Trauma - Oh My Gawd!

The situation is pretty much monthly, if you know what I mean, and it involves a hot bath, some ice cream and red wine, and a stack of glossy teen mags. Usually when I’m munching on this brain candy I’m not exactly inclined to do any major textual analysis—just taking those "Innocent Crush or Mad Obsession?" quizzes and gazing at fashion spreads of 14-year-olds in Delia’s hip-huggers and butterfly hair clips. In fact, if I hadn’t bought five different girls’ magazines and read them in one sitting, I wouldn’t have noticed that YM, Seventeen, Jump, CosmoGIRL!, and Girl -- all the teen mags, really -- include some version of what Seventeen calls Traumarama, a collection of paragraph-long stories (supposedly from readers, although the cookie-cutter style makes the letters seem more like the teen-mag version of Penthouse Forum) relating really embarrassing stuff that has happened to the "reader" who sent it in.

Examples range from the relatively tame public fart to the girl who walked downstairs naked only to find a surprise Sweet 16 party waiting, and it seems like recently, the trend is only increasing. The number of trauma sections in YM has grown from one per issue to four—conveniently grouped by mode of embarrassment. This multiplication could be happening for one of two reasons: Either the "real" girls out there are timid little flowers who stumble into so many embarrassing situations that every single teen magazine has to run more than one section devoted to making personal "trauma" public, sells magazines.

I thought perhaps it was my postadolescent perspective that was keeping me from getting these columns, because, as my friend Julie says, "No exposed tampon or audible fart in front of your crush quite matches the realization, in the middle of your shift at TGI Friday’s, that you have passed the bar exam." But even grown-up women’s mags like Cosmo and Glamour have their own version of the damn thing, featuring more torrid versions of the I-burped-in-front-of-my-boyfriend story.

Now, besides the fact that I find none of the traumas in the rama especially dramatic, it worries me that the impulse to merrily gawk at others’ misfortune -- which has historically generated revenue in America from True Confessions magazine to The Jerry Springer Show -- is popping up in the teen-girl media. I mean, teen girls are already insecure enough -- we’d like less of that, not more, thank you very much. These articles are basically saying, "In case you didn’t know you were supposed to be embarrassed about your bodily functions, here’s a few things that should make you feel pretty bad, if you ever do them." And most of the traumas are body-related, as though the mag itself wasn’t doing quite enough to foster self-consciousness with its spreads of white, hipless models in midriff-baring baby tees and articles on how to make the boys notice you. It reminds me of that weird way women bond by willingly denigrating themselves with a smile—those "I’m so dumb, I..." or "I’m so fat, I..." kinds of conversations.

Maybe it’s empowering to know that other girls get horribly embarrassed too. But you can’t hide the fact that no boys’ or men’s magazines feature anything comparable, probably because teenage-boy bonding centers around boasting and not self-deprecation, which gives us boys who think they’re hot shit and girls who won’t raise their hands in class. My solution? Maybe a column called Triumpharama— "real readers" writing in and proudly bragging about their accomplishments, not gleefully whining about the time their bra strap showed in front of the cute gym teacher.

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