Old magazines about a baby boomer’s old life

Sometimes baby boomers conjure up memories in their minds. But sometimes, at least in the case of Erin O’Brien of Warwick, Rhode Island, they turn to those old magazines they never threw away.

When I finished Marie Kondo’s books about decluttering one’s life, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, not only was I inspired, but determined to ‘Kon Mari’ my way through my belongings. ‘Kon Mari,’ as you already might have figured out, is a play on the author’s name. The plan was to hold each item in my hand, ask myself if it brought me joy, if not, thank it for its service and let it go.

Erin O’Brien at home in Rhode Island.

This was fine in theory, but I didn’t get very far. When I started with my library, because Kondo suggests beginning with books, I paused momentarily to leaf through my first copy of Seventeen (December 1976), bought while waiting for the inaugural issue of my subscription to arrive. As the background details in the cover photo emerged, I remembered imagining the Christmas party the model was attending and wondering how one was invited to such an event. (How was this memory bringing me joy? That’s a different issue!) Still, I kept the magazine.

Inside the glossy pages of the next one I opened were models dressed like Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks with flowing hair like Farrah Fawcett’s. I had imagined a velour cowl neck, Dittos bell bottoms, striped toe socks and platform shoes when I wasn’t in my school uniform. As a teenager I bought shampoo so someone would say, “Gee, your hair smells terrific” and cologne that was “sensual, but not too far from innocence.” As I leafed through the pages, there were even more products promising to make any teenage girl pretty, popular, and confident. I remember waiting for that thick “back-to-school” issue to arrive in the mailbox with even more advice on problems with parents, pimples, and popularity.

The articles about movie stars and rock stars were always intriguing. The pages of one issue in particular struck me. A full-page spread highlighted young Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson accompanied by several teen models on date night. One cover was a portrait of Bill Cosby with his teen-aged daughter. Who could have imagined how their life stories would continue in the news?

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Seventeen had been around for a long time before my paid subscription began. Its first issue appeared in 1944, as a new idea targeting an unaddressed demographic: teenage girls, too young for their mothers’ magazines. Editor Helen Valentine wrote in her first letter to readers, “In a world that is changing as quickly and profoundly as ours is, we hope to provide a clearing house for your ideas.”

The editor of 1944 would never know that a teen-aged girl of the 1970s would keep her old Seventeen magazines as windows into those in-between years, recalling rites of passage like first dates and high school proms, a driver’s license and high school graduation, to savor once again.

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