Brie Garnett: Teenplicity came about when me and two of my friends, Mary and Loan, looked at the way a lot of media and magazines aimed at teenagers and young adults were marketed. We didn’t like how it feels like we’re supposed to be wooed by flash, gossip, and bright colors instead of the quality and integrity of the content, especially young girls. I remember when I was a preteen looking at magazines and ‘infotainment’ on television and sometimes feeding into that type of stuff and other times wondering why they focused more on what the person was wearing and who they were dating instead of asking questions that, in my opinion, allowed celebrities to express themselves and establish their platform and who they are. So about two years ago, we all just came together in a chatzy, looking at Naked Magazine as a strong influence, and created the website after we booked our first interview. It’s really exciting to me because we get so many amazing people to talk to who all look at their careers and the world a little differently, and their fans are so supportive and like to send us their questions which is great since we’re still fairly new and establishing who we are.
F: You’ve been lucky enough to interview a variety of young female stars. Who was your favorite person to interview and why?
BG: They’re all so amazing! I remember my very first phone interview was with Nikki Yanofsky and I was rushing out of my sign language class when it happened so I was incredibly nervous and frantic, I had no idea what I was supposed to do or how it would go, but she was so sweet that I’m pretty sure around the time we had to wrap the interview, I was sad because I wanted to just keep talking. It’s so great getting to talk to young female stars specifically because I feel like they get the most thrown at them in terms of slander. They’re not allowed to be normal teenagers without a million news articles attempting to drag them through the mud or people on social media wanting to trash them because their image isn’t “squeaky clean” so whenever I get the opportunity to speak with a young female star I’m usually super excited because it is a huge responsibility to me. Young female stars deserve so much better than they usually receive and they have to work so much harder for the approval their male counterparts get, it’s really unfair. I think two of my favorite recent interviews were Yara Shahidi from Black-ish and Ana Golja from Degrassi because I’m a huge fan of both shows and of the girls characters. It was especially exciting getting to talk to Yara about the industry’s need to include more diversity and representation, seeing her fans so proud of her for speaking up and voicing her opinion was just really awesome.
F: What do feminism and social justice mean to you in a youth context?
BG: When I was younger, I used to think feminism and social justice was a lot simpler than it really is. Feminism was me being able to look at myself and know that as a girl I deserve to be given the same opportunities and respect as any boy, but when I was younger it felt almost radical to say. I think people thought something was wrong with me because I often found myself saying things like, “so what if they are gay?” or “that’s rude/offensive,” which now are pretty common things to say, but when I was a preteen, I always felt like I should feel a little bit of shame for being a feminist or for wanting to accept people different from me. I want our youth to never have to feel that way. Now that I’m 19, I love that there are young girls like Rowan Blanchard and Amandla Stenberg being proud feminists and being willing to speak out and voice their opinions. There are a lot of layers within feminism and social justice, and I don’t think you wake up one day completely aware, it’s definitely a process, but for youth, especially young girls I think one of the most important steps towards embracing feminism is unlearning this idea that other girls are your competitors and that boys are somehow better or determine our worth. It makes getting through your teen years so much easier if your main focus is being someone that you love and learning to accept yourself instead of allowing society and other boys to pit you against another girl. For social justice, I think for youth it starts with realizing that different isn’t bad, just because someone is different from you doesn’t mean they deserve to be mistreated and to understand that everyone has different experiences and has gone through some things, I think you need to be willing to help others and know when to step up and step back. It’s a lot of unteaching and being real with our youth.
F: You mentioned that you work with the Chicago youth group branch of Scenarios USA. How are they working to increase social awareness for teens?
BG: We’re working hard to use social media and the arts in order to increase social awareness. The exciting thing about working with Scenarios and the Chicago Media Corps is that almost all of our stuff is created with input from teens. The scripts for the movies that Scenarios puts into schools comes from actual teenagers, it’s not adults attempting to be relatable and we don’t come to the table with this idea that we have our lives entirely together, we’re still learning and I think that’s a really effective tool towards getting more teens involved. As strange as it sounds, when I was in high school I remember always being a little iffy of adults that came in telling us about how put together their life was, it made me want to shy away because I knew for a fact mines wasn’t, I was still learning. It’s less intimidating to become socially aware when you don’t feel like you have to be perfect to succeed. So it’s really cool to showcase that and voice our opinions. We’re currently doing vlogs on our Youtube channel every week and we have a Snapchat campaign called Homies Help Homies where we ask for teens to show us how they help their friends and reach out when they’re in need. Then we have two short films and a curriculum going into schools in the fall which I’m really excited about.
F: You recently co-directed and co-wrote a short film with Scenarios USA (Chicago youth group) about media literacy. Why is media literacy important for young people?
BG: Media literacy is so important for young people because the media affects our way of thinking in so many ways. We constantly have people attempting to tell us how we should feel, what we should wear and other little tweaks that often result in harm, self-hatred, and intolerance. The idea of media literacy isn’t that young people should just hate everything, but question the motives and to analyze. Something as simple as being able to watch a music video or a television show and point out sexism or racism or anything problematic like that helps you to become socially aware and less likely to buy into things like stereotypes. Our short film is about two girls watching television and commenting on what they’re watching, so we got the chance to parody a few things we often see on television through a comical and satirical way, which is great because we know that young people are smart and we know that the only way for us to become knowledgeable about things like this is through exposure and commentary. I think the older generation tends to think we’re not intelligent enough to understand or prefer if we don’t question anything and just follow, which does such a huge injustice to us and our potential.
F: Do you think that using platforms like Teenplicity and Scenarios USA to discuss social issues will enable teens to become more comfortable with their identities?
BG: Absolutely! My favorite things about Teenplicity and Scenarios USA is that with both, we get to look through and deliever our messages in ways that I think a lot of people attempt to steer clear from or villainize. Society likes to devalue art and social media a lot and it probably has to with the fact that teens are so drawn to them. I’ve learned more about identity from social media like Twitter and Tumblr than I ever learned in my high school health class. Through art, social media, and these two platforms, I’ve become more comfortable in my identity and I’m learned to accept myself and become a lot more vocal on situations, so with that in mind, I hope Teenplicity and Scenarios does the same for other teens. At the core, both platforms are really dedicated towards the promotion of honesty and giving a voice. We want to appeal to teens and get them involved in becoming socially aware and self-aware and along the way we want teens that look at us to leave with something valuable and helpful to them.
Brianna (or Brie) Garrett is a fiction writing major in Chicago. She loves the idea of telling a story whether from a book or through TV and movies. She hopes to inspire young girls and spread intersectional feminism while promoting girl empowerment. Brie’s goal is that her work includes well-written and diverse women of color and allows for other voices to be heard. She occasionally blogs on brieberries.tumblr.com and brieberries.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @briebxrries.