Dolly Birds Today


If a 12 year old girl wants to find out how guys like girls to pash “ Dolly magazine’s got the answers. And if a girl doesn’t know how to behave on a date, the rules (according to Dolly) haven’t changed much. Be a lady, don’t pack on the makeup, forget tops that say boobs, ditch that super-short skirt, smile lots and talk about … him.

It’s not just fashion that’s gone retro.

Mia Freedman, Dolly‘s editor-in-chief, has recently been doing the rounds of broadsheet newspaper opinion pages, rejecting allegations that teen magazines encourage sweet young things into early sexual activity. Indeed she goes further and assures parents that their daughters are in good hands.

You could almost be forgiven for thinking that Dolly‘s sole purpose is to care for the welfare of the young girls it has in its charge. The reality is somewhat different – it’s there to deliver dollies to advertisers.

You don’t have to be John Singleton to know that advertising promotes more than products – it spins dreams, trading on sexual angst and the desire to be ‘pretty enough’. Here in dollyland, it targets a vulnerable and easily exploited market.

While Dolly trades on gender stereotypes, appears blissfully unaware of Australia’s ethnic and cultural diversity and is cover-to-cover pubescent sex, the real pornography lies in its advertising. Dolly is an aggressive marketing extravaganza, hidden behind fashion and beauty tips, celebrity gossip tidbits and medical advice targeting adolescent insecurities.

The message? A girl’s gotta look good if she wants to make it. Consumption makes you cool, pretty and popular. Dolly girls are party girls, glam girls, flirty girls and girls who just wanna have fun.

Popular culture theorists brand criticism of this as ‘elitist’, arguing that audiences recognise and resist the messages thrust upon them. But Dolly doesn’t liberate young women. It reinforces social conventions and rigidly defined codes of appearance and behaviour. Dolly is part of the Packer stable – growing rich on advertising dollars – that clones young women into modern versions of their Women’s Weekly mums.

Freedman says that teenage girls want to empower themselves with knowledge about the next stage of life. But that just means knowledge about boys and sex – not education, careers or travel. And in terms of learning about sex, that education is not well served by a message that links sex appeal to consumption. What appears to be liberal or even radical is driven by a market that exists only to build desire and discontentment in order to sell ‘happiness’. Changing the consciousness of young Australian women? – I don’t think so.

When it comes to undesirable sexual content it’s the internet we should fear, says Freedman. But most kids still get their first taste of soft-to-medium porn in traditional ways, not through new media: flicking through magazines in a shop, watching television without supervision (many Australian children have a tv in their bedroom), or by sneaking a peek at their parents’ bedtime reading, left lying around or kicked carelessly under the marital bed.

Mums, dads and kids are too hung up to talk about sex, according to Freedman, so we should be grateful that Dolly fills the sex education gap. But next time you’re feeling a little shy about broaching ‘doing it’ with your kids, ask yourself if you really want to leave your child’s sexuality to the marketplace.

Trish Bolton is a Melbourne writer whose words have appeared in Overland, The Big Issue, The Age, Sunday Age, Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. Her debut novel, Whenever You're Ready, will be published by Allen & Unwin in February 2024.