that’s the hardest year in junior high for girls,” she said.
She wanted them to know that they’re not alone in feeling self-conscious and she wanted to give them positive tips for junior high without the negative effects of those “Photoshopped pictures and demoralizing articles” in traditional magazines, Ainsworth said.
Cummings suggested she keep leave copies in the library instead, so those girls who wanted them could take them, and those who would just toss them in the trash would not.
Ainsworth also gave copies to all the girls who contributed, as well as those who donated to make the project possible. She’s also hoping the Stephens Branch Library will stock the magazine as well.
She doesn’t know that she’ll be producing any additional issues of “Guurl!,” but says the experience has left her with much more knowledge about formatting and graphic design.
Her school PowerPoint projects, she said, “are a hundred times more pretty now.”
—Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.