As a snobby English graduate, I always thought of women’s magazines as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Trashy as hell, of course, but strangely compelling. Against all reason, the components that make up every ‘women’s lifestyle’ publication – lacklustre pseudo-journalism, that smell of cheap ink on cheap paper, the shameless ‘advertorials’ – together create something that is inexplicably appealing. It wasn’t until a few months ago when the blog The Vagenda launched – a site that began life essentially just to call bullshit on all the tripe that’s peddled to us by the women’s lifestyle press – that I realised how insidiously vapid these magazines are. How did they do that!? There’s no way I’d take this kind of crap from anything not sandwiched between zillions of glossy adverts with Eva Longoria’s grinning mug on the front cover. I guess it’s because we start young, squirrelling away copies of Mizz and Shout, before progressing to the bigger, trashier magazines. Since then, though, I’ve become really conscious of how dull, repetitive and offensive they are. I’m embarrassed it’s taken me this long.
To prove my point, here are the worst things about women’s magazines. And the chances are you’ll find all of them in every single magazine you pick up.
NB: The only time it is okay to buy these magazines is when they’re giving out bangin’ freebies, like when Glamour comes with a free Benefit product. I recycled twenty of their magazines that day.
Standard ‘Women’s Lifestyle’ Magazine Features
I actually quite like adverts in magazines, or at least those that are clever or beautiful or funny or different. For instance, the hand-drawn illustrations for Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Cheeky Alice’ fragrance are charming and whimsical. Bit of a shame it smells of death, but I guess you can’t have it all. I don’t even mind too much that most adverts are Photoshopped to fuck and back, because they are adverts and nobody wants anyone less than perfect hawking their stuff. But do they have to go so mental with the airbrushing? I mean, a little bit is understandable; we’re all grown-ups and know it’s not a true reflection of the model (there’s an argument that younger people don’t, though, but that’s a whole different post). But I’m not in any way enticed to buy things by adverts featuring images so enhanced they’re more illustrations than photographs. Am I going to buy foundation when the model’s skin has been clearly shopped? No. How about mascara where the model’s been photographed using ‘lash inserts’? Still no. If it’s so fucking good, why not try it WITHOUT pieces of hair stuck to your eye lids? Does Cheryl Cole make me want to buy L’Oreal shampoo? Absolutely not, but it does make me want to spend £8000 on hair extensions (jokes, I’d rather set fire to £8000 than have somebody else’s hair glued on to my scalp. Eurgh.)
“They’re not fake, they’re mine. And they’re outrageous,” says Gwen Stefani (allegedly) in the print ad below for L’Oreal False Fibre mascara. Bollocks! The only outrageous thing here is the unashamed display of utter bullshit. They haven’t even used ‘natural’ looking inserts, these are full-blown Scouse-style genetically-modified spider-leggy falsies! What were they thinking!? Gwen (clearly a pathological liar) looks great, sure, but the likelihood of me purchasing this mascara based on this ad is slimmer than a Mini-Milk’s chances in Hell. Does this work on anyone? It must do, or they wouldn’t keep doing it. But how? And why?
Here’s a tip: men are not homogeneous. Like women, cats and most other mammals, their personalities and natures differ from person to person. Some are dickheads, many are not. Some will fancy you and some won’t. Unfortunately, there is no way to say for certain whether someone will text you or not. It hinges on many factors, least of all that he’s got a Y chromosome. Maybe he’s busy. Maybe he’s shit at replying to messages or maybe he just doesn’t like you. The magazine has no way of knowing who this man is or who you are or what the situation is. Publishing generic bullshit like ‘MEN DON’T LIKE TALKING ABOUT FEELINGS’ or ‘ALL BLOKES ARE SERIAL-WOMANISERS’ is a) sexist, b) inaccurate and c) embarrassing. If he hasn’t called you after a week, maybe he’s just not that into you. Or maybe you should just call him? IT’S NO BIG DEAL IT’S JUST CALLING.
How To Be a Really Great Shag
Every single month at least one of the so-called women’s lifestyle magazines publishes something about sex positions. This would be fine if it wasn’t the same old tired piece of crap wheeled out month after month. Generally these features centre around the idea that Reverse Cowgirl is some new, exciting technique only just uncovered by sexperts or sexologists or whatever the fuck they’re called. Newsflash, Cosmo, Reverse Cowboy is not ground-breaking. Neanderthals were doing it 30,000 years ago; it was handy when the bloke Neanderthal had been out hunting sabre-tooth tigers all day and couldn’t be arsed to put in any effort. Also because it gave the lady Neanderthal an unparalleled view of the surrounding area in case of wolves, T-Rexes, etc.
These articles are often accompanied by stick-man diagrams which are both very simplistic and horrifyingly, hilariously graphic. They carry captions with phrases like ‘insert penis into Slot B’. I’d like to suggest if you need this sort of guidance then you probably aren’t ready for this level of physical intimacy. And if you do, get yourself on YouPorn or something. And you’re welcome.
So yeah, we get it. Blokes like it when we take our clothes off, play with their balls and sit on their face. But not all of them. And not all the time. After all, not all men are the same (see above), so it could go either way. Unless the so-called scientists who spend their professional lives helping people get their rocks off discover a fabulous new orifice that nobody else has thought of using, I’m not interested. Next.
