Katie Price is to launch her own magazine. I’m not sure I’ll be racing out to buy it, but it has got me thinking about what makes a good woman’s glossy - and if I were to design one, what I’d put in it.
In her book, ‘Forever Feminine: Women’s Magazines and the Cult of Femininity‘, Marjorie Ferguson argues that women’s magazines don’t just reflect, but also define the female role in society. They do so, she claims, in a negative and oppressive way. I agree with some of this, but it seems to me that magazines also have the potential to be a positive influence – e.g; by educating, challenging and supporting its readers. The practice however, can be a little more compromised.
Publishing is an industry and it needs to make money. But there’s a fairly safe formula for success. However much we rail at the media’s obsession with weight and image, these are the stories that sell. If we hated them like we say, we wouldn’t buy them. Instead, we keep returning to the same old fodder, convinced that we’re smart enough to read them and remain unaffected.
In our culture, women’s magazines often act as surrogate mothers. Their tone is gossipy, maternal, flattering. We look to them to guide us through the maze of modern life. But this is heavily compromised by commercial considerations, many of which are not immediately obvious.
We also look to magazines to give us a shared sense of community – but this too can be illusory. We identify ourselves with the success stories, and stand in judgement on those who make mistakes. We glut our senses on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, convinced that we deserve the same – and that we know them better than they know themselves.
A 1998 study of teen magazines showed that they encouraged readers to present themselves as sexually desirable, develop the skills of sexual therapy to enhance men’s sexual pleasure and performance, and become communication teachers to help men become better relational partners (Gardner, Sterk, and Adams 68).
A 1997 study comparing relational themes in men’s and women’s magazines found that both magazine types commonly discuss themes of sexual relations, understanding the opposite sex, initiating relationships, and ending a relationship (Duran and Prusank 183). The three most popular topics in women’s magazines between 1974 and 1990 were resolving conflict, sex, and revitalizing relationships, (Prusank, Duran, and DeLillo 311).
What else do women’s magazines tell us about ourselves today?
That we’re obsessed with how we look and terrified of aging.
That we’re confused about what it means to be women and about what Men want.
That we long to connect with other women and to share life on a deeper level.
That we’re busy and stressed, juggling different roles and responsibilities.
That we want to leave our mothers behind, but we’re scared of growing up.
What have I missed?