This month the theme for the Feminist Fashion Blogger group is ‘Women in the media and popular culture’. I thought I’d reacquaint myself with the world of women’s/fashion mags. I haven’t bought any such magazines in years, and I only ever read them in doctors waiting rooms, or sometimes on trips when other people have them. I don’t like them because they usually make me want to buy things and make me feel inadequate for not caring that I’m slightly overweight. Or not caring enough to go on a diet and push myself properly in my exercise anyway. I also begrudge paying £4 for something I can read cover to cover in less than an hour, when my £2 Observer keeps me going all week.
So anyway, I thought I’d see what’s up and how women’s/fashion magazines actually do represent women. I am a government social researcher after all, and believe that you should always check what the evidence actually says! So I bought a couple of mags, Glamour (because it was cheap) and Marie Claire (because it came with a Body Shop body butter). I’d intended to get more later, to get a bit more of a representative view of what the magazine market offers, but as usual I ran out of time. So my comments are obviously limited to these two, it might be that if I’d got Grazia or Cosmo things would have looked different.
Because basically, it wasn’t too bad! I was expecting to find lots of shocking to stuff to rant and rave against, and there was some, but I was expecting much, much worse.
There were some questionable articles:
* an article about how funny irresponsible spending is. In this column (In MC), the author was talking about how she’s really very sensible financially, but she has this alter ego who goes round splashing out on designer clothes, make up and nights out. But said alter ego is just so fun, she’ll be penniless but believes life if for living, so hurrah! Not sure that or the idea that bad spending habits are funny and not really the person’s responsibility is helping much with addressing avoidable female shopping debt. And actually goes against advice offered elsewhere in the magazine.
* lots of stuff on diets/getting your dream body. In both magazines, the body is talked about as a project, exercise is for losing weight and Jennifer Aniston is God for having dieted and exercised her ageing limbs into submission. One of the worst articles was ‘your 21-day beach body countdown’, basically an assortment of random diet and exercise tips without any sort of coherence. And completely unsustainable. Don’t eat bread. Don’t eat dairy. Don’t eat pasta. Don’t drink. Eat protein but not too much of it. Do cardio but not too mich of it cos you’ll put on weight round the middle (?). I hate this kind of thing. It’s so irresponsible to encourage short term crash changes in diet/lifestyle/exercise. Some of the diet based articles do mention in passing how long terms changes are better etc, but that’s completely undermined by all this ‘look great now!’ stuff which basically associates looking great with being skinny at all costs. There’s this totally taken for granted assumption that everyone wants to, and should, lose weight and even if they don’t the ideas of wearing a bikini will make them want to.
But there’s some good stuff there too: A feature on domestic violence; something on how to deal with being unemployed when all your friends are carrying on spending as if the recession never happened; 12 pages on a scheme for career mentoring (in MC), where people can win a chance to get matched up with high achieving women to mentor them and improve their careers; a feature on increasing saving and/or reducing debt; a feature on the middle east crisis; a thing on improving your sex life that is genuinely focused on what you do as a couple rather than any ‘how to make him happy in bed’ nonsense.
So I really just wanted to give the magazines credit for picking up some serious issues and trying to move beyond the old stereotypes and purely fluffy content, without turning themselves into the economist. I’m sure the staff on those magazines want to produce something that is relevant and forward thinking and I suppose, feminist.
Though of course the stereotypes lie as much in what isn’t said as what is, and those two women’s fashion magazines are by no means progressive. I am pleased to see that there was nothing on ‘how to please your man’ anywhere, but there’s still an assumption that women are in long term relationships or want to be and that such relationships are with men. And the message on saving and debt is of course somewhat undermined by half the proper pages (the ones that aren’t adverts) being dedicated to shopping, featuring £85 headscarves and £300 bikinis.
And while both magazines assume that readers have goodish jobs and are at least a little bit interested in developing their career, it does seem to be certain kinds of jobs. Out of the 25 mentors in the Marie Claire feature, only one person has a job that isn’t in the lifestyle or media industries (a doctor). Well, possibly two. One person is a business strategist and motivational speaker, but the motivational speaker bit makes me seriously question the business strategist bit. The mentoring does seem to be mainly aimed at people becoming self employed, so I suppose it’s ok for professions such as law that have their own mentoring structures not to be respresented. But why is there no IT related person, scientist or engineer? Lots of people start businesses in those fields all the time, but it seems self employment is only an option for the ladies mag target audience when it involves cupcakes, fashion, make up or low calorie sweets. The mentoring scheme is a lost opportunity really. It just made me think that maybe things haven’t moved on that much after all.
I don’t think I’ll be rushing out for more fashion mags any time soon anyway! Unless somebody can recommend any smaller publications? I am still mouring the demise of the Face in 2004! There seem to be a few US-based ones that are more feminist/progressive, but not as far as I know anything available in the UK.
For the rest of this week’s FFB posts, see the roundup here.
All images via kokojim on flickr.