Earlier this week, the American Magazine Media Conference took place in New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, and like any good event, it was filled with some badass ladies. Every year, the conference brings together the most influential people in the magazine media industry to explore what’s on the horizon for magazine media. This year especially, the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) worked hard to highlight women in the magazine industry and discuss how magazine media can be used to expose and investigate women’s stories and issues women face.
One panel from the two-day conference in particular looked at how magazine media can reshape and amplify conversations on important humanitarian topics and critical issues facing society. “Media With Purpose” explored this question with the help of panelists Michelle Obama, Lena Dunham, and Julianne Moore. Talk about a dream team. Moderator Leslie Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of MORE Magazine, led the women in a discussion on First Lady Obama’s newest initiative Let Girls Learn, education, navigating the world of social media, and much more.
Here are 5 things we learned:
1. Education is essential
The panel started with a discussion on education, particularly the First Ladie's newest initiative Let Girls Learn. Let Girls Learn brings together a variety of both national and international agencies and programs to address the range of challenges preventing adolescent girls from attending and completing school, and from realizing their potential as adults. In order to highlight what an important foundation education is in the lives of women, Dunham, Moore, and Mrs. Obama shared their educational experiences.
Dunham discussed her time as St. Ann’s High School in Brooklyn, where she was able to take poetry classes, be the head of the student-directed plays program, create literary magazines, and start a newspaper. Her time there instilled in her a love of learning, a passion for the arts, and a lifelong sense that it was her obligation to create institutions that would benefit others.
Moore too explained that school shaped her into the person she is today. She said, “I wouldn’t be an actor, however, if I didn't have an English teacher tell me that I should be an actor, which was anathema to me because I’d never seen a play. I’d never met a real actor. I only watched TV and movies. It seemed very, very far away. But she said to me when I was 16, I think you can do this...It was interesting having a teacher acknowledge that there was something that I could do that she had seen in me; that was transformative. And that happened in a public school system when I was 16 years old.”
The panelists spoke passionately about the need all children have to see their potential reflected in the eyes of their teachers and instructors. Moore put it beautifully, “what kids need to achieve, they need an adult outside of the family member to acknowledge them, to recognize them, to see what they can do and encourage them. And that's what happens in education. And that's what makes you develop. That's what makes you become the person that you eventually are.”
2. Personal stories can be extremely powerful
Seymour asked Lena Dunham to talk about why she shares such deeply personal stories in her newsletter and what role that plays in engaging her readers. As any Dunham fan knows, she’s got no problem getting super personal. In response, Dunham said, “Well, I think the old adage the personal is political has never been more true." (A favorite feminist rally call of mine). "And the fact is, is that people need to feel a connection to an issue in order to take action…When you allow people into your story, it resonates with them in a new way, and they want to take the issue on in a way that they wouldn’t when they were just presented with numbers.” She explained that most of the time, you can’t get results if you don’t take a chance and share some details that might be painful and that some might consider TMI.
Mrs. Obama also talked about using her story to connect with girls around the world on the issue of education. She said, “When you’re the First Lady or you’re an actress, or you’re larger than life to many girls living in poor communities, living in urban cities, not just here in the United States but around the world, you seem untouchable. They look at you and they think there’s no way I can be her. There’s no way I could do that, because there must have been some magic in her life, some luck, some charm. She must have a special potion going on. And for me, it is so important for kids, in particular, to understand that I am them, they are me."
3. Artists and entertainers have moral and ethical obligations
Julianne Moore talked about her killer quote “What you gain as an actor is a sense of empathy. You’re trying to put yourself in someone’s shoes and see what that feels like.” She spoke about how that sense of empathy has allowed her to fulfill the social contract that we as human beings have with one another. According to Moore, this social contract is “what allows us to live with one another, what allows you to stop at a red light, to know that you should give somebody a hand when they’ve fallen down, to do research into disease. And I do believe that it’s the same with the arts.” She takes the responsibility of telling someone’s story very seriously. She explained that she tries to use acting to connect with her audience and allow them to see themselves in her characters. “They don’t come to see you. They come to see their hopes and dreams and feelings reflected. So that, to me, is the most exciting thing."
4. Be careful on social media
Though the conference focused on magazine media, there was much discussion of the role that social media plays in today’s world. The panelists acknowledged both the power and the danger that comes with social media. The First Lady had a useful reminder, “Know that when you put something out in the world, it lasts, and you can’t really take it back that easily. So you have to be responsible.” She also expressed surprise at how freely people are willing to put stuff out there. She said she tries very hard to be thoughtful about the things she posts and makes sure not to, as her husband President Obama would say, “pop off.”
Hilariously, Lena Dunham chimed in and admitted she has been know to “pop off.” “Sometimes popping off can be exciting because it starts a conversation and there’s an immediacy to it and people can feel your passion and they join you. And sometimes it’s a giant mistake.”
5. Magazine Media is VITAL (If you don’t believe us, just ask Michelle Obama’s mother)
In order to bring attention to her work with Let Girls Learn, the First Lady turned to magazine media for help and for good reason. Mrs. Obama said, “Magazines are still the best vehicle to tell a detailed long story, to really go in-depth and paint a picture. And when we launched Let Girls Learn, it was important for us to make sure that people understood the issue and that we could engage readers to take action.” Even in a world where social media now plays a huge role, magazines are still vital. The First Lady pointed this out, “So now we can partner with social media to create that buzz. But it’s helpful to have something for them to go to. So if we want these young girls to get involved by using the hashtag #62milliongirls, they can go back to the MORE Magazine piece and really go in-depth. You can't do that with limited characters or with a six-second Vine video. Only magazines can really make that happen.”
First Lady Obama continued to prove her point about the importance of magazines with a cute story about her mom. “My mom doesn't pay attention to anything I do…But when she said, you're on the cover of MORE? And she actually took the magazine up to her room, and she read every word—every single word. So that just tells you the power of the magazine to really reach readers in an in-depth way...She doesn't read my speeches. She doesn't look at my clips. She reads MORE.”
Here at BUST we couldn't agree more. We're committed to sharing the stories, the struggles, and the successes of women through magazine media. We're greatful to our loyal readers who collect and digest every issue with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. BUST is also greatful to the ladies like First Lady Michelle Obama, Lena Dunham, and Julianne Moore who are using magazine media to make a positive change in the world.
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