• teen magazines;
  • adolescent health;
  • interpretive inquiry;
  • hermeneutics

Background.  The mass media has an enormous influence on adolescent women and their perceptions about the world and themselves. Teen magazines are a favoured form of the mass media, thus they were chosen for this research project.

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to report a study exploring the messages of health and health-related material in teen magazines from the perspective of adolescents. Knowledge of how adolescents perceive teen magazine messages can be used in the care of this client group.

Method.  Interpretive inquiry, a substantively driven research approach, was used for the project. A convenience sample of 12 adolescents, aged 12–18 years, participated in two focus groups, and selected images and texts from popular North American teen magazines (YM, Teen, and Seventeen) to discuss. Focus group discussions were audiotaped and then transcribed. Individual interviews with the adolescents were also completed to obtain additional data. Audiotaped interviews were analysed using Gadamer's hermeneutic ideas about ‘claim’ or ‘address’.

Findings.  The findings indicate that teen magazines promote particular expectations about health and health-related activities. Participants noted that the magazines promote the message of perfection by portraying models with perfect eyes, teeth and bodies. The magazines provide ideals of thinness which are presented in a seemingly attainable fashion. Participants stated that magazines suggest that adolescent women need male attention for protection and companionship, in order to achieve fulfilment. Being healthy or whole seemed to be dependent on the adolescent reader embracing and becoming the ideals portrayed in teen magazines.

Conclusion.  In order to provide relevant and sensitive health care, health care providers need to be cognizant of the persistent demands placed on adolescents by teen magazines and the mass media in general. Media messages and their influences need to be discussed with adolescents, either in school health programmes or clinician visits.