Sheryl Plant considers whether, like many women's magazines, Grazia contibutes to women's problems even as it purports to solve them.
For those of you who haven’t already spotted Grazia Magazine at your local news stand, proudly proclaiming to be Britain’s first weekly glossy, you may have missed a publishing phenomenon.
I do enjoy reading glossy magazines and Grazia was no exception. I enjoy such magazines for several reasons; first up they are virtually an all female space, written by women for women. Second, when I have my nose in a magazine everyone around me knows that now is a time where I want to be left alone to relax, it is my time to escape into a world of wealth and scandal. However, Grazia and its relatives have a very contradictory relationship with feminism and some of the issues are by no means lost on me.
magazines like this have a very contradictory relationship with feminism
To be honest, as Grazia looks so much like other magazines of its type (note; Closer, Heat, Hello, Ok, etc) it is quite easy to miss. However, Grazia is leading the way when it comes to fast news and fashion in the magazine world. The latest ‘it’ celebrity adorns its shiny cover every week, coupled with some sensational insider gossip on the star – well the giant, colourful, exclamation spotted cover line suggests sensational anyway. As well as celebrity gossip the magazine includes a whole host of sections; from fashion to health, living, travel, cookery, entertainment, and real life. Which is quite surprising, considering the slim nature of the mag. All of these sections are only a few pages long. Due to its weekly output, they are by no means as extensive as the sections from Grazia‘s monthly counterparts. Yet Grazia is well written, incredibly well designed and very easy to read while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist.
The first issue of Grazia I pick up has a pink title (for girls, I’m sure) although this sometimes changes to yellow on other issues. The cover stories in this issue include a woman’s battle to adopt a baby, a extreme detox trial where the woman lost a stone in seven days (!) and who the richest female star in Britain is (it’s Madonna, worth a whopping £235 million, although I’m sure she’s American).
I find the extreme detox story especially disturbing
Now this doesn’t bode too well from a feminist point of view. In fact, I find the extreme detox story especially disturbing. I turn to the first page, which is an advert for a clothes store, and then look at the contents page, designed to be tantalising and exciting. It draws you in alright. I want to read more (I will get back to the addictive nature of magazines a bit later).
Next up is the ‘news’ section. Which is not so much news but more celebrity gossip, fashion and tidbits, although we are told quite solemnly on one page that smoking cuts ten years from our fertility. Smoking is a horrible habit but I dislike the way this is phrased. It is almost saying ‘Stop smoking ladies, it’s going to harm your babies and you know, your future offspring are the most important thing about you!’ Hmmm, what about (shock, horror) women who don’t want children? Oh that’s fine, you keep smoking and killing yourself.
Fiona McIntosh, Grazia‘s columnist, is quite the breath of fresh air. She discusses abortion and rallies against campaigners who want to get rid of abortion or lower the limit. Fabulous – this is exactly the kind of thing I want to read. After picking up a couple more issues I find that in later columns she sticks up for working mothers and congratulates Jools Oliver for her new book on how to handle the difficulties of motherhood. Is it me or is this magazine obsessed with mothers? Nevertheless, I hope she keeps these kinds of stories going.
McIntosh discusses abortion rights and sticks up for working mothers
Other features include stories about new ‘boho designers,’ a group of teenage girls who happen to have rich, aristocratic parents and enjoy sewing mirrors and beads to skirts, as well as a woman who had £32,600 worth of surgery and then nearly lost her marriage. Then we have the obligatory fashion section, which again, is well laid out and quite fun if you enjoy playing dress up and trying on a different identity every week.
However, I find the obsession with surgery a bit frightening. In one issue Grazia investigates the rising number of 21 year old women who are getting Botox as a preventative measure against aging – ok, I’m 21 and can barely afford my rent, how can these women afford botox?! Grazia initially presents this as shocking, yet includes only three sentences in the two page feature from a plastic surgery consultant who refuses to practice on a woman of that age, as she believes this is too young. When the 21-year-old ‘botox babes’ speak their piece, they come across as rational and pleased with what they have done. Grazia even includes two paragraphs of quotes from a surgeon who actually recommends such a procedure at this age. Is it really a surprise that women of this age are getting such procedures then? We have this huge exploding magazine market, which is so obsessed with how women look; no wonder women feel they have to do certain things just to keep up with the airbrushed beauties in such magazines.
Is it really surprising that young women are having such drastic surgery?
Grazia seems to be feminist with a very little f. It does promote female independence and suggests women should go out to work. It abhors rape and violence against women by presenting grave and sadly written stories of real women’s experiences of such violence. The magazine has also risen money to help women with breast cancer (It begun this particular campaign after Kylies’ diagnosis). However, Grazia, like all women’s magazines, is contradictory and keeps women in the patriarchal box as much as it attempts to set them free.
One issue contains an interview with pregnant starlet Anna Friel, tutting at the fact that she has to lose her baby weight for a film three months after the birth. This makes absolutely no sense if we consider the earlier story about how to lose a stone in a week, as well as other features, such as ‘diet like a man and lose a 12ibs in two weeks.’ Somebody really should point out to Grazia that men don’t diet (well, I don’t know a single one on a diet anyway) because they are not put under the same amount of pressure to be thin as woman are.
Grazia promotes female independence but suggests you should wear certain things to get a man and that getting a man and having a baby is the only way you can ever be truly content in life. They rarely present stories from a lesbian or bisexual perspective, yet don’t mind printing gossip about beautiful Hollywood lesbian couples such as Ellen and Portia De Rossi.
getting a man and having a baby is the only way you can ever be truly content
Grazia, with its ‘buy now!’ and ‘get it before it goes!’ pages, connects all forms of femininity with consumerism and, like consumerism, is a bit of a drug. As I mentioned previously, Grazia is designed to draw you in; once you read the first page you can’t stop, you must read more. In addition, Grazia, like many other women’s magazines, is constituted around women’s feelings of inadequacy. Not thin enough? Buy these clothes to hide it. Skin not clear/shiny/smooth enough? Buy this wonder product. Not popular enough? Buy these cool bracelets/sandals/whatever, then everyone will love you. So even though you are now in mountains of debt, you are trapped in your addiction for more gloss, glamour and miracle products. Before anybody starts to think I’m going too far here, consider the figures. I read in another glossy mag recently that 87% of women aged between 18-24 are in some kind of consumer debt. I find it quite ironic that this particular mag grimly discussed the statistics without acknowledging that they if fact could be part of the problem in regard to such spending, but that is a whole other article.
Don’t expect too much from Grazia, especially from a feminist perspective, and don’t by any means take it seriously, apart from maybe Fiona McIntosh’s column. It is a nice bit of light-hearted trash, fun, and amusing. The health, travel and living sections are all very interesting reads and whoever reviews the films (it is a travesty that her name isn’t given) has got it pretty much spot on every week. Not forgetting the cookery section, some of the recipes from Gordon Ramsey’s wife Tana are really scrumptious, especially the cappuccino soufflé. Which would be a nice and cheesy metaphor for the magazine itself; light, airy and grown up, but look a little deeper and there isn’t that much there. Grazia is a nice escape from reality but there is more to women than this.