A magazine for women that isn't obsessed with making you feel bad about your body image? Shocking, but possibly true, as Abby O'Reilly explains.

, 17 November 2006

These days it seems everyone has advice to give you, despite their inability to solve their own problems. Maybe we have Oprah to thank for this, with the rise in the popularity of the talk show over the last decade propagating a society of pseudo-psychologists, who are ready to systematically analyse and dissect the most intimate aspects of your psyche, before clumsily forcing the pieces back together in an attempt to fit a rigid template, regardless of the incompatibility of the pieces. And that’s all before the lunchtime news, and way before Phil and Fern have had the opportunity to discuss the benefits of depilatory creams and waxing over the conventional ladies shaver. Re-growth takes at least twice as long, apparently. It’s something to think about.

Everyone seems, therefore, to harbour opinions about the way we should behave, and in a culture that actively promotes the process of ‘self-help’ it was only a matter of time before the magazine industry cashed-in on our desire for emotional and spiritual enrichment. It’s not surprising then that, just over a year ago, the powers that be at Hachette Filipacchi UK launched Psychologies, a monthly glossy heralded as ‘an emotional and psychological toolkit for modern life,’ claiming to advocate ‘positive living’ and orientated around ‘what we’re [women] really like, not just what we look like.’ It sounded ideal, finally a magazine we wouldn’t feel guilty about reading whilst sporting our most unflattering pyjamas, adorned with the remnants of last nights make-up and cracking open that second box of Pringles.

a monthly glossy heralded as ‘an emotional and psychological toolkit for modern life’

But were these grand promises too much to expect from a glossy mag? Well, in a word, yes. As was to be expected, the launch attracted the sinister attentions of the sceptics, who, armed with pitchforks, and a small portable gallows, lurked in the shadows, waiting in anticipation for Psychologies to stumble, before pouncing and growing fat on its lifeblood. This threat was real. Psychologies fallen predecessor, Red, was likewise developed to attract ‘third wave women,’ those in the 30-55 year-old age range, who, having outgrown Elle and Marie Claire, were an untapped facet of the female market, floundering in this youth-orientated culture, with their only form of salvation manifest in the tedium of Good Housekeeping. And, if getting older isn’t bad enough, the prospect of having to spend the rest of our days reading about the advantages of the shag pile over the conventional short-haired rug is enough to make anyone want to knee-cap father time before brutally beating him over the head with his walking stick. (Or, at the very least, invest us with the desire to shave off the old boy’s eyebrows while he sleeps.)

But, maybe the critics shouldn’t have been so eager to toss Psychologies onto the funeral pyre. There is, after all, a strong historical precedent illustrating the fulfilment of overly ambitious objectives. Did not a bearded little man once suffer the guffaws of those around when he claimed to be able to cater for a football stadium full of hungry folk armed only with a couple of crusty baps and a tin of John West’s sardines for one? As you’ll remember, no-one went hungry, and just as his ears reverberated with the sound of those around claiming that ‘he’s only gone an done it,’ Psychologies can kick back, relax and take out those plans for that beach house in the Bahamas, secure in the knowledge that they have, indeed, provided something that is a rarity in the celeb-fed consumer market; an intelligent read, offering practical advice to combat real-life problems, completely lacking any preoccupation with wanting to make us Hollywood beautiful, instead focussing on our mental and emotional well-being.

That’s not to say that Psychologies should be heralded as some form of second-coming, certainly not, but what it has done is show that slowly, but surely, changes are being made in the way the mass media feels it can relate to its female readers, which can be done by offering more than five sure-fire tips to enhance your breasts during the bikini season, or ten saucy secrets guaranteed to leave your man begging for more.

completely lacking any preoccupation with wanting to make us Hollywood beautiful

The modesty of Psychologies is reflected in its understated appearance. Unlike the mass of celeb glossies that sit on the shelf with all the subtlety of the fat, drunk uncle who repeatedly subjects everyone to his badly rehearsed rendition of Why Delilah at family weddings, Psychologies is more like the demure, timid grandma who sits in the corner, less noticeable, but who is more likely to slide you a £20 note when you’re least expecting it. With the title inscribed in capital letters across the top of the front cover, in a bold, orange font, set against a white background, aesthetically its unlikely you’d give it a second glance at a disco. But, if you’re willing to give it just a little bit of attention you’re definitely going to want to call it back.

With recent features ranging from a discussion of how to achieve emotional resilience, to advice on how to retain your own sense of independence regardless of the intimate relationships you may form, Psychologies has an astute awareness of the needs of its female readers, offering comfort and reassurance instead of, like its brassy contemporaries, propagating a negative self-image and sense of inadequacy.

It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that high-powered business women popped to the rest room between meetings with a cigarette in one hand and a copy of Psychologies in the other for a quick confidence fix before their afternoon interrogation by their balding, middle-aged boss. Regular sections include replies to letters from readers, interviews with celebrities, such as the actress Kristin Scott Thomas, and a ‘what makes you tick?’ feature in which celebrities are asked a number of questions pertaining to their mental well-being, with Kiefer Sutherland among the list of stars who have been showcased. These are not only some of the most interesting aspects of the magazine, but they also help generate a sense of a wider community, with the possibility of the reader being able to empathise with those shown dissolving the sense of isolation often experienced by women with a problem, who find it hard to understand that others may also be feeling the same way.

it offers comfort and reassurance instead of a negative self-image and sense of inadequacy

The recent cultural shift with regards to the role of women in society means that we are increasingly made to feel insecure, occupying a dichotomous position owing to the expectations placed upon us to fulfil our traditional role as homemakers, whilst as the same time we are being pressurised to achieve professional success under the threat of being branded failures if we aren’t able to do so. It’s not surprising, then, that there has been a boom in the ‘self-help’ industry over the last few years, with publishing companies exploiting our insecurities for their own financial aggrandisement. The main point of contention with these self-help books is the assumptions made on the part of the authors that they can solve our individual crises without an awareness of the minutiae of our personal relationships or mental machinations. They strip us of any sense of individuality, instead assuming that like a cheap TV set from Curry’s, the answers to all our problems can be located between the pages of an impersonal instruction manual.

Psychologies, however, does not profess to be the bright beacon of light, banishing the black spectre of regret raining heavily overhead, and illuminating the right path. Instead, it draws on general themes relevant to everyday life, such as anxiety, stress, lack of confidence and paranoia, offering practical advice, which can be assimilated by all regardless of their unique circumstances. It’s refreshing to be provided with options of how to deal with these problems, instead of being categorically instructed how to conduct ourselves, as if we are living in a police state where all the men have moustaches and all the women have basin cuts.

The main strength of Psychologies is that it does show an appreciation of our need to retain a sense of individual being, with the emphasis placed on you and not those around you. It is a welcomed diversification from other popular glossies, which put disproportionate importance on the increasingly urgent need for us to pair up and procreate, as if being a wife and mother are the epitome of the female existence, and something to which we should all fundamentally aspire. Granted, a lot of the articles are unlikely to interest you if you’re not in their target demographic, such as a recent feature discussing methods to make your child acclimatise to the classroom again following the summer vacation, but on the whole, Psychologies is an inspiring read, and if you don’t mind missing out on your monthly insight into Paris Hilton’s wardrobe, then it’s something you’ll enjoy.

Abby O’Reilly is a 22-year-old Cambridge graduate with a love of reading and a strong penchant for tweed. She admittedly has a strong aversion to cooking, and anything domestic for that matter, but nevertheless continues to be overwhelmed by the versatility of the potato.

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