Teen Temptation

It’s not easy to take a stand. Up in his 14th-floor office, Abel* knows this. Three months ago, Abel, the celebrated editor of a weekly magazine in New York, told a reporter for the New York Times that he had given up on social trend stories–the staple of his magazine’s feature well–saying they felt “phony” to him. “I’m trying to find a way to make them real,” Abel said.

But then, this week, there they were: three teenage girls named Sophie, Audrey, and Lana–”names have been changed ‘because otherwise our parents will freak’”–crawling through the city’s boites, hunting men twice their age. Right there on page 40, with their faces cropped out of the picture. Telling stories of other teen girls “sleeping with this married guy in his forties” or “skinny-dipping in a rooftop pool with some gray-haired guy.”

The writer, Donald*, had even supplied a vintage number-free nut graph: “Such is the secret life of a certain New York girl: precocious, a touch lonely, alienated by boys her age, and eager to trade in the husk of adolescence for the facade of womanhood by spending a few nights a week in places she’s technically not allowed to go.”

Places like Abel’s magazine? In an e-mail, Abel said his magazine “has always been in the business of publishing trend pieces, and will continue to be, provided they’re true and accurate.”

Abel pressed on, electronically, defending the girls. Defending the girls and the trend piece–together, with their dewy, plausible-if-you-don’t-look-too-close charms. “In this case,” Abel wrote, “we weren’t making grand claims that there are armies of girls like them, though we doubt they’re alone out there. But the point is that we’re happy to make such claims when we think we can support them.”

(*Names have been changed to protect identities.)

–Gabriel Sherman