Mags: pretty new covers

Who could have predicted The Australian Women's Weekly would get the Catriona Rowntree wedding exclusive?

Coming soon... a review of Madison.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. Have nothing to do tonight AND nothing to wear? Then hit and sign up for tonight's super-fun clothes swapping event.

Mags: Teen Vogue – reluctant cover star

What would Juno MacGuff and her wise-quipping BFF Leah have had to say about this cover? 'Cause while Paulie Bleeker was the cheese to Juno's macaroni, Ellen Page and Teen Vogue are about as mismatched as her Philosophy Di Alberta dress and D&G top (sorry, I just don't get it).

Ellen looks about as comfortable as a pair of spandex hot pants – like she just ran into an ex-boyfriend wearing a stained tracksuit, sporting a nasty cold sore. Her awkward schoolboy, hands-in-pockets pose and “this is kinda painful” expression practically scream “Get me outta here!”. I feel sorry for her – and for Teen Vogue. It’s a forced friendship and neither is a happy camper.

I can see Page on the cover of Interview (she was back in March) or Paper, and she definitely would have been Jane and Sassy material, but Teen Vogue? Sure, she made Vanity Fair's Young Hollywood cover but to front a fashion magazine solo leaves her looking completely out of context – in the same way she self-consciously treads the red carpet. I’ve no doubt Amy Astley had her reservations about using Page, but the cult success of Juno – 2008’s answer to Reality Bites, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink – obviously got the better of her. Will teens respond to this issue in the same way they did to Juno?

Page is no Natalie Portman or Camilla Belle – TV covergirls who get almost monthly exposure in the mag. While Belle, last month’s covergirl, has a “passion for fashion” and the model looks to match, one gets the feeling Page, cute and quirky-cool as she may be, has to feign her interest in Zac Posen frocks. Belle turned up to the TV cover shoot wearing “white Hudson cords, a 3.1 Phillip Lim cashmere cardigan, black Marc Jacobs patent-leather flats and carrying a plaid Jean Paul Gaultier bag”; Page showed up in “a Free City hoodie, ripped jeans and Converse sneaks.”

“In an industry in which many women expend more energy on hair, makeup and Pilates than on acting,” says Astley in her editor’s letter (funnily enough, on the morning of Belle’s April issue cover shoot she “rose early to attend a Pilates lesson”), “Ellen is refreshing.” Like a Cool Mint? “Her bemused expression suggests she would rather be anywhere else than an awards ceremony,” writes Astley. Kinda like how she might feel about being shot by Teen Vogue.

It’s clear TV has respect for Page and her decidedly anti-fashion stance ("she was adamant; no dresses!"), and I admire the mag for taking a risk on a talented kid riding the fame train, but is that affection a bit contrived? Or have I/we become so conditioned to seeing a certain celebrity 'type' on the covers of our magazines, that anything but the stock-standard pretty muse looks unusual? Sad, huh. Page is admitted into the TV “rebel role model” ranks alongside Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder and Natalie Portman – not bad company, really.

The mag covered teen pregnancy and birth control, using Jamie Lynn Spears as a celebrity cautionary talking point, last month (ironically in the ‘prom issue’). This month the big issues are college pressure (overextended teens vying for spots in the top universities, suffering under the weight of parental and peer pressure – in America, kids are like brands with strategies, unique selling points and KPIs); cyberbullying (referencing the MySpace-related suicide of Megan Meier); and tuna sushi, a “fashionable food” with a “good-for-you reputation and status as a Hollywood haute food”, which contains potentially harmful levels of mercury (generally, TV runs a health-scare type story every month).

On the lighter, fashiony side, there’s new style blogger Andrew Bevans’ report on Belgian model/car accident victim Hanne Gaby Odiele Termote; Natalie Portman and Lauren Bush are “fashion’s new superheroes”, representing two of the “starlets, designers and big-name brands that are saving the planet with style”; Russia’s Kira Plastinina, the 15-year-old whose father bought her a chain of 30 retail stores in which to stock her “mix of funky, sequin-lined hoodies and flirty, bright-hued dresses”; Converse’s signature shoe, the Chuck Taylor, scores two pages marking the company’s hundredth year in business and clothing collaboration with Target (a company which has totally cornered the collaborative market); designer Rogan Gregory recycles a crocheted tunic into an “eco-chic shopping tote”; denim mini skirts see the light of day… again, as modeled by Aggy Deyn; the spreads channel Proenza Schouler (‘Marching Orders’), bold, bright beachy separates with a little sequin thrown in for good measure (‘Sunny Delight’), and a chic episode of Lost (‘Sole Survivors’).

