Girl follows monthlong quest to follow every piece of advice in the June/July issue of Seventeen magazine
PHILADELPHIA — Sitting at the counter of Nanee’s Kitchen in Philadelphia’s bustling Reading Terminal Market, Jamie Keiles took a bite from a heaping platter of Indian food.
“I feel so fearless,” she said with a sarcastic grin. “I’ve never eaten anything of such exotic taste.”
For most people, Indian at Reading Terminal is just another lunch option. But for the Central Bucks West high school senior, it’s a requirement: part of her monthlong quest to literally follow every piece of advice in the June/July issue of Seventeen magazine.
Today’s task? Be “food fearless” and try Indian, Israeli, or Ethiopian food.
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Keiles, 18, who runs a blog called The Seventeen Magazine Project (www.theseventeenmagazineproject.com) that details her adventures living life by the teen bible, has been called to wear high heels to school, post detailed criticism of Seventeen’s “hot boys” section on her blog, and spend hours each morning primping, as per Seventeen’s guidelines.
She came up with the idea after flipping through an issue of Seventeen at school and reading page after page of “frivolous” beauty tips. She had read Seventeen before, but this was the first time she looked at it critically.
“I was just like, oh my god, this is ridiculous,” she said. “I thought, ‘How would it be to do this at an incredibly literal level?’ I just thought it’d be something fun to do.”
Yet Keiles is just the latest (and maybe youngest) to take part in a growing genre of media criticism: following to the letter the advice of some heralded personality or tome — whether it’s Seventeen, Oprah and her “Live your Best Life” empire, Cosmopolitan, or the Bible.
Perhaps the grandmother of them all — arguably the biggest success of the hands-on genre — is Julie Powell’s blog the Julie/Julia Project, launched in 2002, where she cooked every recipe in Julia Child’s seminal “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Powell turned her blog into a book that eventually was made into the Nora Ephron film “Julie & Julia.”
Other not-too-shabby results: Performance artist Robyn Okrant inked a book deal during her yearlong Living Oprah project, which she blogged about in 2008. The book itself was published in January. A.J. Jacobs wrote a best seller — “The Year of Living Biblically,” about following every rule in the Bible for a year — and continues to write a series of like-minded articles for Esquire.
But the question remains: Will yet another literal lifestyle blog provide some public benefit? Or do people view them as fast-fame gimmicks?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” said Ron Bishop, a professor in the Department of Culture and Communications at Drexel University. “I think that (these authors) are certainly availing themselves of the tools of social commentary. My worry is that whatever social commentary they’re doing gets lost because we’re so into the (hands-on) format.”
Okrant, a performance artist, yoga instructor, and writer based in Chicago, said her Living Oprah project was motivated in part by a desire to stop passively judging media.
“Before I started this project, the last couple projects I worked on were satirizations of the self-help industry. All roads kept leading back to Oprah,” she said. “Instead of just sort of judging it — I usually write about these things from the comfort of my own desk chair — I thought, what if I put myself in the trenches?”
Like many of her colleagues, Okrant soon found that even though she obsessively followed every directive Oprah issued, she wasn’t exactly living her best life.
After nearly a month, Keiles — not exactly your average beauty magazine reader — is feeling the strain, too. The redheaded Doylestown, Pa., native is interested in gender issues and media literacy and has a distinct gift for biting sarcasm. She describes herself as a “cute dresser” but not “modelific” (her word) — she borrowed many of the clothes for her project from friends. And her trip to Philadelphia to eat Indian food had a dual purpose: She’s building her own bike and needed to pick up a few parts in the city.
Keiles — who will attend the University of Chicago in the fall — said her biggest criticism of Seventeen is that it needs to represent more diverse interests.
“They have a very singular idea of what teenage girls like, and I think that’s setting the bar very low for what they expect us to be as women,” she said.
One of her recent blog posts called for more coverage geared toward lesbian and gay teens. Another was snarky about Seventeen’s prom recommendations.
And despite Keiles’ tongue-in-cheek take on America’s most popular teen magazine, Seventeen Editor-In-Chief Ann Shoket has nothing but praise for the blogger.
“I think what she’s doing is tremendously valuable,” she said, adding that the magazine plans to invite Keiles in to talk about her experience with the project. “What we really want every girl to experience is ridiculous, crazy, insane fun. So I want to hear from Jamie if she’s had fun.”
Keiles, who said she hasn’t yet been contacted by anyone from Seventeen (although they are following her on Twitter), said she hopes the magazine takes her criticism into consideration.
“Part of me wants to be like, ‘Great, I’m not pissing anyone off!”‘ she said, laughing. “The other part is like, ‘Oh no, I’m not pissing anyone off?”‘