opinion

Mia Freedman: "A love letter to Dolly and the Dolly editor who changed my life."

Dolly taught you what an orgasm was. Cleo taught you how to have one. Cosmo taught you how to fake one.

I first heard that joke told by Peter Fitzsimmons, husband of Dolly’s iconic editor, Lisa Wilkinson and I’ve told it myself many times since. I do it to illustrate a point that can be hard for anyone under 30 to understand: before the Internet, before social media and texting, magazines were how women created communities.

We evolved through different titles according to our age and the information we needed about our lives. Because quite simply – and this is important – you couldn’t get that information anywhere else.

Click through to see some of our all-time favourite Dolly Magazine covers. (Post continues…)

Information about sex, our bodies, relationships, boyfriends, STDs, pregnancy, abortion, pimples, domestic violence, eating disorders, celebrities, make-up, contraception, friendships, career, feminism, fashion……light and shade, frivolous and life-saving, helpful and intensely personal. Women’s magazines have always held a special place for Australian women of a certain age and none more so than Dolly.

For those of us in our thirties and forties and even fifties, Dolly was everything. A life-line. A best friend. A glimpse into our future. A confessor. A teacher. A big sister.

I had none of those things when I started reading Dolly and Dolly provided them all. I would have been about 11 or 12 and Dolly seemed impossibly glamorous and exciting and I counted down the days until the next issue arrived at my local newsagent. Lisa Wilkinson was the editor and she looked like this at the time:

I was instantly smitten. Back then, in the 80s, editors weren't imposing figures of impossible glamour. Lisa was real. Lisa was a regular girl with a dream job: editing the most influential magazine for girls in Australia.

Of course in many ways she wasn't regular at all. She landed that job aged 21 which was unheard of at the time and has never happened since. Lisa was a wunderkind; gifted with a talent for understanding what girls and women wanted simply by looking through their eyes and staying true to her roots as a suburban girl from Campbelltown who had never gone to uni.

Lisa was my hero. I fell in love with magazines and with her. Dolly Doctor, in particular, under Lisa's leadership, became the primary source of sex and health education for millions of Australian girls (and smart boys who snuck their sister's copies).

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Where else could we read about what it meant if one of our breasts was bigger than the other? Or if we didn't have our periods yet even though all our friends did and we were 14. Or if we heard in the playground that you could get pregnant from kissing. Or whether it was OK for a boy at school to put his hand up our dress if we said no?

LISTEN: Mia Freedman sits down with Lisa Wilkinson for No Filter. (Post continues...)

The letters to Dolly Doctor were never made up. They didn't have to be. When I became editor-in-chief of Dolly in the 00's, I saw the letters myself. They were still coming into the magazine's office every day even though the Internet, texting, mobile phones and search were making the acquisition of information far easier and able to be done in relative privacy.

And it's important to say that those letters were never answered by Dolly staff. What did we know? There were always a couple of different Dolly Doctors - a psychologist and an adolescent health expert - who wrote carefully worded and considered responses to every letter chosen to be published.

In the 80s, the Dolly I read was edited by Lisa and introduced me to a world of models I worshipped. Alison Brahe, Anna Louise Gould, Angelique Bennet and of course Sarah Nursey who - to my daily astonishment - went to my school (she quit modelling before she left school and went on to become a police officer). She was a couple of years older than me and I used to gaze at her wistfully in the library, not quite able to believe that such a goddess walked among us and that via Sarah, I was miraculously just a couple of steps removed from Lisa Wilkinson herself.

I knew from age 12 that my goal was to get into magazines and in particular, into Lisa's orbit. It would be many years until I realised that dream but I got there and I never looked back. My time in magazines were my grounding in women's media where I've remained my entire adult life all the way to co-founding Mamamia.

There's more than a little of Dolly's DNA in Mamamia. And a lot of Lisa Wilkinson's.

Vale Dolly.

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