Perhaps in this age of personal cultivation
, women's fashion
magazines can be called the Bible
of female self-help seeker
s everywhere. Well, almost. Not
everything in the magazine
is there to keep you at your best
ads, there are no
magazines. Publishers capitalize off of making you feel inadequate
with their gorgeous
models and then provide you with 200-plus pages of products that can help you rise
above your own ugliness to be a hip
woman of the world. The magazine makes money
, the products sell and women everywhere look better. Supposedly. But do
they feel better?
There's something deeply contradicting in reading a story about a woman who has survived an eating disorder and negative body image only to flip the page and see an ad for jeans that an average person couldn't fit half a leg into. It's not even the ads alone projecting this image – the magazine's own choice of a cover model and a feature on fab abs for summer work just as nicely at making you feel like crawling back under the covers of your bed.
This is sad because magazines have so many good things to say. When you're a teenager and you don't know how to kiss a boy and are certainly not about to ask mom or dad, a magazine can help. When you are looking for a cute haircut, or the latest trends in fashion, there is no better hour wasted than one curled up on the couch with a good 'zine and some snacks. It's just frustrating to have to constantly remind yourself that you can fit into that awesome outfit and look good without having to flip to page 71 and read the seven-day meal plan that leads to thinner thighs.
Magazines would benefit from a change in focus. Some have made steps in the right direction by including articles on how to excel in the workplace or, for the younger readers, how to plan for college. Features like this are very helpful for women because they are substantive and encouraging. Perhaps seeing more articles about work, assertiveness, goal-setting and success stories would help women think about something other than the usual sex, men, fashion and weight loss that calls out to you from the check-out lines at the grocery store. Maybe if these were the headlines in super-font, extra-bold type on the cover they would seem like a priority.
As women get older, there are more magazines of a positive nature available to women such as Ladies Home Journal, O, McCall's and Good Housekeeping. What I'm more concerned with are the magazines like Teen, YM, Seventeen and Teen People that graduate frustrated young girls into frustrated adult women reading Mademoiselle, Marie Claire, Vogue, Shape and Cosmo. Those magazines hook women in at a young age and teach them how to be in style at a time when image is so important.
Amidst the folds of advertising, these magazines are shaping so much of how many girls see themselves fitting in. Some girls are able to ignore the messages that start insecurities, but too many are not. I work with high school-age girls and they are constantly telling me about how they have many friends with eating disorders or who are on diets. There are enough things to be confused about in your teen years, you don't need to go around worrying about the size of your butt or a little bit of stomach flab.
Many avenues are open for exploration when redirecting the focus of magazines. Some have tried to do it through sports. Conde-Naste has published a female form of Sports Illustrated where women athletes are featured as strong role models. This is a good start, even though it is limited in a more athletically focused audience. Yet I still think that a magazine with a broader readership is necessary.
I think one of the best ways to go about creating that is to involve more girls in the process. Hiring them as feature writers, using them as models (for both cover and inside stories) and listening to their ideas will result in something constructive that is still "trendy" enough for them to want to read. You can still have all the columns about boys, fashion and even weight loss, but these issues would just be presented differently.
And, instead of flipping the page to find a contradictory image, you'd see a girl who is on the staff of the magazine, or maybe even someone from your high school who you graduated with. It would be by the girls, about them and for them. This same media makeover also applies to women's magazines. Adults also need positive reinforcement and deserve a shift in the focus of their reading. The idea of using real people as cover models is still alive in the adult realm. You could seek out women of different organizations and associations, putting women from other countries, of different heritage and of different ages throughout the magazine.
Women are so interesting; there is no reason to limit who we learn about to celebrities or women with sexually appealing figures. All of these features would be reinforced by advertisements. I know of several companies who have stopped using models in their publicity campaigns. Wal-Mart catalogues only display photos of company employees or their relatives. Several fashion designers are using their own people to model clothes.
A new age of advertising is dawning because people are sick of being told how to look and what to buy. We are more complicated than that. If we demand something different, we just might get it. What better place to start encouraging women to look and feel normal than in magazines? There is something so inherently female in propping yourself up in bed with a bowl of popcorn, painting your toe nails red and reading the latest issue of your favorite magazine. How great would it be if reading it weren’t always underlined with the feeling that you have to start running again tomorrow? Tomorrow you'll do those sit-ups on page 23.
If we're going to celebrate women we should find some more representative models and loose the damaging ads in favor of a real magazine ... with real women.