Ageing not allowed, says Heat

// 14 June 2008

Heat magazine can be downright irritating, but for some reason I still read it (if only to grissle about it afterwards). I do, of course, take the majority of the articles with a pinch of proverbial salt, otherwise I’d be up all night every night thinking about how to achieve that size 0 figure and having panic attacks over a potential vpl (visible panty line).

But I found an article in this week’s issue particularly irritating. Some cheeky young scamp scrambling around for a story at Heat towers thought it would be a good idea to take five supermodels, women considered among the most beautiful in the world, and discuss how they are (drum roll, please) “Supermodels Losing Their Looks.”

The list of models, their ages and alleged aesthetic offences are, in no particular order, as follows:

1. Eva Herzigova, 35: “Lost her boobs” and “now looks a shadow of her former self.”

2. Helena Christensen, 39: “Looking gaunt” and “tired-looking…is the face of the less-glamorous Ariel washing powder.”

3. Naomi Campbell, 38: “Hairline receding” and “her famous mane is looking thinner than ever.”

4. Linda Evangelista, 43: “Plumped up” and “has now scaled down her modelling work to focus on motherhood.”

5. Kate Moss, 34: “Worn and haggard” and “she’s recently been dropped by Agent Provocateur in favour of a younger model.”

The photographic evidence is poor, and being more than ten years younger than the youngest of these “old” supermodels I would be more than happy to wake up in the morning in ten, twenty years time to see their faces smiling back at me. They are still very attractive women, who must be in possession of shrewd business sense to a certain extent to have been able to have had such lucrative careers in an industry that is littered by pretty faces and girls and young women who believe they are “the next big thing.” Yet, they are berated for their appearance in the most base and superficial manner, and while I understand that these are women whose looks have been a saleable commodity, I do wonder if Heat is just for needlessly filling a two-page spread with this downright boring feature. So what if Christensen is looking “tired?” She has a small child and is probably still doing more shoots than I’ve had hot dinners, so I think that, as a being made of flesh and bone, she is entitled to let her exhaustion become physically apparent during her personal time, if that’s ok.

The “report” also espouses a derogatory attitude towards motherhood, with the implication that Evangelista has plumped up (and thus lost the beautiful looks that made her a household name in the first place) a result of her decision to swap the limelight in favour of looking after her small child. The implication is that it’s impossible to be attractive and a mother, and you can almost hear the collective sigh from the editorial staff emanating from the line “to focus of motherhood” as if it was not a legitimate reason to give up a career, but a weak excuse for those who can’t cut it.

So what’s the general consensus? I suppose there’re two ways to interpret this: firstly, by showing that women in the limelight, women who have made careers for themselves out of the way they look, are also susceptible to physical changes emanating from lifestyle choices and ageing does perhaps demonstrate that we are not “imperfect” or “unattractive” for not being able to imitate the flawless perfection promoted on bill boards by models. It also, to an extent, highlights the air-brushed fantasy that is corporate advertising. Or, rather, by suggesting that these women are in some way “flawed,” something that the vast majority of us will be unable to recognise from the “proof” presented, does this instead foster a sense of “inferiority” in those of us who are not what would be considered traditionally beautiful, and are just ordinary women getting on with our everyday lives? Personally, I am more inclined towards believing the latter, and I do wonder what sort of thought processes result in utter rubbish like this being published in the first place. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Comments From You

Nina // Posted 15 June 2008 at 1:33 pm

I think that if you’re going to read this magazine and possibly buy it then you’re part of the problem. You don’t need to read Heat every week to know that it publishes articles that hate women’s bodies in every issue. If no one bought this magazine it wouldn’t exist so why are you contributing to a problem that feminists everywhere perceive as huge in western society?

I’m sorry if this seems like an attack but if you’re consistently reading Heat you can’t criticise its approach like this because this is the primary purpose of the magazine, it pretty much only highlights flaws in famous women.

