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.

What happened?

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


Kelly Hogaboom said...

There's a lot to dislike about ladymags, but for me it's the the "self-loathing as empowerment" bit. I remember in a hospital waiting room opening Oprah's "O" - "The Body Acceptance Issue!" The first thing I saw were pages and pages of anti-aging ads, diet food ads, and I remember a swimsuit to hide all one's "problem spots" - for $500. SMH

The Original Wombman said...

I don't subscribe to any "lady mags" but I do borrow them from the library--mainly as something to thumb through without having to think much. I end up skipping large chunks. Every so often, there's an interesting article and I feel like magazines such a Good Housekeeping and Redbook sometimes have helpful tips. I think these magazines are geared more towards married women though so it makes a slight difference. Self and Cosmo are, I think, mainly for young, unmarried women so the focus is more heavily on hair and makeup. But I totally agree that so many of these "lady mags" do not in any way reflect me as a black woman. Even "lady mags" having to do with fitness (which can easily relate to everyone easily) are a complete waste of time (I wrote once about an article in one of these lady fitness mags that talked about what black women should do with their hair in order to work out and the advice it gave was just totally wrong).

My one and only magazine subscription is Brain, Child. It's a "lady mag" but it is definitely one that spurs lots of critical thinking.

Rosa said...


I don't buy any lady mags anymore--haven't for years. When I did, I bought Bitch and BUST (are they still around?).

Laura(southernxyl) said...

About five times during the last 30years or so, when I've been sick with flu or stoned with pain meds because I threw out my back or something, bored but not well enough to read, my husband has brought home Glamour or Elle for me to flip through and look at the pictures. They're just about right for that, IMO.

Taurusdragonfly said...

Definitely agree. I recommend Bust, Esquire, and sometimes GQ if you must have you monthly gloss fix. The editors at Bust don't take feminism too seriously but still deliver. Esquire teaches you about products instead of just telling you what to buy and actually takes political stances. GQ is often funny and always irreverent and has killer recipes.
Women's mags are just too predictable to read every month.
Oh and Self is good too.

A_Gallivant said...

I used to love BUST but then I just lost a taste for its quirkiness. It started to feel very hipster to me. I subscribe to Glamour & Marie Claire - like Glamour's Do & Don'ts and love MC's Big Girl in a Skinny World and the occasional interesting article. I know what products/etc. work for me so I'm not really looking for magazines to do that. I'd rather truck with these magazines than O or anything that pretends to do enlightenment.

Model Minority said...


Thank you for the shout out.

I grew up on Sassy, Seventeen...and then The Source. #oldLadyRap.

Magazines helped being a teenager go down a little easier.


Arturo said...

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.

I disagree here, slightly. The message is more likely to be something along the lines of, "Wanna keep up with that d-bag from Accounting? Then you'd better get this sweet-ass home stereo system AND buy these $85 sneakers AND that $200 fleece pull-over, or else the women will just think you're one of those Nice Guys."

Mind you, I think that sort of advertising stigma has always been there in these publications, for much the same reasons you cite in regards to women's magazines. But the increasing encroachment of the British "laddy mags" and their writing style seems to have pushed GQ, Esquire and the like to increasingly push readers toward seeking "true" Alpha status and consumer perks.

Tami said...

Arturo, now that I think of it, you're right about that one. Like TaurusDragonfly, I sometimes pick up a copy of Esquire from the rack. I like the writing style and they have good interviews. But I can see how even that mag has evolved of late.

whitney said...

I love this post. It reminds me of a post I wrote on my blog a while ago about women's magazines: http://thebadgirlsguide.blogspot.com/2009/05/media-magazines-and-me.html

I studied journalism in college with the goal of working for a women's magazine, and I've interned for/freelanced for/staffed with a number of national women's magazines. I moved away from that world intentionally for many of the reasons that you stated.

However, I wholly disagree that any of the blogs you named do what women's magazines do. Those blogs have fresh opinions, but do not feature original photography or original reporting, both staples of the publishing industry that blogs and websites have, for the most part, not replaced.

I am saddened that so many people can look at a blog full of opinions and say that it replaces something that a team of about a hundred people spend an entire month putting together. (I've heard that Clutch or other opinion sites are the new magazines from others, not just on your blog.) Opinion has a place, but I wish there were more people willing to invest in news for women of color, in addition to opinion.

Tami said...


Funny...sounds like you and I have similar backgrounds.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that opinion blogs can take the place of news. But news, IMHO, has never been the primary focus of women's magazines. Product reviews, advice and opinion--yes. Real hard facts and news--not so much.
Some women's magazines include feature stories on given topics, but I never witnessed them being the main focus of a magazine.

With this in mind, I don't see blogs as being inferior by comparison. Indeed, some of the best blogs, like the ones I mentioned, act as conduits to news outlets that are gathering facts and reporting news. Shakesville may provide analysis of an article from Ms. magazine. New Model Minority may offer an opinion on an article published in Colorlines.

I too wish news outlets would invest in news for and about women. And I know that the average blog cannot take the place of, say, The New York Times, but Glamour and Cosmopolitan ain't exactly the NYT, y'know.


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