the younger the better when it comes to advice
From the Dear Abby days, when the advice column rose to prominence, we’ve always turned to older voices rich in “life experience” to solve our dilemmas and inspire us to get through life’s troubles. But with issues in modern feminism changing the types...
It's hard to imagine a millennial sitting down and writing to her local newspaper's advice column. In the age of social media people post their issues as Facebook statuses and Twitter blasts instead of as questions to anonymous auntie types. But a misplaced "like" on your frustration or nervousness doesn't really get you anywhere, does it? Sometimes, you yearn for the guidance of someone you trust. The need for trusted advice never went away, but attention on it is back, and the face of the movement is younger. It's a new generation that wants answers, and it's a new generation giving them.
Log onto any social media site and you'll see the impact Dunham's videos are making. She's bringing the advice column back in a new, big way, for a generation that never knew stalwarts like Dear Abby.
As she's often dubbed the voice of her millennial generation, it's no surprise that Lena Dunham's advice series on YouTube to promote her new book Not That Kind of Girl (partly based on an advice book that inspired Dunham, Helen Gurley Brown's Having It All) is an instant hit. Lena has become a household name because of her candor and her relatability. She's not just the cover girl, she's the real girl. The move from expressing her views in books or TV shows to talking directly to her fan base seems natural. Even Dunham's fictional work has always had an undertone of speaking to her audience with an "it's okay to live life your way, be different and figure it out" message. Lena imparts frank wisdom like your best friend, telling a girl who sleeps with terrible guys, "You have to love yourself to love someone who's going to love you...When you feel a lot of negativity toward yourself, you're almost sexually attracted to people that are going to reflect that back at you." Dunham also touches on feminism, deals with mental illnesses like OCD, feels sympathy toward those who may have bullied you and ponders better sex, mortality and jealousy in friendships.
Log onto any social media site and you'll see the impact Dunham's videos are making. She's bringing the advice column back in a new, big way, for a generation that never knew stalwarts like Dear Abby. Before, it was assumed that the more life experience one has, the more qualified that person is to give guidance. Voices of advice have traditionally been mature writers, usually women. Think of the most famous column in the US, Dear Abby, started by Pauline Phillips in 1956 (and still carried on by her daughter). Her twin sister, Esther Lederer, was the almost-equally famed Ann Landers. Generations grew up on Dear Abby's no-nonsense advice, with its polite and traditionalist bent. A recent reply to a fourteen year-old asking if she needed to write thank-you notes read, "Listen to your mother because she's trying to tell you something important. When people do something nice for you, their thoughtfulness and generosity should be acknowledged with a written thank-you." While sending thank you notes is sound advice, Abby sounds more like an elderly teacher than a cool friend
For an even more direct comparison to Dunham, think of her mentor, Nora Ephron. Ephron, like Dunham, wasn't a career advice columnist, but rather a jack of all written trades: journalist, screenwriter, novelist, director, essayist, and so on. While quips of guidance were laced through her writing as soon as she graduated college and started working as a reporter, her words became deeply revered life mantras toward the end of her career. Collections of some of her most memorable quotes were published far and wide after her death in 2012, featuring gems like: "Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim." Once again, Ephron shared the irreverence and candor that draw millions to advice-givers, but she had lived a full life before people started latching onto her tips.
A game-changer had to come along to show us what we were needing in the guidance realm, namely, youth and relevancy. That game-changer may have been Cheryl Strayed, with her beloved "Dear Sugar" column for The Rumpus. Strayed is widely known for her memoir Wild, documenting her solo 1,100 hike on the Pacific Crest, which is being made into a film starring Reese Witherspoon. Strayed wasn't quite as young as Dunham or the even younger Tavi Gevinson, another guidance giver, when she entered the advice arena. She took over "Dear Sugar" in 2010 at age 41. But Strayed conveyed a sense of listening in her column. She was there for you, not a mysterious voice from a faraway newspaper telling you what to do.
In a piece on Strayed called "The Advice Columnist We Deserve," The New Yorker writes: "The advice columnist emerged as a figure who wrote mainly for female audiences and encouraged propriety, manners, and practicality. But the emergence of feminism made the questions, and the answers, more complicated…if Strayed's popularity is any indication, readers today are hungering for something more intimate."
Gevinson is only 18 years old, but women 10 years older than her and then some (as well as Gevinson's fellow teenagers) are taking her wise words to heart... she has become famous for her effortless candor and her down-to-earth, girl power approach.
The complexities of the 00s has required different, immediate, answers. Strayed delivered by not just providing hard answers. Instead, she encouraged self discovery and new ways of thinking. In response to a woman seeking help deciding between the man she'd fallen in love with online and the husband she had young children with, she asked, "Do any internal alarm bells go off when you hear yourself say that a man you've known almost exclusively online in the course of a year-long off-and-on illicit affair makes you feel "complete"? Anything go beep, beep, BEEP! when you review the portion of your letter in which you mention in passing that you and your husband had "sort of improved things until" you began your affair?" Dear Abby this was not. Fresh voices like Strayed's paved the way for younger personalities to give advice because they are relatable people who are going through messes alongside us.
Gevinson is only 18 years old, but women 10 years older than her and then some (as well as Gevinson's fellow teenagers) are taking her wise words to heart. The fashion blogging prodigy, magazine editor, and actor has become famous for her effortless candor and her down-to-earth, girl power approach. Gevinson's advice, doled out in videos, Reddit AMAs and articles in her Rookie magazine, encourages readers to be themselves, but not in that cheesy "everyone is special" way. Taking the unpretentious tone that is making younger advice-givers such a commodity, Gevinson seems to want readers to stop worrying themselves with what they're supposed to do and do what they want to do.
And it's not just young celebrities like Lena and Tavi that are dispensing advice: it's also your neighbour, your niece, and possibly you. The legions of young people that grew up with the girl-power, DIY ethos of sites like Rookie are bringing their personal brand of advice to the Internet.
With issues like feminism, relationships, and friendships in a world ruled by social media, younger voices giving advice can feel more relatable and therefore trustworthy. And now more than ever, it seems we're looking to relate to and trust someone rather than feel like they know better than us because they've lived longer. Or simply type "how to break up with your boyfriend" into YouTube to see just how crowdsourced advice has become.
Text Courtney Iseman
Photography Todd Cole
Styling Jessica Paster
Hair David Gardner at Solo Artists
Make-up Jo Strettell at The Magnet Agency using Perfekt
Photography assistance Alex Aristei
With special thanks to the Casa del Mar, Santa Monica
[From The Wise Up Issue, i-D No. 322, Winter 2012]