"I've been an avid Sunday Life reader for some years; however, in recent months the tone makes a contented Sunday morning almost impossible. Happily married? Soon your spouse will be unfaithful and you will put up with this. Or, this week ("For Better Not Worse", July 4), you need to spend more time working on your marriage. Enjoy one or two glasses of wine with your dinner? You are on the path to alcoholism. Got kids? You'll need to subjugate yourself in every way to do this properly. The aim seems to be to feed every type of guilt, insecurity and doubt imaginable." - Belinda Prakhoff, Vic*
On the phone to a freelance writer friend the other night, she told me that she'd bought Cosmo, read it through and feel wretched about herself. As someone of considerable intelligence, she almost surprised herself with the ease at which she imbibed the content along with its subliminal messages about the vast gap between Who You Are and Who You Should Be.
This is not deliberate. Glossy editors genuinely don't sit in editorial meetings scheming away at how they can make their readers feel inadequate enough to buy stuff they don't need to fill the aching void of discontent. But they are indoctrinated in the culture; y'know, the one that sees everything through the looking glass. Which is why it scares me when I hear that some titles are producing all their content in-house.
In her "Open Letter to Seventeen Magazine" (a teen magazine which equates flat abs with "Major Confidence" and taking drugs with bring "Fat & Ugly"), teen blogger Tavi writes: "By trying to discourage the use of drugs with the threats that it will make someone fat and ugly, you're saying the worst thing that can happen to your average reader, a teenage girl, as a result of drug use, is not that she will have any damage done to her brain or become unhappy, but that her appearance will suffer (again, being fat does not mean bad appearance, but that is what you imply.) Notice anything wrong with this picture?"
Yes, all shades of wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And my cynical self immediately thinks, what a cheap way to attract teens with sensationalised coverlines that feed their physical insecurities: Seventeen should really know better. In an interview earlier this year, Seventeen editor Ann Sholket said: "I feel a tremendous responsibility to help these girls grow up to be smart, amazing, self-actualized, fulfilled women. And you know that responsibility is, like, every day. What do these girls need now, so they can walk into any situation and feel confident?"
When you work in magazines, you are so busy compiling references to take to meetings, shooting, writing copy, attending launches, etc., that the greater ideological/philosophical ideas about how what you are producing might affect your readers plays second fiddle. Eager features writers come to meetings with bags full of clippings and notes on their real-life experiences which are then bandied about until the perfect angle is decided. (Remember the editorial meeting scene in How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days? It's like that.)
Yes, you will have momentary attacks of "I can't believe I'm participating in this vacuous delusion" (I certainly did as a beauty editor) but mostly you are just Trying To Do Your Job. Which is to create pages for the magazine you are employed by. It's only when you start operating outside the glossy-sphere that things start to add up. What, normal people aren't all a size six? People don't wear six-inch heels and power-shoulder jackets? People actually eat carbs after 6pm? Some women are happy and content in their lives?!!! OMG!
Like a sort of glossy Stockholm Syndrome, you don't realise what adverse affects they have on your pysche until some of their more sinister elements have seeped into your consciousness (see here), like breaking up with an awful boyfriend who treated you like crap but whose disapproving words stick to you like glue. Glossy fatigue has long been a hazard of this blogger's beat (and this blogger's beat), but the above published (pilfered, whatever) reader of Sunday Life magazine articulates a wider disenchantment with the genre.
In 2007, I wrote this about ELLE magazine: "I felt all depressed after reading "After age 25, hair starts to lose pigment, which makes it appear flat and dull even if it's not grey yet" in 'Out With the Old'. In fact, the whole feature has got me obsessing over flaws I didn't know I had. Used to be your 30s were the time to start getting paranoid about wrinkles – now we twentysomethings have to be on hyper-alert for dehydration and pigmentation. In skincare, 20 is the new 30. But don't worry, there are a bunch of super-expensive ways to combat premature ageing: radio frequency waves for sagging arms, hyaluronic-acid-filler injections for jowls, Botox for those fine mouth lines, and shock therapy for frown lines! So much for old-fashioned diet, exercise, SPF, Dove beauty bars and age-acceptance."
While critical thought and shared life experiences are a valuable mainstay of glossy women's media, the negative-gearing of many features – let alone the imagery, advertising, etc. – is not a healthy thing for women to participate in. And it's seeping into online content, too. And now magazines are feeding off online, it's a vicious cycle we're participating in and perpetuating – how is any woman to be content while buying in?
You need to develop self-love, not buns, of steel and a healthy appreciation for the business of gloss. Best not to define your hopes, dreams and aspirations by glossy standards. Between you and me, no matter how well meaning, they will never quite make you feel like you are good enough... if you allow them to. The sooner more glossies start producing content to make women feel good – in mind, spirit and body – the better.
*Ironically, I go to church on Sundays to restore what the glossies deplete through the week!
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." 1 Corinthians 13:1
Girl With a Satchel