`B' is for beautiful

Out with ladettes, femininity is back in a new magazine for teenagers.

Paul McCann
Sunday 04 May 1997 23:02

First there was the departure of editor James Brown from the lads' magazine Loaded, because he was getting too old to be a lad. Now a new magazine is trying to prove that his female counterpart, the ladette, is also passe, and it wants to herald a new era of femininity.

B, which probably stands for "bright" and "bubbly", is the new launch from Attic Futura, the currently hot Australian publisher that created Sugar, the wildly successful magazine for teenage girls, which shook up the world of sad-eyed puppy posters and problem pages.

Painfully cheery and upbeat, Sugar was an attempt to give teenagers the glossy fashion and beauty package that their big sisters were reading in Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire.

"We wanted to give them something that didn't go on about being a teenager all the time," says Jo Elvin, former editor of Sugar and launch editor of B.

Now Sugar has sales of 456,000 a month and almost outsells the two magazines it was trying to ape. Other teen magazine publishers have been forced to imitate it. A big part of Sugar's success was its handling of sex: it set out to be "honest and upfront", says Ms Elvin - so upfront and honest that it attracted the ire of Tory MP Peter Luff and got the Daily Mail frothing with moral outrage.

Sugar's runaway success threatened all the other teenage magazines, which also upped their sexual content, so that the industry ended up threatened with a private member's Bill that would have put age limits and warning symbols on magazines with saucy content. Now the industry is overseen by its own watchdog - the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel - which censured Sugar last week for running an article headed "I slept with 40 boys in three months".

When Sugar launched, its first readers were around 14. They are now getting on and are too old for its mix of confidence-boosting emotional articles and tips on clothes and make-up. The sad-eyed puppies usually wear off at this age too.

Attic wants to move these 16 to 17-year-olds on to B, which will look after them until they get to about 22. Doubtless, after that, Attic will launch another older magazine. Attic's rival, Emap, is very keen on this "cradle-to-grave" publishing, which is why you can move from reading about pop music in Smash Hits in your teens to reading about rock music in Mojo in your late forties via an array of differently pitched magazines, all published by Emap.

Attic thinks Sugar's appeal is to a certain kind of mainstream girl and it wants B to keep on the same track - which is where the break with "ladette" culture comes in. The late-teens-to-early-twenties magazine market is territory where sex, sex and more sex sells. Emap's more! and Minx magazines take on almost every topic from a sexual angle: "If they were doing fashion, they would do it about T-shirts to pull boys in, that show off your tits," said one rival publisher.

more!, another quiet success selling 430,000 copies every fortnight, has a regular "position of the week" feature and once ran an article headed "Twenty Ways to Give A Hand Job".

The philosophy that informs these magazines is so-called "Girl Power" or the culture of the ladette. A ladette is best described as a young woman who is confident, assertive, drinks a lot and is as rude and crude as any lad. The Spice Girls and The Girlie Show both borrowed a view of women from the likes of more!

But Jo Elvin thinks the ladette is a nonsense media creation and hopes that B will herald its demise: "The ladette idea is very trendy, but I don't think for a moment that it is real. I really don't believe a lot of women actually align themselves with that kind of attitude."

Instead Elvin, 27, wants B to embrace a more balanced view of femininity: "I'm not a wet sissy who bats her eyelashes at men, but neither am I embarrassed about being feminine, about enjoying shopping. I'm just glad to be a woman."

She says B will concentrate more on love and relationships than sex. But in this market there is still no getting away from sex. B's first issue contains articles entitled "True Confessions: I Had a Threesome"; "I Sold My Sex Scandal", and a four-page look at female masturbation complete with vibrator review. Welcome to the new femininityn

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