Abby O'Reilly // Posted 15 June 2008 at 2:21 pm

Hi Nina, thanks for your comment. I just wrote a response but my connection died, so I don’t think it was published, so here we go…Firstly, I wouldn’t define myself as a “consistent” reader owing to the infrequency with which I read the magazine. Nor would I consider myself as “contributing to the problem” as a critical reader. Yes, you are right, women’s magazines are a malady in the twenty-first century western world, I agree. However, I also personally feel, as a woman who believes in women’s rights, that it would be irresponsible to ignore their existence instead of facing the problem head on. Yes, I occassionally read Heat. And yes, I occassionally read a variety of other women’s magazines. I find it interesting from time to time to look and remind myself the extent to which publications disect and objectify famous women, as this undoubtedly has a detrimental affect on the body-image of a large portion of the female reading population. Is it not then more responsible to have a greater idea of the gravity of the problem we are dealing with rather than pretending it does not exist? And why can I not (as a paying reader) critcise this magazine just because, in essence, it was created to “highlight flaws in famous women?” Surely this should make the exercise more worthwhile rather than making Heat immune to analysis? I hope this answers your query.

Nina // Posted 15 June 2008 at 6:38 pm

Abby, I don’t feel that it’s a valid response because in buying a magazine you condone its existence. Heat is a retail magazine, one of the few in this country that actually pays for itself through retail copies. Clearly that means it’s popular, clearly women like looking at pictures of each other looking less than glamorous but Heat, above any magazine has created a culture where bodies that are less than perfect are sneered at. You don’t have to like that, you can complain about it but that doesn’t detract from the fact that you’re helping create it. You’re not irresponsible if you don’t read this rag, you’re not funding it. Do you go into your newsagent and buy Nuts and excuse yourself by saying its feminist research when you’re already aware of the level of objectification in its pages? The truth is that you’re part of Heat’s ABC figures now and recognised as a demographic that purchases the magazine part time and as long as there are thousands of people who do that every week it will continue to exist and do what it does now. Why would the editorial staff, owners of the magazine or anyone else regard your criticism (or anyones criticism) as truly meaningful when they just keep buying it?

Incidentally Heat had an average circulation (that’s retail, subscription and free copies) of 533,034 for each issue as of 2007 and it’s weekly.

Abby O'Reilly // Posted 15 June 2008 at 7:43 pm

Hiya Nina, thanks for your response. While I did not anticipate this post precipitating a discussion of my motives, I am happy to talk about this, although I think this we are going to have to agree to disagree. I wouldn’t say I am so much as condoning its existing, but recognising that it does exist. As you say, Heat is a hugely influential publication and has helped perpetuate a culture where one is scrutinised and ridiculed for any perceived imperfection. Therefore, as I said in my intial response, I thnk it would be irresponsible not to recognise this and ignore its existence (which is essentially what you are saying I should do). I don’t critique the magazine confident that the editorial staff will see this and think, yes, let’s change focus. I critique the magazine so that if women who read Heat happen to read what I have written they have a different perspective to interpret the stories without believing that the inferiority promoted by the magazine is right and just. I find your argument slightly difficult to digest because on the one hand you position me as a non-entity, as someone whose opinion doesn’t actually matter, but on the other hand you accuse me of single-handedly perpetuating the survival of the publication even though you refer to the huge circulation figures in your message. In short, if I was writing an article looking at the objectification of women in lad’s mags then yes, I would buy a copy of those magazines because I like to be able to substantiate and argument with actual evidence rather than makin sweeping generalisations of how they denigrate women. However, I do think that comparison was slightly awkward. I am an individual who, superficially, would be in the target demographic – a young woman in my 20s. As such I see no harm occassionally purchasing the magazine to see what they are pedalling to the masses, and cannot understand why someone would have a problem with any sort of challenge being made against it? I would not, however, be the atypical Nuts reader. I understand your argument that the whole premise of Heat is to rip celebrity women to shreds, but I can’t understand why you think it should just be ignored for the same reason.That is not going to make it go away because, as you say, the readership is substantial. I’m not saying one blog post will, but I would rather be criticising it than not.

