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The problem with women’s magazines

Sarah Viollet gets wise (and witty) as she examines her issues with women's publications

If, like me, you’re a woman in the western world with enough money for leisure activities, you’ve probably bought a woman’s magazine in the past.

And they’re fantastic fun – all the latest beauty products, fashion and gossip in one place, in quick, easy-to-digest blurbs.

But there’s a problem with these delightful sugar bombs of supposed female wisdom - ultimately, like sweets, they’re bad for you if you consume them too much.

“Good god.”, you must be thinking, “Is there someone out there who hates every little treat I indulge in”? And that thinking has most likely come from the innocent pages of a glossy mag.

Now, before I lose your attention, allow me to explain. Women’s magazines, like any other sort of publication, are not inherently bad. They originally existed to publish articles on things that women wanted to know about – and they’ve clearly continued that, as newspapers around the world fold and Elle, Cosmo and Vogue are still going strong. But if one looks just a little bit more closely, an ugly pattern starts to emerge in the spreads of fashion and beauty reads.

First, there are articles on how to wear the season’s latest trends – harmless enough in itself, and it’s great to read about what the artists in the fashion world are churning out. Fashion is an art in its own right, and deserves the attention and praise it gets. But in the same article will be a price tag – and it’s a price tag most of us can’t afford.

Strike number one – feeling like looking fabulous is just out of your reach. The most cruel and laughable articles are the ones where the latest hot outfits are put together at a ‘cheap’ or ‘bargain’ price, with ‘steal’ splashed all over it. The outfits in the ‘cheap’ sections are typically £100-300 – ‘cos who doesn’t spend at least that every week on clothing, right? And the outfits in the ‘splurge’ section are usually upwards of £1000, all in.

But then, there’s strike number two: all the models wearing the clothing are a size zero. And, whether you agree with the size zero phenomenon or not, clothing looks best on a hanger – which is the type of body these women have. Oddly enough, most trends don’t look as great on a size 10 or 12, leaving alone larger sizes.

So, unless you’re in the small minority of women who are a size 4 – 8, the trend has a high chance of not looking as good on you as it did on the model. Panic! How do we look cool if we can’t embrace skinny jeans, harem trousers and cropped tops?!

This panic is women’s magazine gold; to cash in on this perennial desire for improving oneself and chasing after that elusive ‘in’ feeling. Every issue must contain the requisite diet and exercise article. Diet and exercise advice from experts is a great idea – if a woman wants to lose weight, be a healthy height to waist ratio, and improve her physical fitness, it’s great to be able to find tools and information to do so.

However, in the same issue, these publications always have advice on how to de-clutter and de-stress your life. They tell you that everyone expects too much from you – at home, at work, the kids, trying to keep up with fashion trends, look fabulous, lose weight, and eat healthy.

What these articles make you feel is that you’re really truly hard done by. You suffer so, and really don’t deserve all this pressure to perform better at work, be a sexpot at home, and be fabulously skinny for the world.

They encourage you to believe in yourself. The great, mocking irony is that they are the institution that’s making women feel inferior. They are the ones selling you chic, making you feel as if it can be purchased. And they make sure it’s elusive, so that you keep buying their magazines to find the secret recipe to a happy, balanced life.

But it’s probably not the case that we (financially solvent women in the first world who have enough to eat and roofs over our heads) are really put upon, and just need some pampering and indulging. What a ridiculous notion.

Sure, life is hard, and sure, we all have suffering and have endured much. But really, in general, we’re lucky, and should be grateful we can buy new handbags once a month when the vast majority of women in this world have to fight every day for food.

So while I enjoy a bit of gossip via Grazia and finding out what Stella McCartney is up to via Glamour, I tend to avoid women’s magazines. Life is hard enough without someone selling me an image of myself that is not good enough because I don’t do these exercises, or own that new gladiator sandal. Or them confusing me with another image of myself as someone who works so very hard to be the perfect woman.

Being a woman, even in the Western world, comes with some fairly unique challenges. But I prefer to hit those challenges head on, with some great, strong women around me – not with a constant niggling voice in my head that I need to buy, buy, buy and do, do, do.

Being a better woman comes from making changes to destructive behaviours or thought patterns, believing in ourselves, and knowing we can make this world a better place by being good friends, spouses, mothers, sisters. It doesn’t come from couture.

Sarah Viollet is a freelance writer and journalist from Los Angeles, living and working in Birmingham. She can be reached on sarah@sarahviollet.co.uk.

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