Women’s magazines

// 30 May 2012

Tags: , ,


There are currently three issues of Closer magazine littering my front room. One of them I picked up on a bus. Someone had left it there, we were stuck in traffic, and I was bored. I opened it to discover that someone called Leeanne (or possibly Danniella) had lost a stone. Danniella (or possibly Leeanne) had a new boyfriend. And on, and on, for page after page. It was simultaneously utterly inane and beautifully absurdist, particularly given that I had no idea who these people were, and I started tweeting it.

The following week I got another copy – this time on purpose, just to take the mickey on twitter – and discovered the exact same things. And again. The messages are the same, every week.

I appreciate that there are plenty of women who enjoy soaps, are interested in celebrity gossip, and take more pride in dressing fashionably than I do (this last one isn’t difficult). This is not knocking other women’s fun or being snobby; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with mindless entertainment from time to time. But here’s my theory: these magazines are not actually about celebrities (or fashion or food) but about constraining women into a narrow model of femininity predicated upon some of the worst excesses of sexism of the last century.

Many of the magazines offer advice to readers to love their body. But how is a woman to love her body when she reads on almost every page that size 12 Kerry is revolted by her weight and is dieting furiously, while “pals” of the size 8 celebrities tell how much more happy, fulfilled, sexually successful and generally all-round chuffed they are with their shapes? When she reads that a celebrity who was 10 stone had weight loss surgery (liposuction)?

Almost every story in the celebrity ‘news’ part contains a casual reference to the woman’s dress size. A little like the Mail’s ability to put a house price into every story, Closer gets a dress size in there. “Alicia, a svelte size 10, did XYZ…”

Outside the obsession with weight there’s hardly a more woman-friendly overview. Women who have broken a relationship off are inevitably “heartbroken” whilst women who have just begun one are either “besotted” or planning a baby. Any woman who has “hung onto her man” for more than a few months begins to look “broody,” and her “pals” will tell of how she desperately wants a baby. Once any baby is born, columns are devoted to how quickly or slowly the woman is able to shed the baby weight, and which exercise plan or diet regime they followed to do so. Women who are “back in their pre-pregnancy jeans” quickly are spoken of with approval, while women who are not suffer more of their “pals” explaining how revolting they find themselves.

Life – for the celebrities and for you, the prospective reader – revolves around getting a man and then forcing him down the aisle. Men are allowed, even encouraged, to be reluctant to marry, while women are always said to be desperate to get a ring on it. Agony advice to readers has included such up-to-date gems as ensuring that you don’t have sex on the first date (bit slutty) and that men should be indulged if they’re being selfish idiots because – well, they’re men. Do your womanly duty and look after him. It might be phrased in the most modern of language, but it’s straight from the 1950s.

This isn’t entertainment; it’s orders, to go with the FASHION MUSTS and MUST NOTS which grace the middle pages.

I don’t see how any woman could maintain a decent amount of self-love while reading this appalling propaganda. If you’re constantly told that women who look like you are disgusting and hate their bodies, what are you meant to think? To say nothing of the way in which uber-privileged women who have a personal trainer, 24/7 childcare, a nutritionist and cash for the most expensive diet plans going are constantly held up as achievable role models, simpering that they lost weight merely by cutting out carbs / eating seaweed / doing yoga. The message is that if you want success, you must look the part. And if you can’t achieve the physical perfection of a woman with everything, then you are an undisciplined, slobby failure.

As I said, I’m not being judgemental about anybody who is interested in celebrity gossip: I’m interested in political gossip, which is truth be told not all that different. I am being judgemental about Closer, and any other magazine which thrives on making women feel inadequate about their bodies, their sexuality and their uterine achievements (and gets its revenue from advertisers flogging the supposed remedies to the problems you never previously knew you had). And you know what? It’s about time we started judging these mags, because they’ve spent far too long judging us.

Picture of Katie Price has been used under the creative commons license. Credit due to firebalk2588.

Comments From You

IronFly // Posted 30 May 2012 at 11:35 pm

Women’s magazines are revolting and just plain nasty – on one hand they tell you to be OK with your appearance, whilst cashing money from plastic surgery advertisments that work by belittling your self confidence.

My solution was to stop reading them altogether, even in an ironic way.

Laura // Posted 31 May 2012 at 12:12 am

This constant debate over how magazine drivel affects our perceptions of our figures is starting to become irritating. I can understand how some would place the blame in the magazine, but seriously, any woman with an ounce of intelligence can understand what an utter load of trash they are. I am what I consider a healthy size 10; I’m athletic, eat (reasonably) healthily, and have a little roll that likes to fold over my jeans when I sit down. I really like my roll, despite seeing the covers of these magazines lining my local Tesco’s magazine rack. I don’t look at these magazines and think “oh no, this little roll of mine has to go, considering how I completely depend on Closer to gauge how wrong my body is”, I look at them in the magazine aisle in Tesco and think, “well, I’m not buying that crap”. I’d rather buy the New Scientist (which, by the way, is always stacked in the Men’s section, which I think is a more prominent issue in the criticism of papers and magazines), continue feeding my little roll with my occasional fast food binge and cider, and carry on feeling confident that I will never be stupid enough to let a tabloid affect how I see myself. As soon as women stop buying into this nonsense, it’ll stop.

