We Can Do Better

Designer Shows Girls’ Life How To Get Real

It started when Katherine Young ’09 (BFA graphic design) saw a Facebook post comparing the covers of the September 2016 Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life magazines, demonstrating the differences of what is communicated to young tween boys and girls via the media.

Boys’ Life promoted exploring the future and reaching career goals with images of a microscope, satellite and computer, while the Girls’ Life magazine headlines read: Wake up pretty, Your dream hair, My first kiss, and Fall fashion you’ll love, accompanied, of course, by a photo of a blonde-haired beauty – actress and model Olivia Holt.

Young’s first impression of the side-by-side comparison was that society is letting down the next generation of girls.

“When you see magazines at point of purchase areas they are grouped by interest. This creates a homogenous view and camouflages the validity of the headlines. ‘Your Best Body’ doesn’t look so bad next to ‘The Little Black Dress You Need Now.’ But when you put ‘Wake Up Pretty’ next to ‘Explore Your Future,’ all of a sudden it is blatantly obvious that we need to do better,” Young said.

Young quickly redesigned her version of Girls’ Life to better represent real girls. She replaced Holt’s picture with Olivia Hallisey, the 2015 Google Science Fair grand prizewinner. Playing off the real headlines, she wrote similar headlines to appeal to girls with well-rounded interests – Girls doing good, Your dream career, and Are you ready for AP class?  

“As a graphic designer, changing the design is an easy way for me to get my voice heard,” she said. “Fixing that cover was an instant, ‘I can do better’ in my mind.”

She showed how to do it better and caused a social media firestorm in the process.

Celebrities Blake Lively and Amy Schumer chimed in; the post trended on Twitter and monopolized Facebook; and she was interviewed by magazines, websites, radio and TV, including the Today Show, MPR and Huffington Post.

Reactions to Young’s post have been overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming. In an MPR interview she said, “I’ve heard from people who are girls’ advocates to the U.N., from women who are front line in the military, and even from a dad saying, ‘You know, I realize I tell my son I’m proud of him and his accomplishments, and I always tell my daughter she’s pretty. I have to be mindful to tell her: Wow, you did a great on this test. Wow, you did great kicking that goal.’”

Young experienced her own mixed bag of empowerment at MSUM.  She says it was often female classmates or professors who discouraged her, including trying to pursue her dream of working for Disney. 

“And unfortunately, after graduating it has also been women in the work place who have tried to sabotage me in my career,” Young said.

Women not supporting one another is a reflection on our society, whether it’s criticizing women for delaying careers to raise children or sabotaging female colleagues in positions of power. 

However, there were many other MSUM faculty and staff who encouraged and supported Young, including Professors Allen Sheets and Thomas Anstadt and the late university graphic designer Dave Wallace.

“They never cast doubt on my goals. I tried for seven semesters to get a professional internship with Disney and they were behind me the entire way. I applied over and over and over and over again and failure after failure didn’t deter me,” Young said. “That work ethic I learned got me to Disney where I spent four years in Communications and Marketing. That same work ethic

is the reason I was set up for this post to go viral. I have over 180 blog posts at this point and only one went viral. But if I hadn’t learned to work consistently, it never would have happened.”

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to make an impact and challenge long-held norms. Young spent only 10 minutes on re-creating the Girls’ Life cover before and after comparison. It simply takes the desire to make the world a better place.

“I am going to do my best to encourage every girl and every woman around me to pursue their goals and dreams. No matter how lofty,” Young said. “Because I can do better.”


This story was first published in Moorhead Magazine, Spring 2017.

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