I can’t help thinking that most women’s magazines are the modern-day equivalent of a picnic by the gallows. ‘Old Jimbo’s being hung today in the square – bring a bottle and we’ll make an afternoon of it’. In the same way, other people’s misery (aka ‘celebrity news’) is often packaged as entertainment. After all, these aren’t real people – they’re on the telly. And there’s nothing comfier than settling in to pass judgement on someone worse than yourself. It’s fine for you to be ensconced on the sofa with a box of dairy milk, but that Kerry Katona’s EATING HERSELF TO DEATH with chicken nuggets. Disgusting.
So it is with interest that I’ve been reading about a new UK monthly magazine, ‘Beautiful’, launched last month. The magazine promises not to publish advice on diets and weight loss, and will only use models of size twelve or over. Its founders, Sue Thomason and Sarah Kenny claim that it is ‘totally dedicated to building self-esteem and reversing the damage done by traditional women’s media and advertising’.
Many of these are good aims. Aside from anything else, what a relief to open a magazine that doesn’t trumpet a message of so-called liberation, alongside fashion supplements populated by cadavers. Whether or not it lasts however, remains to be seen. For starters, there are the economics. Like it or not, features on size sell. We moan about them – and then we buy them. It’s one thing to have high editorial aims, and another to balance them with the demands of an advertising industry built on their opposite.
There’s also the question of how, and if, we should build self-esteem. All too often, new lies replace the old. Either we’re given a new spin on the same old fluff (‘think happy thoughts and light a candle’) or we’re encouraged to channel the monster within. New website xoJane.com, for example, is a place ‘where women go when they are being selfish and where their selfishness is applauded’. Is this really the face of empowerment?