Chrissy // Posted 31 May 2012 at 10:15 am

Unfortunately, such trashy insulting of women is sold as ‘aspiration’.

Jane // Posted 31 May 2012 at 10:19 am

Well, I AM interested in dressing fashionably, but I agree with the main thrust of your argument. Actually it’s years since I have deliberately looked at the type of women’s magazine you describe, but you can’t avoid seeing them on the news stands. Apart for being about Z list ‘celebs’ of whom I’ve never heard (OK, I’m OLD, apart from anything else!) they do all seem to be about taking drastic (sometimes dangerous!) methods to ‘lose weight’ when they are already as thin as rakes.

There’s obviously a market for this sort of comic, but I think that’s rather sad….

IronFly // Posted 31 May 2012 at 12:18 pm

Laura – Yes!! I have to scoot over to the “men’s section” to pick up anything vaguely interesting: New Scientist, Wired UK, mountain biking magazines, video gaming magazines, car magazines, photography magazines (all of which I cheekily read by the stand), the list goes on! Some dude is always giving me the evil eye as to say: “what you doing on my patch?” too. I find it hilarious.

Also, whilst I agree with you that we place too much blame on magazines and not enough on women’s agency to just boycott the trash, I think it’s a different story for impressionable young girls.

But yes, definitely we should say this more – you are more powerful than you realise. Don’t read trash else you’ll feel like trash. Go and cycle, blow bubbles, make music, make love, volunteer, learn how to code, bake a cake, paint, climb a mountain. Anything but read a diatribe on how to feel sorry for yourself. :)

Julian // Posted 31 May 2012 at 12:59 pm

Laura, I’m pleased that you’re able to rise above it, but stuff like this is popular, and actually it DOES affect us. You’re not seriously suggesting that the way women are represented throughout the entire media (it’s not just these mags) has no effect on us? Or, sorry, on anybody who isn’t “stupid” and has “an ounce of common sense?”

Perhaps I’m just not as intelligent as you, but I found that reading them, even for satire and even knowing that the messages are really that crass, gave me momentary pauses. And it’s not just body image either – the messages about relationships are fairly problematic too. And that’s before we get onto the heterocentrism, transphobia, lack of racial diversity, gender-policing infants, and everything else that wouldn’t fit into a blog post.

Either way, it’s not as easy as put up or shut up, as you seem to imply. Media messages about our bodies, our lives, and our sexualities are constant and invasive, and I don’t think it’s helpful to dismiss women as “stupid” if they do buy into those messages. If you’ve been socialised in a culture which perpetuates those values, it’s not as simple as just deciding to ignore them.

Laura // Posted 31 May 2012 at 10:05 pm

Julian, perhaps I was a little rash in suggesting stupidity, I just find it entirely frustrating that this debate continues but the magazines are still purchased. I don’t understand why, if a woman was made to feel that awful about her figure from these magazines, would she continue to purchase the junk? I just think it’s quite superficial and conceited to be so focused on appearance, when there are (what I consider) far more prominent issues with media, such as those you have noted yourself.

70s child // Posted 31 May 2012 at 11:36 pm

Oh Thank God ive found you. Ive been trying to get people to see these sleb rags for what they are and its an ongoing battle. Its not just celebrity crap and fad diets that are the problem though. These mags often print benefit bashing articles. Now this is bad enough and is a deliberate demonization of working class people. But then the women in these articles are often taking all the blame. If you take a look at the facebook pages of these mags you will see lots of sexist mysogynistic comments like “they should have kept their legs closed” and these comments are usually from women.

Roughly a month ago Woman magazine printed a similar article and the comments on the facebook page afterwards were disgusting. If you go on there and scroll throgh the older posts you should be able to find it. If you have time please take a look at Closers facebook page too. I am just so aghast that many women and men cant seem to see it.

SexierThanThou // Posted 1 June 2012 at 1:43 am

Cosign everything Laura said. Free will isn’t as fragile as all that really, but perhaps, like me, many of the readers of these “magazines” enjoy a bi-weekly dose of absurdist, unintentional humour.

It’s interesting to me that we can run the standard defence of blaming the environment for the woes of the message-buying women (and men). Can we run the same defence for those that author the publications?

Julian // Posted 1 June 2012 at 10:57 am

“I don’t understand why, if a woman was made to feel that awful about her figure from these magazines, would she continue to purchase the junk?”

I suppose it’s two things: one is that people are interested in the celebrity news – which is fair enough – and the second is that at the same time as telling you you’re inadequate, they’re selling you a solution, whether that’s a liquid diet, the latest figure-concealing dress, some magic make-up or a “new you” in some other way. They make you feel bad – but they sell you the promise of a better future, and that can be very enticing.

Alex_T // Posted 1 June 2012 at 8:44 pm

Time to wheel out Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ again. It’s 20 years old now but still spot-on.

In a nutshell, she reckons plenty of women’s magazines do actually contain some good advice and features, and stuff which could be genuinely useful to women. However, they cost a lot to produce, and this is not covered by the price of the mag. The magazine is funded by the advertisers, who will of course be more likely to place an advert in a magazine whose copy endorses their product (i.e. where the message is: ‘buy loads of make up and have a boob job because you look terrible!’)

It’s more complex than that, but have a read of the book (it honestly changed my life) and you’ll never pick up one of those poisonous rags ever again.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds