Like many 13-year-olds, Raedy Ping had lots of freckles but didn’t think it was a problem until she made the mistake of picking up a teen girl’s magazine. “I saw this article about getting rid of your freckles,” she says. “And then I was self-conscious about them.”
Eleven years since Ping read that article, teen mags haven’t changed their tendencies to perpetuate negative self-images, Ping says. So the Chicago-based graduate student, along with a group of counterculture activists in Bloomington, Indiana, has decided to help them out.
What started as an Internet-based discussion in the summer of 2005 eventually became the Magazine Project. The nonprofit organization sends volunteers into bookstores and mass-market retailers like Target or Wal-Mart where they stuff magazines such as CosmoGirl, Teen People, YM, and Seventeen with girl-positive alternative pamphlets, pictorials, or pages out of zines.
The materials used for stuffing includes a warning titled “Models On Pages May Be Uglier Than They Appear,” which states that computer artists airbrush acne and other flaws from models’ faces. “Most of the stuff we have so far is about body image and advertising,” Ping says, adding that many magazines are basically one huge ad. “We just started, and I’m not sure what we can get away with.”
The first stuffing took place in the Chicago metro area in November 2005 with 30 volunteers, and support has spread to Boston, some smaller U.S. cities, and Melbourne, Australia. Co-founder Ty Hendrickson, a 17-year-old male Chicago-area high school student, says exposure is the project’s primary goal, followed by an expansion of the concept to other titles and to mens’ magazines. He’s also working on a book that will teach boys to view women with respect.
Though Ping hasn’t received many responses from girls affected by the group’s messages, she hopes to increase awareness over the next year, especially in Small Town America. “I grew up in [rural] southern Indiana,” Ping says. “I wouldn’t have known that this counterculture existed if I hadn’t gotten a Bikini Kill record.”