In the pages of the fall 2001 issue of Teen Vogue, a publication from Condé Nast aimed at preteenage and early-teenage girls, back-to-school fashion spreads and a boy-band interview mix with advertisements for Skechers sneakers, Neutrogena acne cream and L'Oréal lip gloss.
There is also a first for the magazine: a full-page advertisement for Bloussant Breast Enhancement Tablets features a young woman in a bathing suit, her hair wind-tossed and her cleavage prominent. The manufacturer, WellQuest International, describes the herbal potpourri in the ad copy as a "less invasive alternative to cosmetic surgery" which will endow Bloussant customers with "increased cleavage, firmness and fullness." Testimonials in the ad cite the valuable rise in self-esteem and confidence that came with larger breasts.
Seventeen's September issue has a one- quarter page ad for Bloussant tablets on Page 331. It is at least the third ad for for the product the last two years, said Jennifer Maguire, the Seventeen spokeswoman.
Self-esteem and confidence are, of course, important issues for a magazine aimed at teenage girls. But the question of whether bigger breasts will make a teenager or preteenager more confident, and the propriety of running such an advertisement in a magazine catering to a young audience has been cause for debate among the editors and publishers of magazines for teenagers.
After all, teenage girls are old enough to know the difference between advertising and editorial content, some magazine executives argue. On the other hand, others say that the advertised suggestion that bigger breasts are an important component of beauty is objectionable for a young, sometimes impressionable, audience. And as the marketplace for these magazines expands and the teenage population grows, the issue could evolve into a debate about sensitivity in the magazine industry at a time when it is suffering a drought of advertising.
In Teen Vogue, the Bloussant ad is given premium placement, appearing in the first half of the magazine, considered valuable real estate for advertisers because readers pay closer attention to ads near the front of the magazine. Typically, in the rare cases that teenage magazines have accepted such advertising, the ads have run small and toward the back.
Almost all the major magazines aimed at teenage girls do not accept ads for breast-enhancement pills because, their publishers and editors said last week, they do not want to encourage young women to feel that breast size is linked to beauty or self- esteem.
YM, published by Gruner & Jahr, has run occasional quarter-page ads for breast-enhancement tablets in the past, but the new editor, Annemarie Iverson, and publisher, Laura McEwen, who both came aboard last year, decided to refuse the ads. CosmoGirl, published by Hearst Magazines, also rejects the ads, as does Elle Girl, of Hachette Filipacchi, which will introduce its first issue next month. Teen Magazine, published by EMAP USA, a division of Primedia, also refuses to run the ads.
Lynn Lehmkuhl, the president of Teen Magazine, said that under her authority Teen would never accept ads for breast-enhancement products.
"I know I would reject that Bloussant ad, and I hope that everyone else would too," she said. "Teen Vogue's staff is not immersed in knowledge of the teen market, and I don't think they are yet cognizant of the responsibility they have to the teen audience."
Elle Girl, which arrives on newsstands next month, refused the Bloussant ad during the summer. Linda Mason, the publisher, said that the magazine's editor in chief, Brandon Holley, was especially repulsed by it.
"She felt it was fiercely antithetical to the philosophy of the magazine, and so did I," Ms. Mason said. "Brandon is all about celebrating your independence, your individual style, and we felt that the message in that ad was, `You are clearly not perfect the way you are.' It's not an offensive ad, but we just don't think it's right for teenagers."
Amy Astley, the editor of Teen Vogue, said that she was confident her readers know that an advertisement is not an endorsement by the editors.
"I am personally committed to having Teen Vogue promote images of health and well-being for our readers," she said. "I would like to emphasize that this is advertising and not editorial."
Ms. Astley says she does not consult with the publishing side to determine which ads are appropriate for the magazine. Asked if she would mind having the Bloussant ad appear in Teen Vogue again, she said: "I would prefer if it did not."
Teen Vogue's publisher, Richard D. Beckman, declined to comment.
Apart from the propriety of placing the ads, there is little evidence to suggest that the tablets - which cost $229.95 for an eight-week supply, according to the WellQuest Web site - actually achieve what the ad promises. A call to a WellQuest spokesman, Michael Ackerman, was not returned.
While over-the-counter drugs are subject to Food and Drug Administration regulation, herbal supplements are essentially unregulated, assumed safe unless proved otherwise. But the effects of the herbal combinations that make up many supplements have not been studied.
Bloussant Breast Enhancement Tablets consist of four herbal ingredients: don quai, black cohash, fennel seed and saw palmetto. According to a spokeswoman for the F.D.A., the agency has not received complaints about the Bloussant tablets.
But Dr. Bill Gurley, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas College of Pharmacy and the author of several studies on herbal remedies, said that the tablets pose a potentially serious threat of drug interaction. The herbal concoction could have adverse side effects when taken with other medications a teenager might be taking, like antihistamines or birth control pills, and lessen or intensify the efficacy of the prescribed drugs.
"And on top of that, I would say that the possibility they increase breast size is slim to none, " he said. "The likelihood that you're going to go from an A to a C or D is remote. And with young girls, body image is a big deal and they fall prey to some of that stuff."
Alex Kuczynski, The New York Times. August 13, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.