Magazine Mavens Open Their Pages Editors from three women-focused magazines talk about what’s inside their publications this month, including a report on early puberty issues for girls that may be caused by obesity. Joining the conversation: Kathy Spillar, Executive Editor at Ms. Magazine; Yanick Rice Lamb, Editorial Director at Heart and Soul magazine; and Annemarie Conte from Seventeen magazine.
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Magazine Mavens Open Their Pages

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Magazine Mavens Open Their Pages

Magazine Mavens Open Their Pages

Magazine Mavens Open Their Pages

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Editors from three women-focused magazines talk about what’s inside their publications this month, including a report on early puberty issues for girls that may be caused by obesity. Joining the conversation: Kathy Spillar, Executive Editor at Ms. Magazine; Yanick Rice Lamb, Editorial Director at Heart and Soul magazine; and Annemarie Conte from Seventeen magazine.


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we get a chance to hear what new author Helena Andrews is listening to in our segment we call In Your Ear. Then we'll talk to her about her new memoir about life and love in the big city.

But first, it's time for our visit with the magazine mavens, where we talk to editors of some of our favorite magazines. This time we want to focus on a study that shows that young girls in the U.S. are reaching puberty earlier than ever before. The phenomenon affects girls of all racial backgrounds. But for some reason, the rate of early puberty is highest among black and Hispanic girls. It might have something to do with the rate of childhood obesity.

We thought, who better to talk about issues around puberty, body image and other hot button topics that have people talking than Annemarie Conte, deputy editor of Seventeen magazine and Kathy Spillar, executive editor at Ms. Magazine. And we're also joined by Yanick Rice Lamb. She's editorial director and associate publisher of the magazine Heart and Soul. That's a magazine that places a strong emphasis on health issues. So, welcome, mavens, all. Thank you for joining us.

Ms. ANNEMARIE CONTE (Deputy Editor, Seventeen): Thanks for having us.

Ms. KATHY SPILLAR (Executive Editor, Ms. Magazine): Thank you.

Ms. YANICK RICE LAMB (Editorial Director and Associate Publisher, Heart and Soul): Thank you.

MARTIN: Annemarie, I'm going to start with you because your magazine serves teen readers and I wanted to know if this trend toward early puberty has been noticed by your readers, that they are developing at earlier ages than, say, their mothers did and how do they feel about it?

Ms. CONTE: It's definitely something that's very confusing for teens. I think that they don't understand what's happening, and I think that it may just be tied to obesity and that's something that is a national problem that we've definitely been focusing on and want to help promote fitness and health to help reverse this trend.

MARTIN: Let me just give some data from the survey. This was published in the journal Pediatrics. The survey was sponsored by NIH. It says that the onset -first of all, I just want to mention the onset of puberty is measured by breast development. That's something I didn't know. And it said the study said that 10 percent of white seven-year-olds on the study had reached a state of breast development marking the start of puberty compared to five percent in a similar study that was conducted in the 1990s.

For black girls, the figure was nearly 25 percent. And for Latina girls, the figure was 15 percent. Although the rate of increase was larger among white girls than for other members of the population. And as we said, that might be related to the obesity crisis.

So, Kathy, your magazine has actually written some interesting pieces about the way women are taking hold of the fresh food movement. Tell us a little bit about that.

Ms. SPILLAR: It's a very exciting issue. It's just on the newsstands, in fact, this week. We took a look at what we're calling the feminist food revolution. And as you said, we're looking at how women are taking food back into our own hands and we're literally revolutionizing the way Americans are producing food and their understanding in the consumption of food.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting because typically when people think farmer, they definitely do think men, but many of the women you profiled are in fact doing - and they think, you know, women are "farmer's wife." But you're pointing out that a number of women are directly involved in, you know, producing, distributing and creating new sources of food and making that food available in communities that have not had access.

Ms. SPILLAR: Well, exactly. The real revolution is happening in inner city neighborhoods and in poor communities where women are leading a whole movement in urban gardening. And in fact, even in the Bronx, we're talking about gardens on top of rooftops. And it's producing an incredible amount of locally grown and more organic and nutritious food. And all of this is contributing to our understanding of how the way food is produced and consumed in our society is contributing to the obesity epidemic.