Is it okay to publicly trash somebody’s body or lifestyle just because they’re famous? Sure, it comes with the territory, and I doubt Scarlett Johansson finds the time to read every magazine article highlighting her cellulite every time she puts on a little weight (or every piece suggesting she has an eating disorder whenever she loses a few pounds), but I just don’t think it’s healthy to be this bitchy. About anything. Now, it’s nice to see pictures of famous people just being themselves and that haven’t been retouched, but unfortunately you don’t sell magazines with a picture of an off-duty Keira Knightley and the caption: “Keira goes out wearing only tinted moisturiser; isn’t it unfair how great she looks au naturel? Good for her!” Journalists instead fall upon images of celebrities’ ‘fuck-ups’ gleefully with a frenzied nastiness I haven’t seen anywhere since the early years of high school. Double page spreads are given over to photographs of unsuspecting famous people with big red rings circling unchecked wobbly bits, unflattering double-chin pictures (we’ve all had ’em) and, on one occasion, Elizabeth Hurley’s ‘wonky little toe’. I shit you not. It seems to be a particular speciality of Heat magazine, but they’re all at it. If you’re sitting on your arse gorging on Walkers Sensations and feeling better about the way you look because Elle MacPherson, someone so genetically gifted she makes millions from her looks, has got a photo where her stomach looks slightly less perfect then usual, then you, I’m afraid, are a sad fuck. Get up. Go outside, get some friends, get a hobby. Find something other than other people’s shortcomings to make yourself feel good.
Repetitive Fashion Features
The fashion and beauty pages used to be the main reason why I bought women’s magazines. Some publications, such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, still have some incredible, creative editorial pieces which are just nice to look at. As, you know, art. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of women’s magazines are just giant, thinly veiled catalogues for Topshop and the gang. I’m actually 90% sure that Jo Elvin, editor of Glamour, is actually Philip Green in a wig because the whole sorry piece of tripe reads like a 300-page advert for the Arcadia group.
Now, I’m probably biased here because I don’t like Topshop or its its imitators and rarely buy from them; I can’t really get a handle on the concept of ‘fast fashion’ and the wasteful, consumerist attitude that comes with it. Not that I’m saying I’m not materialistic or that my wardrobe is filled only with investment pieces and ethical finds – those certainly aren’t true – but buying into trends rather than cultivating your own personal style does nothing except make you look identical to everyone else, fill a lot of landfill and keep Philip Green’s coffers overflowing with (untaxed) revenue. But the most immediate problem is that the fashion pages in most magazines are boring. Where are the new designers just striking out who could use a PR boost but can’t afford to send dozens of freebies to the ‘journalists’ at Grazia? Where are the small independent British labels we should be proud to support? Where are the eco-friendly and ethical designers who use green production methods and pay their workers a decent living wage? Nowhere to be fucking seen, that’s where, and if so it’s as a novelty ‘this item is very green/British/ethical’ item, not as an amazing piece of fashion in its own right. It drives me insane; this is why when you go shopping the stores are rammed with hundreds of identical teenagers milling around like sheep, dressed in exactly the same outfits derived from prescribed ‘trends’. People are compelled to buy ridiculous clothes that don’t flatter their body shapes, just because they’re ‘in’. In fact, I think it’s much more enviable to have a timeless wardrobe that makes your body look smokin’ hot all year round rather than blindly follow the same patterns as everyone else. But that’s just me; clearly millions disagree.
Ludicrous Attitudes to Personal Appearance
One of the most toxic things about women’s magazines is their collective attitude to personal appearance, especially (although not exclusively) in women. I’m not talking about adverts and images of models, incidentally; I think most of us realise that these beautiful people are lucky anomalies (or the product of an artists’ imagination) and don’t get too hung up over them. We realise they’re there for AESTHETICS. They’re there to SELL THINGS and illustrate them in a pleasing way. Everyone likes looking at beautiful things, right? Most of us got conned into doing Business Studies at GCSE, after all, we know that Spotty Normans don’t sell perfumes or designer clothes. What I’m talking about here is the far more subversive way magazines try to get into our minds to tell us that we are Not Enough. Not sexy enough, not confident enough, not attractive enough. And they do this by trying to tell us there are ways to ‘fix’ these imaginary problems.
The weekly glossies are the most odious by far, but almost all ‘women’s lifestyle’ magazines are dreadful to some degree, stuffed with content designed to make women feel bad about themselves but from beneath a flimsy veneer of sisterliness and support. Once a year, Glamour magazine has a ‘body confidence’ issue. Or it might be Cosmopolitan. I forget, they’re all the same. But never mind; hurrah! Except not, because there is nothing inspiring about the trash these magazines are putting out. Their ‘body confidence’ content usually consists of an airbrushed-to-fuck celebrity talking about how they were bullied at school and some butt-naked ‘ordinary’ women grinning inanely and talking about how much they like their tits or their knees or whatever. Fine. But then they follow it up with about thirty adverts for plastic surgery in the back pages. How? HOW IS THIS NOT RAISING MORE EYEBROWS? It’s ridiculous how these self-proclaimed bibles of solidarity and equal rights can harp on about self-esteem and accepting yourself for who you are and then allow cosmetic surgeons to advertise. It would basically be the same as me publishing this blog post and then putting up one of those ‘Cosmo Blogger Award’ badges up in the sidebar. (To anyone considering doing this, please remember that the only reason why magazines have these awards is so that the nominated bloggers – which is basically everyone – put the badges up and drive more traffic to their site. Don’t be their bitch!)
So, to summarise: women’s magazines are tacky, repetitive, moronic, vacuous and, frankly, embarrassing to our entire gender. Not that the blokes are doing much better; Nuts magazine isn’t exactly literary genius. This list is hardly exhaustive, but this post was getting crazy long. I haven’t even touched on the delights of these magazines’ ‘problem pages’, ‘torso of the week’ features (vom) and creepy brushes with paedophilia (thirty-something year old women leching over Justin Bieber – double vom). What else have you noticed? And if you read these magazines, what is it you like about them?