A good few months ago now, I had an impassioned conversation with my flatmate on magazines. I was going through a women’s magazine, marking out everything I found wrong with it, in preparation for writing a blog post. And in a really perverse way, I was enjoying it. My flatmate said that she “just takes them with a pinch of salt”, and enjoys flicking through them. Which is amazing for her, but isn’t the case with the other twenty or so women I met at a Body Image Workshop during the Inspiring Women conference my uni ran. It isn’t the case with numerous people I listen to in podcasts, on YouTube, and who write blogs, it isn’t the case for numerous feminist writers. Either my flatmate was lying, or she has never been exposed to media. Honestly, until one month ago she didn’t have facebook. She doesn’t have instagram, pinterest, and I’m unsure she has snap chat or twitter. But if she does, these are possibly the two least influential platforms in terms of body image (I can’t really comment, as I have neither): snapchat catches you unawares, and Twitter is mainly words.
This thing is, magazines are all out to do one thing: make money. If you look at a magazine, you will find that the majority of the content is advertisements. Take a look at Vogue, and count how many pages of advertising there are before you reach the actual content. This is how magazines make their money, by generating revenue. As such, magazines (which are already struggling; online is major competition for print media right now) have to cater to the advertisers in order to keep afloat. If they don’t listen to advertisers, and the big firms then pull out, the publications lose money.
Advertisers are also out to make money. And they do this by trying to sell their product. And how do they sell their product? By making us think we need it. And what is the most effective way to make us think we need something? Make us believe that our lives lack something, indeed they are simply incomplete, without it. Consider the makeup adverts in magazines, sold to us with pictures of laughing women graced with poreless, flawless skin- no wrinkles, and usually white. Think about TV adverts for whitening toothpaste: I recently heard one say “because life opens up to you with a whiter smile”. Wrong Crest toothpaste. Life opens up to you with education, confidence, compassion, and drive. Or at least, it should, shouldn’t it? Think about the parts of our body the media makes up to convince us to buy things. In a magazine you may see an article (yes, a whole article) dedicated to a celebrity’s “cankles”- swiftly followed by an advertisement for a slimming pill/bootcamp. It isn’t a coincidence. Magazines can be sneaky too, taking on a more back-stabbing quality. Maybe there’s an article on how you’re already perfect, and you should love the skin you’re in. Then the next feature is how to make yourself “even more gorgeous” with X number of sponsor’s products. By selling something to us as enhancing our already existing beauty, this is sometimes the equivalent of back handed complements. Think “you’re really pretty for someone so big- have you thought about going on diet X/Y/Z”, from that really bitchy girl you knew in high school.
At first I thought that this kind of underhand treachery was limited only to explicitly fashion magazine glossys. I was wrong. I have seen this in fitness magazines, where they will publish articles and interviews holding up some celebrities rigorous and virtuous routine, which may be meant to inspire- but simply doesn’t. Because there is no mention of the days they spend (like the rest of the population) sitting in their pjs. And stick a heavily airbrushed shot of them next to it, conveniently oiled to reflect the fact that they sweat it out every single day (yet still with perfect hair and makeup)- and suddenly even the intention of selling health, becomes something that is selling beauty. The next little cluster of adverts might be for a skin smoothing anti-cellulite gel, a collection of sports gear, or a juice cleanse. This “healthy” image is meant to inspire- but all it does is convince us we can access a quick solution. And if it doesn’t, and you decide you can slog out seven days in the gym on 1000kcal- then you can become very ill. Mentally, and physically.
With magazines appealing to girls as soon as they can read, offering free lip gloss and posters of big name celebs, they wield enormous power. They have the ability to influence each new generation of women- which at this time is not being used positively. In 2005 a study reported that girls as young as 5 years old are worried about how they look and their size. Media, instead of perpetuating this, has the ability to begin reversing the damage it has played a part in causing. Those who argue that girls this young are hardly likely to be reading magazines, forget that in the centre of all cities there are large posters of “perfect” young women- from advertisers who also display content in popular magazines. Most media platforms (adverts, magazines, TV) display something of this kind. Secondly, if magazines influence each generation of women, then it’s more that possible that each generation of mothers is influenced. And throw away comments made about their own weight and appearance can make an impact on their children. Increasingly, it seems that it may be possible a father might make these despairing comments on his lack of a six pack too- because men’s magazines are increasingly pushing the same “you need this now” message women’s publications have for years.
To close, I want to just say that anything that is a sellable product, magazines will try to capitalise on it. There are a few magazines I do really enjoy reading, but I stick with these (Psychologies, Healthy Food Guide etc.). Magazines capitalize on making us feel we need something. Maybe it hasn’t always been this way, but that’s how it is now. However, with several bloggers and activists pushing for body acceptance, and seeing past the outer image, women’s magazines and advertisers may want to rethink their tactics. In terms of business too, it would be beneficial for print media to listen to it’s changing audience, as online publications are already tough competition.
I’ll soon be writing a blog post on what my ideal magazine would be, without any limits being imposed upon it. I have wanted to work in print media for some time now. Ideally, I would want to change a woman’s magazine from the inside out, or alternatively, to create an entirely new one. If you have the time, leave a comment below: do you think magazines need to change? what would your ideal magazine contain? What would it not contain?
http://www.lookpositive.co.uk/statistics/ for the statistics from the 2005 study mentioned.