MARTIN: Yanick, your magazine also features a large take on first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, which also address-- is intending to tackle childhood obesity and also health in the general population. But you also have a piece talking about the need for a cultural shift, particularly among African-American families from traditional cuisines that often relied on, you know, fat and salt for flavor, to lighter fare, more lightly prepared, more fresh food.

Do you think that this message is taking hold? This is something that the magazine has talked about for years now.

Ms. LAMB: Yes. I do think it's taking hold. The feedback we're getting from a lot of our readers and just looking at African-Americans around the country, a lot more people are doing gardening. They're becoming more involved in trying to see what's going on at their schools. And in pushing for local initiatives like corner store initiatives where they can sell fresh food and vegetables there.

And also, what they're doing at home, in terms of cooking more, involving their children in food purchases, menu planning and preparation and getting out more with them, too, and turning off the TV and video games so that they can go outside and play together and be more active. And then also changing some of the, you know, soul food recipes and making them healthier and even, like, around holidays, like, planning to get up and go walk after Thanksgiving or after a holiday gathering and incorporating those things into their family reunions during the summer.

MARTIN: And are people receptive to this or do they feel that they are being kind of preached to? Because I remember in the early days of this sort of effort to shift some of the cuisine particularly, people - there was a lot of pushback on this. People would think, well, you know, that's an elite preoccupation. That has nothing to do with me. That's other people. Do you know what I mean?

Ms. LAMB: I think the reality is hitting a lot of people because, you know, there are a lot more children who have Type 2 diabetes now. A lot more people in their teens and 20s are having joint problems. You know, people are having hip replacements earlier and that some of that is attributed to obesity. And some of the things that they see with their older relatives dying early, they don't want that to happen to themselves and to their children, so people are trying to do that.

And then, also, their churches are also having more fitness programs and fitness ministries. So the message is kind of universal and people helping to spread it.

MARTIN: Annemarie, can I talk to you a little bit more about this whole advance puberty issue and the whole question of - you mentioned how confusing it is. You can see how confusing it would be when a young girl who's, you know, 12 or 13 is being approached as if she were 16 or 17 or 18 and how disturbing that could be. Have you - how is the magazine trying to help girls navigate that thing?

On the one hand, you know, Seventeen is always about fashion and fun and looking cute and so forth and how do you navigate that in your pages? On the one hand, wanting girls to celebrate what's fun about being a girl, but not, you know, causing them to be subjected to this kind of unwelcome, inappropriate scrutiny at younger and younger ages.

Ms. CONTE: Right. Well, our magazine really does focus on 15, 16 and higher, so we're not quite in that tween area. So we are speaking to the girls who have developed and are a little bit older. And they're incredibly curious and they want to be healthy. And so we really try to give them the tools that they need to be healthy. Good food that's still delicious, we give them real reasonable information about workouts and fitness and give them days off in the calendars of the workouts that doesn't feel too rigorous and something that they can't achieve.

And so we try to keep it positive. We have the two sides of it. We have the health and nutrition coverage and then we have the coverage that really teaches them how to dress for their body and how to look the best that they can no matter what size they are. It's not about your size, it's about how you feel about it. And we have a program that I'm really proud of, which is called the Body Peace Project. And that's all about being happy with yourself and getting out of this cycle of self-hate and hating your body.

MARTIN: And peace, meaning P-E-A-C-E, as in peace within...

Ms. CONTE: Yes.

MARTIN: know, peace within the home. Peace within the mind, you know, like that. And I noticed that this month's issue you have Hayley Hasselhoff, who is the star of the new ABC Family program - family show, "Huge," is a model in the magazine.

On the other hand, I got to tell you, that whole - the girl is not huge by any means. She's a large-sized model but she's not huge. And that whole family -that series is about girls at a weight loss camp. I don't know. How do you feel about that?

Ms. CONTE: It's interesting. If you watch episodes of "Huge," you see that she is the smallest girl there. And it does really draw attention to the fact that her character on the show feels that she's overweight, feels that she's fat. And it's all about perception. So in the show, she's the thinnest one there and everyone's flocking around her saying how good she looks. And in her own mind, she feels like she is too big.

And what we have is a Body Peace treaty, where we ask girls to sign it and it's a pact to treat your body well and to not abuse it with unhealthy foods and to stop blaming yourself and your body for, you know, for issues that you might have and really get past that and love yourself.