Elizabeth // Posted 16 June 2008 at 12:36 pm

I have only just recently plucked up the courage to write online about these things that drive me nuts every day so please bear with me if I’m a bit incoherant. I’m kind of bursting to speak out on stuff before my head bursts. On the “aging is not acceptable for women” issue, we in New Zealand have a TOTALLY insufferable series of ads on TV currently, for Lotto (lottery). It depicts an OLD, GREY, WRINKLY, dithery old man who has been reminiscing on his various lost “loves” from war time (who of course are stunning dreamy sexy beauties of 20something). Having won Lotto, he goes in search of them all over the world, only to be repulsed by the discovery that *gasp* *shock* they have AGED and are now OLD, GREY, WRINKLY. In the various ads in the series, we are shown how repugnant the woman now is, she has ‘old woman’s’ knickers hanging on the line, or her door is answered by a stunning beauty, only for the old man to discover this is actually her granddaughter and she is HIDEOUS, she has a creased and squashed up old face with no teeth, repugnant enough for him to drop his bunch of flowers and run for his life. If these ads existed in a climate that was anything other than the one we currently have (ie overly sexualised, young “beautiful” women accompanied by a miriad of normal, ordinary, overweight, old, grey, blemished men; with the complete non-existence of REALLY ordinary women – (even the “you” that is aimed at us is accompanied by a girl good looking enough to be a model, while the “you” aimed at ordinary men is just that ORDINARY), I may have found the ads funny, just a gentle laugh at us all aging. They’re not however. They just feel like further insult on top of the endless lineup of ads/magazines/programmes/movies that teach women that our realness is repulsive. That our aging is repulsive while it’s fine and loveable for a man to age, and for them to have the gall to judge and ridicule his female peers for having aged as he has. I just WISH women would stop buying into this cr*p and speak out in the mainstream to put the other side of the argument. I’ve become SO hateful of cocky ordinary or older that it’s eating me up inside. I see them getting away with stuff we hate ourselves for, and on top of that, leaning back and criticising US for these ‘flaws’. I don’t want to be so angry

Louise Livesey // Posted 16 June 2008 at 12:46 pm

Dear Elizabeth,

Have you considered writing something longer for us here at The F Word. We really welcome people writing features for us and this sounds really interesting stuff!

Liz // Posted 16 June 2008 at 2:50 pm

Interesting discussion here, I do think that buying heat is being ‘part of the problem’, but I also think we shouldn’t ignore the existence of such magazines because separatism is also part of the problem.

I think the solution here is to go to a big evil supermarket and stand there, reading the magazines with no intention of purchase, make a few notes and come away..Or the for the more daring feminist could shoplift from big evil supermarket.

alas I realise that these are perhaps not always practical solutions and sometimes comprimising beliefs is necessary.

Elizabeth // Posted 17 June 2008 at 8:22 am

Hi Louise, yes I’d love to write more. Here’s the link to the first of those Lotto ads. The double standard it purpetuates makes me so mad that all I feel is hatred and resentment towards someone who would otherwise be an endearing elderly man :(

Kathy // Posted 17 June 2008 at 4:44 pm

To add to the discussion about justification for buying Heat, I believe I may have a solution. I do occasionally read “women’s” magazines (admittedly, not Heat but Vogue/Cosmopolitan/etc. I suppose it’s part morbid curiosity, part stealing ideas for making clothes) but I haven’t actually bought one for years. Admittedly, this would depend where you live and work, but there are usually prenty of copies lying around which have been bought by others and discarded. You can find them in some workplaces’ staff rooms, various waiting rooms or just lying on a bench or a seat in public transport. Pick them up and read them, you’ll get the material you need to bring attention to the problem, but you won’t contribute to their profits or readership figures!

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