The celebrity roll call includes Rihanna, Natasha Khan, Pixie Geldof, Miley Cyrus, Camilla Belle (surprise!), Rupert Friend, Anne Hathaway, Agyness Deyn, Lily Allen, socialite Olivia Palermo, Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Bosworth (in a bikini).

‘Real girls’ are represented by Emily Fontana, 13, the daughter of designer Pina Ferlisi; Adriel Saporta, daughter of the New York City Ballet’s Lourdes Lopez (she looks like a girl you’d want to be friends with); and those lucky enough to appear on the V-Mail and pages.
Beauty and Health leads in with painfully easy-breezy-chic Parisian Clemence Poesy, 25, current face of Chloe perfume and believer in pharmacy-bought skincare; there’s a story on Paul Mitchell director of strategic planning Michaeline DeJoria, 24, who champions charitable causes; Beauty Blogger Eva Chen is told by Bumble and Bumble stylist Damian Santiago that people who exercise frequently and eat lots of lean protein have healthy hair that “grows like Chia Pets’ (gold!); and golden makeup is covered over four pages (“it’s all about touches of gold”).

Entertainment-wise, Leigh Belz profiles Philly native Santogold (2008’s answer to M.I.A); celebrity sons get a run (Colin Hanks, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Jack Quaid…); actor Jonathan Tucker, who filmed The Ruins in Oz, is who ‘People Are Talking About’; Cry-Baby hits Broadway; Tokio Hotel, Ashlee Simpson, the Kooks, Panic at the Disco and Justin Nozuka get the album review treatment; Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the movie to watch; and, of course, Ellen Page gets a four-page spread (Camilla Belle scored 10 last month).

Overall excitement factor: 6/7
Feel-good factor: 5/6
Eye-candy rating: 4/5 – as usual, creative teen styling

The Stats
Issue: May 2008
Book size: 188 pages
Inside front cover: Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess
Back cover: M.A.C Viva Glam
FOB ads: DKNY, Redken, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Gucci by Gucci, Roxy, Guess, Vans, Clinique, DKNY Delicious, Dooney & Bourke, Dillard’s
Editor-in-Chief: Amy Astley

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Mags: The body beautiful

Both US Glamour and Australian Cosmo have run body specials this month (both which have their merits), so I thought I'd preface my mag reviews with an account of my own experience of compiling a health/fitness special...

Last year I executed (i.e. wrote/styled) a nine-page body special for Girlfriend magazine's December '07 issue, as part of the mag’s Self Respect campaign (I know – yay for me).

When my editor approached me in late 2006 with the idea of creating a health campaign to address rising levels of obesity, I went away and compiled a four-inch thick research folder on girls, body image, obesity, eating disorders and health/nutrition. I came back to her with the words 'SELF RESPECT', believing that this concept could be the anchor for how we treat ourselves – mind, body and soul – and the editorial we'd run.

The concept behind the SR campaign was to make girls aware of their health (in the context of growing media/societal concern about childhood obesity), while being sensitive towards young women’s propensity for developing eating disorders (within the context of a celebrity culture in which Nicole Richie and her skinny frame had reached iconic status).

After consultations with doctors including Dr Rick Kausman (prominent in the field of dieting and weight management), Dr Jenny O’Dea, who has dedicated much of her research to young women with eating disorders, and representatives from Victorian eating disorder organisation The Butterfly Foundation, I developed the framework for the editorial side of the campaign. It would focus on building girls’ self esteem while encouraging healthy habits in every aspect of their lives – from eating, exercise and relaxation, to community involvement, building positive relationships, pursuing their passions, finding faith, building character, embracing creativity and giving back. This also happened to coincide with what Dove was doing with its new real-women focused beauty campaign and Self Esteem Fund.

Essentially, the motive was to strengthen the girls’ self esteem by encouraging them to see themselves as more than reflections in the mirror while concurrently encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits and featuring a range of body shapes and real girls in each issue, to balance out the use of generic size 8/10 16-year-old models in the fashion spreads.

I’m not sure how successful the campaign was/has been, though we did get a lot of positive feedback.

The most recent Mission Australia Youth Survey found body image to be the number one concern of young people, above family conflict, coping with stress, school or study problems, suicide, the environment and emotional abuse. This is terribly depressing – some young people are so distracted by their outward appearance and thinking about their bodies/food/exercise that it may inhibit their development in other parts of their lives, stopping them from reaching their full potential.

