As a kid, my vices were limited to the spectrum of consumption and collection. The glossy worlds of magazines were my window to glamorized renditions of girlhood.
I started collecting Total Girl magazines in 2007 when I was eight years old and just beginning to wrestle with the challenge of actively cultivating my own taste and hobbies. The magazine, dubbed “the first and only lifestyle magazine for Filipina tweens” fell along the axis of my niche childhood interests. I collected them obsessively.
Total Girl was my ultimate portal to an alternate universe where I could imagine myself all grown up, skimming over my awkward phases with ease. I reveled in the embarrassing moments section and empathized with all the kids who submitted chronicles of their lives. And of course, who could forget all the transformative advice they gave on the latest trends? What about those exclusive interviews with my childhood messiahs? Looking back, the condensed astrology column seems to have foreshadowed my personal interest in natal charts and transits today.
At first glance, Total Girl looked like any other lifestyle magazine marketed to teenagers. Its aesthetics were a delicate balance: the stylization of a star to replace the dot in “i”, the colorful palettes, the more is more philosophy to design. And on the cover, another teen celebrity currently experiencing a surge of fame—clickbait before it was even a thing. If we got lucky, there would be a large overblown poster of the Jonas Brothers or Selena Gomez that came with the issue.
Readers were encouraged to submit their embarrassing stories and advice for other TGs who sent in their own problems, which ranged from fighting with a friend or preteen acne. There were quizzes on which Disney starlet you were (predating Buzzfeed), DIYs on how to bedazzle your shorts, and articles on how to make the most out of your summer while staying sunburn free. All marketed together with bright headlines on the cover, and usually a “no boys allowed!” plastered on the front. The magazine in itself, though it was made by adults, felt like it was an heirloom stitched together by all the little girls who honored the honesty of the brand—a brand that, to me, genuinely respected the interests of their young readers.
For P85, it felt like I was being indicted into a cool girls club with all my fellow ‘TGs’, which is what they called their readers. I was a shy child, and as any young girl knows, the feeling of being accepted by a community, emboldens in our journey towards accepting ourselves. The magazine provided me with a gateway to making new friends—it was always a joy when a classmate would come over after spotting the neon TG logo from across the classroom. With magazines, you’re bound to a certain context and demographic. There’s a sense of solidarity when you are made aware that an entire population of people your age is interested in the same things you are, that they share your worries and obsessions no matter how strange it may have seemed to the tyrannous adults of our lives.
Total Girl eventually branched out to making their revolutionary slam books, which were an absolute must-have in Grade 3. We passed them around during recess like a sacred ritual, spiraled books designed with the same Total Girl appeal as the magazines. The planners, TG model searches, and collector’s item Justin Bieber issues cemented the publication as a hallmark of girlhood for an entire generation.
Though it wasn’t progressive in the contemporary sense of the word, I appreciate how the magazine’s editors at least treated their readership with a sense of mutual respect. They knew that they were contributing to the growth of an impressionable age group. From the age-appropriate fashion editorials to the simple counsel of being kind to other girls, tweens at least were secured a space that was devoid of any horrors that many girls that age could have been subject to on the internet.
I can imagine that all the young readers of the magazine probably experienced the same relentless shift of mediums as I did. Now all those half-hearted scribbles of “too many to mention” on our slam books feel ornamental and no longer feel like a valid answer. You can’t just share one’s embarrassing stories to any other publication unwarranted. And is there really a need for astrological columns telling us Cancers that this month is going to be a tough one, when we have apps to give us daily digests of what the stars have in store. The serialization of our coming of age stories into the digital world has left platforms like our favorite print magazines obsolete. Total Girl, in its full memorialization in my mind, is left pressed against other childhood recollections, dusted from years of weathering.
Looking forward now, maybe the greatest legacy of Total Girl to me is the inheritance of narratives. Through a simple pastime of collecting childhood magazines, it bore a vacuum of experiences and perspectives that I had previously never had access to. From Total Girl, this love affair eventually evolved into my love for other youth-led publications online and offline.
In hindsight, I still very much feel like that eight-year-old girl grasping for lifelong connections through my consumerism. What makes my yearning for a new friend through a shared love of an artist any different from a shared love of a magazine that I tucked away in my schoolbag? What makes the yearning for shared communities in Total Girl columns, any different from our Reddit threads and Tumblrs we’ve sought solace in through the years?
Sofia Guanzon is an aspiring writer (among other things) but for now, she’s an International Relations senior at Ateneo de Manila University, where she’s preoccupied with learning how to put her idealism to practice. Her current concerns are Haikyuu!! Season 4, NCT 2020, and coming to terms with being a Scorpio moon.
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