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12 July 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 3:00pm

How Teen Vogue became a champion of democratic socialism

By Sukhmani Basra

Once a hub for young girls to indulge their appetite for celebrity gossip, beauty, and fashion tips, Teen Vogue has more recently played an unexpected role in strengthening support for democratic socialism among US teenagers. 

The online title’s backing of left wingers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old Democratic Congresswoman, reflects the growth of millennial socialism. By praising and defending AOC and Bernie Sanders’ policies and views, Teen Vogue (which was launched in 2003 as a sister publication to Vogue) has lent prominence to proposals such as free universal healthcare and a Green New Deal, helping to reverse the stigma and fear previously attached to them. 

Typical articles include “How I can critique capitalism — even on an iPhone”, “Who is Karl Marx — meet the anti-capitalist scholar” and “Four big takeaways from Bernie’s speech on democratic socialism”. In the last six months, the website has reached 5.21 million people across the world, with 45 per cent of visits originating from the US. 

More than ever, the American political landscape is defined by a contest between democratic socialism and authoritarian nationalism. In the November 2018 midterms, Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member Rashida Tlaib were elected to Congress, while eleven members were elected to state legislatures. 

It was Teen Vogue’s 32-year-old editor Elaine Welteroth, digital editorial director Philip Picardi and creative director Maria Suter, who advanced the title in a more political direction following a decline in print sales (the title became online-only in December 2017). The transformation coincided with the remarkable surge in mobilisation following Donald Trump’s 2016 election. And Teen Vogue’s realignment has attracted admiration and praise from the left. In April 2019, DSA leader Maria Svart remarked: “There’s a magazine called Teen Vogue, which has been shockingly having all this left wing … like every week, there’s some new left-wing article.”

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But Teen Vogue are careful to avoid an overly political or academic aesthetic, mindful this could deter readers expecting fashion tips and tricks. In order to maintain their online audience’s interest, the shift has been gradual. Welteroth often strategically engages readers by fusing political and lifestyle trends. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Shared Her Skin and Makeup Routine and It Is Next Level,” read the headline of one such piece. 

By combining beauty with politics, Teen Vogue reaches an audience traditionally disengaged from politics. Contributing editors such as Lucy Diavolo and Lauren Duca, the 25-year-old who sparked controversy with her article “Donald Trump is gaslighting America”, report on issues and movements from Black Lives Matter to Pride. Teen Vogue, against expectations, is nurturing a new generation of activists: an information sheet released by publisher Condé Nast found that online readers are three times more likely to consider themselves activists. 

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Teen Vogue is in the vanguard of the shift towards democratic socialism, becoming a “woke” brand and inviting its readers to mirror its evolution. The US, for so long a wasteland for the left, is becoming the home of its rebirth — and teenage girls are at the forefront.