I sit down and let myself sink into the glossy
comfort of my favourite magazine. With each flick
I'm assured that I can have perfect skin,
I'm assured that I can have perfect skin,
that I do have the power to get the sex I want,
that I if I overhaul my wardrobe I can overhaul my
life, that if I just commit 15 minutes a day to the
latest workout I can get the perfect beach body!
Apparently I can have it all... So why do I feel...
Raise your hand if that feels familiar. *raises both hands* I spent years buying into the allure of the shiny self esteem breakers we call magazines. Growing up one of my favourite things was hijacking my mum's mags, poring over pages of diet tips and fashion advice on flattering your figure. I learned a lot about womanhood through those magazines. No wonder I hated myself so young.
Of course there are two different types of popular women's magazines:
The ones that look like this, so clearly built on body shaming, crash diets, vacuous celebrity gossip and sexist headlines that they're not designed to make anyone feel good about themselves. There's no ifs, buts, or maybes about it, they are pure poison.
Then there's the other kind. The ones we see as more serious, more trustworthy, more empowering. The pages are thicker and the adverts than line them are for far more expensive products. Some of them even claim to be overtly feminist. Why then, do they still leave us feeling deflated? Why do we get to the final page ready to burn our entire wardrobes, quit our jobs, destroy our dastardly habit of having to eat (to, y'know, SURVIVE), end our relationships and join 10 new gym classes? Maybe this kind doesn't seem so obviously destructive on the cover, but the little lift they promise to give us ends up dragging us down instead. Why?
Well, it doesn't help that no matter how empowering these magazines claim to be, they're still THE main culprit in promoting a single body type as the ideal. I opened one recently at a friend's house, and it took me 15 pages of advertising to flick through before I saw a single person who wasn't tall, young, thin and white. And when I found that person, she was still tall, young, and thin. Always, always, thin. And we've all said it before -
"Why can't magazines just show more body types?"
"Why can't they just stop using Photoshop?"
"Why can't they stop promoting products we can't afford?"
The answer is that they really, actually, can't. Not unless they want to declare bankruptcy within 2 issues. You see, magazines do not make their money from the cover price that we pay for them. In fact that price doesn't even make a dent in the amount it takes to produce a mainstream women's magazine. Magazines make their money from their advertisers. You know the 30 pages of Versace and Gucci and Burberry and Chanel you have to flip through before getting to anything you can actually read? Those brands paid millions for that advertising space, and those brands like thin.
Once upon a time in magazine land there was a clear line between advertorial and editorial. Editorial pieces were free to give honest opinions on products, set their own body standards for models, and talk about things that really matter without having to water it down. But it hasn't been that way for a long time. These days the companies that control the advertising space can pretty much control everything else in the magazine. They have the leverage of threatening to pull the funding that keeps the magazine alive if they don't like what's on the page next to theirs. And it is a very real threat. For example:
- In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf mentions an editor she knew of a popular women's monthly who dared to run an editorial piece on the glory of embracing grey hair. The magazine then lost millions in advertising revenue from hair dye companies, and the editor had to step down.
- I've just finished reading The Body Snatchers by Cyndi Tebbel (definitely worth a read if you're finding this blog post interesting! p.s. I hope you are!), who was the editor of the Australian magazine New Woman. In a special edition about body image, Cyndi decided to put a size 16 model on the cover. Can you guess what happened? Their biggest advertisers pulled out, accusing the magazine of promoting an unhealthy image (health concern trolls are everywhere you guys!), and Cyndi was asked to resign to keep the peace.
So the next time you're staring at a woman airbrushed beyond recognition and wondering why they can't just put someone who looks like you or me in there, you know who to blame.
Another really important thing to know is that advertiser's influence isn't just about the body type of the models used. If you've ever bought a product, makeup, skincare, clothes, accessories, anything, based on a 'trusted review' in your favourite magazine, you've probably been duped. If you can spot the brand whose product it is, advertising elsewhere in the magazine, you've definitely been duped. A lot of brands these days just aren't happy with showing their stuff and letting the products talk for themselves, they also expect a glowing endorsement in an 'expert' feature on the 10 Best Lipsticks EVER! Don't buy it.
And the sad part is that it isn't even the magazine's fault. They might genuinely want to put out inspiring messages of self love and body diversity and honest features, but unless they can afford to run without advertising, it isn't gonna happen.
So please, be wary, and protect your self esteem above all else. If you can keep reading these magazines, recognise the potential negative influence and not let it affect you, then go ahead! They aren't all bad, in fact most of them manage to write features on really important world events, women's issues, and occasionally positive body image (as long as they don't take it too far in the advertiser's eyes). It's just a shame that the valuable stuff has to come with a hearty dose of shame, self destruction and lies. And please, in the name of women everywhere never ever buy the poison that is the first type of magazine I mentioned up there (seriously, stop drawing circles around female body parts as if they are detachable and don't exist as a beautiful part of a whole, worthy, valuable human being).
Really, we don't need anything in our lives telling us that our bodies aren't good enough, that our clothes aren't in style enough, that our nights out aren't exciting enough and that we can be just like those coveted glossy role models if we're just willing to change every single thing about ourselves. Anything with an influence that toxic, is destined for the recycling bin.