Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Why I ditched the "lady mags"
I was noticing this weekend the lack of “lady mags” in my house. Since I got my first Tiger Beat, I’ve been an obsessive devotee of glossy magazines. My childhood bedroom used to be littered with them. Oh, how I loved that really thick September issue of Seventeen! As I grew older, I began reading titles like Glamour and Mademoiselle (RIP). And I spent years and years devouring every women’s title on the rack. Literally. I often would stop by a corner newsstand mid-month and leave disappointed because I had already read nearly everything there, save the sports, car and porn titles.
Now, I look around my living room and there is just a small stack of magazines in a wicker backet—the latest issue of Bitch, some foodie pubs, Rolling Stone, Q and a few genealogy journals—all of which I subscribe to. There is an issue of Essence I bought at the drug store. And I subscribe to Nation and The Atlantic on my Kindle. Completely absent, though, are the women’s magazines like Self, Allure, Marie Claire and Vogue, which used to make up the bulk of my reading in my 20s.
I tired of being sold to.
I know that advertising keeps magazines afloat, but many women’s magazines feel like page after page of ads with the thinnest of useful content. And too often, even that “useful content” is merely advertising in disguise. Here, according to our editors, are the five best veggie burgers… jeans… long-wearing lipsticks…
This is particularly true of fashion and beauty-centered magazines. They are relentlessly about buying something to make yourself better. Speaking of…
I don’t believe there is anything wrong with me.
This is not to say that I am perfect. I’m not. But there is a fine line between striving to better yourself and believing in your inherent “wrongness” in every given situation. Our society constantly tells women that they need to be “fixed” and women’s magazines reinforce this idea like nothing else. It’s always about how your hair could be shinier; how your diet could be better; how you’re not doing the right 10 things in bed to please your man.
Of course, this fits the consumerist nature of modern magazines. There is no money in telling people they are good enough as they are. If, for instance, I believe that my natural kinks are beautiful, I might not buy all the stuff magazine advertiser’s peddle to straighten them. But it seems to me that women’s magazines sell things in a particular way that leverages self-doubt and negative messages.
A men’s magazine like Esquire tells its readers: Dude, you’re so fucking money, you don’t even know! Hey, check out this home stereo system that will make you an even more awesome. The tone of women’s magazines is more: You’re right to wonder if those jeans make your ass look fat…cause…yeah… Good news, though. That mean lady from The Biggest Loser has a new book out. Here’s a sample diet, so you can start working on your beach body. Oh, and here are some $200 jeans guaranteed to help disguise even the fattest of asses. See--here’s a photo of a six-foot, skinny, 16-year-old model wearing them. Doesn’t her ass look great?
The older I get, the more comfortable I am in my skin and the less interested I am in being made over.
Women’s magazines aren’t made for me. (And are we done talking about lipstick yet?)
Fashion and beauty play a prominent role in most women’s magazines. And the aesthetic these magazines celebrate is decidedly one that excludes women like me. Check out Allure’s “New Makeup Looks to Try in 2011” or the magazine’s “31 New Hair Ideas for 2011”—both overwhelmingly demonstrated on pale-skinned women with long, straight hair. And good luck finding a model that represents the majority of women who wear size 14 and above, or clothing that might fit and flatter said women.
Come to think of it, women’s magazines’ focus on beauty, bodies and boys doesn’t fit with my interests. Yeah, I like to talk about all those things sometimes, but not exclusively. I don’t talk about them more than pop culture and music and books and politics and the latest techno gadgets and current events. And women's magazines are strangely obsessed with men, aren't they? I mean, it's all about attracting, keeping, pleasing and reading the minds of men. One would thing women had no other problems or interests.
Bottom line, the womanhood illustrated by most women’s magazines seems much narrower than my reality.
And then there is Essence…
When I said that women’s magazines were not intended for me, I was excluding Essence, a magazine that particularly targets black women. I can look to Essence for beauty tips that work for my skin tone; recipes that reflect my family’s eating style; and greater focus on black culture, literature and issues. But Essence is no less invested in what I think are damaging messages regarding women.
Essence’s go-to issue is black women and “the marriage problem” or “black man shortage” or whatever alarmist name suits your fancy. I’m gonna give the side-eye to any magazine that claims to have the best interests of women in mind, but slaps Steve Harvey on its cover and heralds his regressive, sexist advice.
Bitch and blogs are better.
I’ve said it before—for me, feminist blogs have moved into the space once occupied by Glamour and Allure and Marie Claire. They are more timely than monthly magazines with more variety in content. The folks at Shakesville or Womanist Musings or New Model Minority or The Crunk Feminist Collective might be talking about anything—Nikki Minaj or "True Blood" or abortion rights or poverty or kittens. The voices are fresher—from a diverse group of women. These are spaces where women needn't be consumed with the needs of men. No one tries to sell me anything. And no one insults the size of my ass.
The one women’s magazine that I still subscribe to is Bitch, a publication well worthy of anyone’s coffee table. Bitch is proof that a magazine needn't be insipid and that righteousness rocks.
So—to my female readers—do you read women’s magazines? Which ones? Do you agree with my assessment of them? What magazines, besides Bitch, avoid the traps listed above?
Photo Credit: Ian Broyles