Glossy Talk: Did Glamour get it wrong with this cover?
Given that Glamour is one of the few women's glossies on the stands that regularly puts a smile on my face, I'm a bit dispirited with the June swimsuit cover featuring models Crystal Renn, Alessandra Ambrosio and Brooklyn Decker resplendent in ultra-bright bikinis.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful, as Glamour does so many things RIGHT (and gets the kudos for it), but, to be frank, this cover makes me feel about as fab as seeing Helena in the buff for Reebok. Super-curvy or super-skinny; the focus here is the body beautiful – ergo, let's waste more brain cells on body-bashing ourselves because we don't fit the impossible mould!
I don't like to be one to judge a book by its cover (the heart of a mag is what counts, and I'm yet to flip through the content), but don't we see enough women in swimsuits on the covers of Sports Illustrated and the various other lad-mags assaulting us from the newsstands? Why – in the era of Tina Fey, Michelle Obama and other women generally kicking it, as evidenced by the magazine's annual 'women of the year' issue – must a mainstream women's magazine feel the need to produce a cover that's as likely to be fawned over by men as picked up by women?
Granted, it's the SWIMSUIT issue, which would make swimwear befitting. But we were making progress here, guys (gals, girls, ladies, gents...). Is there a major difference between choosing to put busty airbrushed models on the cover and waif-like models – they are both still ideals few real women can achieve.
The point being: magazine covers may be about aesthetics, but since when are aesthetic norms set in stone (or, indeed, in the stone age)? When did it become okay for women's mags to start objectifying women again? Is this just representative of how far we've NOT come since feminism, or just how lazy we've become about asserting its values?
Journalist Fenella Souter's rather scathing appraisal of women's progress for Good Weekend (The Sydney Morning Herald, May 1, 2010), is one of many recent articles to take stock of 60 years of feminist literature, including Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (which "declared that the new bondage for women would be the feverish pursuit of an impossible ideal of beauty, endlessly promoted by television, women's magazines, ads and pornography"), and its affect on society. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is not good. She writes (this merely an excerpt in a pleasing 10-page feature validated by statistics, anecdotal evidence and first-person opinion):
"The larger culture, from gyrating g-strings on MTV to the proportion of women at a CHOGM conference, shapes the way women are viewed and view themselves. Right now, the vision seems to be as 'empowered' eye candy. Feminism has had many attempts on her life, but the latest is to shove the hoary old dame into retirement by telling her she's no longer required. Apparently, women have achieved such completely equal status, it's safe to go back to celebrating our 'femininity' and our sexiness, source of the new empowerment. Phew! At last! Back to the traditional role of sex object, even if it does come with some confusing added duties: working twice as hard at the office; striving to be a domestic goddess at home; attempting to 'man-up'... all the while hobbled in 12-centimetre heels or clad in lingerie." (Or "Beyonce Bootie Shorts"?)
I fear that "enlightened sexism" – described by author Susan J. Douglas as the phenomenon by which "true power has nothing to do with economic independence or professional achievement" but everything to do with "getting men to lust after you and other women to envy you" – or some variation of the concept, is exactly what most women's magazines are peddling. Poo to that. I love clothes, I like to feel "pretty" (not necessarily in a visual sense; I feel prettiest when I've performed some act of kindness or love), but I would like not to be assessed on the shape of my butt in a bikini – by myself or by others.
CLEO writer Nicole Elphik recently penned a story titled 'Is body love missing the point?', which ran amongst fashion pages with hot skinny models (the online version runs with an image of a model in a bikini). As these stories do. Still, props to CLEO for canvassing this editorial territory. Author Emily Maguire (Your Skirt's Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice) is quoted:
"As a society, we have yet to break free of the ancient, patriarchal view of women as decorative objects and status symbols for their male counterparts... It's now widely accepted that women can think and work and achieve as much as men, but we're supposed to do these things in addition to being decorative – not instead of... I think we need to ask ourselves why beauty is valued more than any other trait. Why is it considered important for me to love my body? Of course, hating the way you look feels terrible, but the remedy isn't necessarily learning to love your appearance...
Un-retouched photos of models or professionally shot images of 'ordinary' women are exercises in objectification. They invite us to judge the women in the pictures – even if we're encouraged to celebrate or admire the women, it's still a judgment based on how they look. [The images] ask us to compare ourselves to the bodies in the pictures, and again, even if the stated intention is to make us feel better about our bodies, the fact remains that they perpetuate the idea that how women look really, really matters...
The problem is not with idealising thinness, but with presenting any particular body 'look' as a must-attain ideal. Telling women to be curvaceous because men love it is no better than telling women to be skinny because fashion designers make their clothes really small. It's just replacing one idealised image with another. Instead of more examples of what 'beautiful' looks like, I think we need to hear and see more women who cheerfully – and successfully – live their lives without a second's thought about whether or not the majority of surveyed men, or some editorial random writer, thinks they're beautiful."
Perhaps this is where glossy websites and iPhone/iPad applications will help balance out the often one-dimensional version of 'being female' we're presented in the Land of Gloss: through video there's the potential to see more three-dimensional visions of women, on the streets, in the office and in their homes (and home offices), all cheerfully – and successfully – going about their lives unencumbered by itsy-bitsy bikinis.
Vogue running backwards in high heels
A feminist call to fashion arms (without sleeves)
Girl With a Satchel