This article is cross-posted at Girl Poems.
I am going to be writing a formal essay on women’s magazines in the not-too-distant future, so I decided to buy some — three, in fact — as research. I haven’t read any women’s magazines for about three years, since I started properly reading and thinking about feminism and taking on board the seriousness of the problem that is western women’s magazine publishing. I’ll admit, I was pretty damn shocked as I leafed through the October issue of Company magazine (owned by magazine giant NatMags). Although I’d actively stopped reading women’s magazines because I knew how harmful the messages they transmit can be, I hadn’t ever read one with a really critical eye.
As I went through the magazine, cover to cover, I stuck post-its on all the “problematic” content and made notes on each. Without even going into the content of any of the features/articles, let me just share some statistics with you, about this one issue of just one (very popular) women’s magazine.
The magazine has 188 pages, including the cover and back cover.
66 pages are advertising*. That’s 35%.
22 pages are advertising perfume and cosmetics.
12 pages are advertising hair products.
11 pages are advertising clothing and/or shoes.
5 pages are advertising female personal hygiene products.
11 pages are advertising miscellaneous other stuff**.
On 9 of the ads, I wrote “male gaze” on my post-its.
On 13 of the ads, I wrote “woman sexualised”.
On 1 of the ads, I wrote “women dehumanized (decapitated)”.
On 1 of the ads, I wrote “woman humiliated”.
On 1 of the ads, I wrote “woman likened to an animal.”
(That’s 15 of the 66 adverts — or 22% — that sexualise or demean women in some way.)
On two pages of the magazine I wrote “cultural appropriation.”
In the entire 188 pages of the magazine, there were 242 images of women***.
17 of these women were women of colour.
7 of these women of colour appeared in advertising.
Outside of the advertising, 5 of the images of women of colour appeared to be examples of tokenism.
Only 2 women of colour — athelete Jessica Ennis, and Jessica Abide, a finalist on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model — appear in main features****.
This is just the on-the-surface stuff. I also noted dozens of examples of more subtle problematic and negative messages throughout the magazine. Most obvious were totally unnecessary items and expenses being presented as “essential” or “must haves”. A close second were examples of the magazine presenting an image of or article about a highly successful woman — usually a celebrity — and coupling this with a section entitled “get her look”, or the like; the suggestion being that women should try to look, rather than be, like these role models. In a series of interviews with various celebrities talking about their predictions for the 2012 Olympics, men were asked about their heroes (”Brit icon?” asked of Nick Grimshaw), achievements (”Your gold medal moment?” asked of Ashley Banjo) and opinions on current affairs (”Britain in one word?” asked of Dappy). Women were asked about fashion (”trainers vs heels, who wins the race?” asked of Myleene Klass) and bitchiness (”commiserations to the losers?” asked of Kara Tointon). Women were set up to compete against one another throughout — an example? How about: “he was, in no uncertain terms, MINE NOW. [...] Boo bitches, no more posting on his wall, no more wondering if he is still on your scene, no more NOTHING, OK??” Then there were just your common-or-garden “everyone’s wearing…” (read: be like everyone else) messages, and the constant sexualisation of female activities (like “it’s all about doggy style” in reference to wearing white clothing with black spots — seriously). As well as being a total whitewash, the magazine also only features images of very thin, very young women, and it’s heteronormative as hell (I considered writing “h/n” on a post-it for every example, but I would have run out of post-its before I got twenty pages).
It’s utterly depressing, and this is just one issue of one magazine. If I suddenly stop posting here, you can just assume it’s because I have hoisted myself by my own petard in response to my research for this essay.
Now ladies, for pete’s sake, go and read a good book.
*When I say ‘advertising’, I mean independently-produced adverts. However, on pretty much every single page, products are named and plugged.
**2 pages of men’s aftershave, 2 pages of food, one ad for headache pills, one for fabric softener, one for a slimming aid, and four pages of classifieds — mostly related to beauty products or cosmetic surgery.
***some women appeared more than once. I only counted each woman, rather than each individual appearance.
****Abide appears on only one page, modelling clothing.
(Photo by Madpai)