MARTIN: And speaking of young girls, I want to switch gears here to another issue. Kathy, you're - Ms. has a major piece on child sex trafficking in this country. And what I think is interesting about this piece is I don't know that a lot of people see this phenomenon as being child sex trafficking in this country because one of the points that you make in the piece is that it's very often that young girls who are engaged in prostitution are prosecuted for this as a crime, as opposed to being treated as the victims of trafficking.

If you just tell us - now, I know it's a very complicated topic. We only have a couple of minutes, but if you tell us a little bit more about this piece and what you're trying to tell people with this.

Ms. SPILLAR: Well, it is a groundbreaking investigation. And what the piece covers is the fact that in many states around the country, and our story starts in Texas, girls as young as 12 or 13 who are arrested for prostitution, for commercial sex, are being prosecuted and convicted. When, in fact, the state laws say that a girl that young, under 18, can't even give her consent for sex. And so we've got this double standard.

Now, in many states, crusaders are getting those laws changed, in New York and in Washington and there's campaigns going on in Georgia and Pennsylvania. But to think that we have this double standard and don't recognize that these girls indeed are being trafficked.

Some of the reports suggest that as many as 100,000 underage girls and boys every year in this country, predominantly young girls, are being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. And one of the other pieces of this article is that Craigslist is one of the largest sites that, in fact, are being accused of promoting the exploitation and the pimping of these girls in their adult services section. They're being challenged on that.

And so we need new laws in these states where girls are still being arrested and prosecuted and convicted. Instead what they need are safe harbor homes and they need services. And that's where we've got to focus the attention going forward to deal with this problem.

MARTIN: I just want to mention that the CEO of Craigslist has responded to the campaign by some child advocacy organizations in saying that Craigslist is in fact working with authorities to track down people who are abusing it. So it's a very interesting debate that's going on now.

I do want to mention that everything in the magazines isn't oh-so-serioso. There's a mix in all of the magazines of the light and the heavy and the serious. And so I think I do want to point that out.

Before we let you all go, I do want to mention that former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers has now been hired as the CEO of Johnson Publishing in Chicago, that's the parent company of Ebony and Jet magazine. She'll lead day-to-day operations there. So, Yanick, I'm going to ask you, as a senior diva in magazine publishing, do you have any advice for this - for Desiree taking on this tough job?

Ms. LAMB: Well, pay attention to her audience and also the money, of course, because it's been a tough climate the last few years for magazines and all of media. But she has a background in business as well, so I'm sure she's on top of that.

MARTIN: Okay. Annemarie, do you have any advice for Desiree?

Ms. CONTI: Just make it happen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Just make it happen. Continue to be fabulous. Kathy, what about you, any advice for your colleague?

Ms. SPILLAR: Yeah. I mean, magazines are so desperately needed to inform the public and to keep us current and it's a terrific opportunity that she has to really keep this industry alive.

MARTIN: Okay. What's your favorite issue? What's your favorite piece in this month's magazine?

Ms. SPILLAR: Oh, I think the food piece is a lot of fun. And we have a whole feminist analysis of "Mad Men" as well, which is a fun read, a very fun read.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. That was eye-catching - a feminist analysis of "Mad Men." That's an interesting argument.

Annemarie, what's your favorite issue - what's your favorite article in this month's magazine.

Ms. CONTI: In our - actually, in our August issue we have a great fitness guide. And we show some real girls who have really changed their lives and been healthier and happier for it and I just really love seeing those inspirational stories.

MARTIN: Okay. And Yanick, I'm sorry, everybody in your magazine is so cute that I just - I'm having trouble even dealing with that. So I'm just going to - I'm not even going to ask you. Sorry about that.

Ms. LAMB: It's like picking your favorite child.

MARTIN: Exactly. Kathy Spillar is executive editor at Ms. Magazine. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Yanick Rice Lamb is editorial director and associate publisher at Heart and Soul magazine. She joined us on the phone from Kentucky. And Annemarie Conti is deputy editor of Seventeen Magazine. She joined us from our bureau in New York.

Ladies, mavens, thank you.

Ms. CONTI: Thank you.

Ms. SPILLAR: Thank you.

Ms. LAMB: Thank you.

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