Teen Drawn to Fashion Mags Just Admiring Artwork

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If you're worried that your children are obsessing over beautiful people, splashed across television screens and in magazines, you shouldn't. NPR essayist Tim Brookes says they're just admiring the artwork.


If you're worried that your children are obsessing over beautiful people splashed across television screens, don't worry. They're admiring the artwork, says essayist Tim Brookes.

Mr. TIM BROOKES (Essayist): When I came downstairs the other morning, the first thing I saw was my 13-year-old daughter Maddy watching a downloaded episode of "America's Next Top Model" on her laptop. I groaned. I'm not sure which possibility is more disturbing: that she's being sucked into helpless consumerism or that she's starting down the slippery incline towards self-loathing and eating disorders.

But like all parents I'm in danger of underestimating my teenager. She knows all about anorexia and bulimia. She just did her science fair project on animal testing by the cosmetics industry and left the entire seventh grade eww-ing and wincing at photos of rabbits clamped in labs, their eyelids pinned back, shampoo burning naked eyeballs.

I asked her what she likes about "America's Next Top Model." Tyra Banks is really funny, she said, but most of all, she said, she likes watching the way they tackle the challenges involved in the photography.

I wasn't entirely convinced, but the next day was Mother's Day and by chance I gave my wife a camera. Maddy seized it and began not just snapping pictures but leaning and bending her knees to find better angles, making shadows fall across faces.

Well, all right, I said, shifting ground, but why do you like drawing pictures of fashion models? I like shading, she said. I like drawing wavy hair because it's full of shadows and the shading is what makes it look three-dimensional. I like doing eyes and lips because they're full of tiny lines and the texture is really hard to get right.

So there probably is some deep gender stuff going on here. We all love dramas that play out in the realms of our dreams. And girls may be drawn to the mythologies of appearance just as boys may be drawn to the mythologies of sport. It's what they take away from those dramas that matters.

Maddy's now working on an acrylic painting based on one of her fashion magazine photos, and she can already depict the subtleties of skin tone better than I ever will.

One other thing: the girl in her painting is more interesting than the one in the magazine. Her jawline a little stronger, her complexion less washed out, her gaze more focused. I'd say Maddy's safe from that slippery incline for a while.

CORNISH: WEEKEND EDITION essayist Tim Brookes.

(Soundbite of song, "Vogue")

Ms. MADONNA (Singer): (Singing) Ooh, you've got to just let your body go with the flow. Ooh, you've got to vogue.

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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