Smart, discerning young women are not exempt from this (read Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters?) – in fact, they’re more likely to develop disordered eating and exercise habits because they become so well versed in the language of diet and, through social conditioning, part of a pervasive, accepted discourse in which women are applauded for losing weight (great willpower/control!) and warped behaviour (wow, she exercises like a demon!), even after giving birth. I, for one, have certainly not escaped the trappings of rigidly adhering to strict diet/exercise practises in order to control my body (and, to some extent, my life). I remember reading diet stories in Dolly when I was 14, studying a Cleo body special when I was 17 and dedicating myself to the exercises shown and, even now, it's rare for me to read/review a magazine which doesn't offer some new way to improve oneself via a change in diet.

I think the media, particularly women’s magazines, celebrity weeklies and the tabloid press (here’s looking at you, Daily Mail), can shoulder a big chunk of the blame for the vexed position we find ourselves in. Sure, the fashion industry has a preference for using girls on the catwalk who look like they’ve never had a decent meal, and shows like The Biggest Loser use weight loss for entertainment value, but the constant barrage of editorial around celebrity bodies, weight loss/diets, and even well-intentioned ‘love your body’ stories, have the cumulative effect of perpetuating and feeding our body angst – the focus is rarely off our outward appearance. Women, it seems, are really not more than the sum of their body parts.

In this world, self improvement is all about managing your weight and choosing the right clothing for your body type. Even when women are being celebrated for their different body shapes, the message is still ‘you should be thinking about how you look’. Controlling your weight and shopping for your body shape is promoted as a means for increasing your happiness – forget working on your character, your values, your contribution to the world at large: if you can just keep a lid on your penchant for peanut butter, you will soon see results.

The thing is, anyone with half a brain knows you have to eat nutritious food and exert a decent amount of energy to stay on the safe side of the BMI scale (which I think is flawed as a measurement of overall health, anyway). Though, as a nation, we clearly need more education on nutrition and health, I think most young women know their good fats from their French fries. There is a place for health and nutritional education and information (I like to get mine from magazines like Australian Healthy Food Guide), just as there is for sound relationship advice and money management tips. But women's magazines, and the glamorous women who work on them, are aspirational – and the aspirational body/figure they tend to promote looks a lot like Kate Moss.

Yes, women's magazines make health and nutritional information accessible for women who really need it – many get encouraging letters from readers who have been inspired to take control of their health and lose weight. But there also needs to be a message about weight loss not being the key to happiness. Show me a skinny, carb-deprived woman who's smiling and I'll give you a hundred bucks (Nicole, Mary-Kate et. al. could barely muster the energy for a smile, surviving as they do/did on Starbucks coffee).

Also, the feminine relationship with food is far from a simple hungry = eat something equation. It’s inextricably connected to our emotional state (stressed? Pass the chocolate! Sad? I can't look at food), our social conditioning (what’s your family’s or friends’ attitude to food?), female competition (a friend loses weight and you feel jealous) and self esteem (eating to excess to hide from the world; limiting calories to feel a sense of control). Food, for most, is a psychological, as well as physical matter. Yes, it is the role of the journalists working on women's magazines to take sometimes obscure and complex concepts and make them palatable for their readership, but telling us what to eat and how much to exercise is but a small piece of the pie.

I think this is where magazines like Frankie and Yen get it so right – who cares what your body looks like; what’s going on in the rest of your life? We really need to emancipate ourselves from the relentless barrage of media images intent on making us feel discontent. Whether that means refusing to buy celebrity weeklies or any issue of a magazine that promises you a better body, is, of course, up to the individual. And, unfortunately, celebrity body specials tend to be best sellers (after celebs without makeup, of course).

It’s sad that most young women aspire to look and be like Kate Moss, who’s a sylish lass, for sure, but doesn’t have the kind of depth of character/intellect we should aspire to. Heck, even a well-honed sense of humour is often overlooked in favour of developing Jennifer Garner biceps, Jennifer Aniston's lean physique and Jennifer Lopez's butt.

It’s important that there’s dialogue around this issue. Why is so much of our self worth tied up in how we look? How can magazines make women feel better about themselves without ‘body love’ style campaigns? Has the feminism movement failed to move us from objects to whole beings? Do we manipulate our bodies to please men, other women or ourselves? Who, exactly, are we exercising for?

After I wrote up the Girlfriend body special, putting all my efforts into thorough research, presenting readers with a comprehensive guide to eating and exercise (as well as emotional health) and cute styling, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of guilt – the feeling that some girl, somewhere, would use the information to embark on what could become a lifelong dedication to staying in shape via label reading, meal planning, portion control, salad making and regimented exercise.

Rant over.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Images: Girlfriend magazine December 2007

Mags: In defence of beauty eds

Sydney Morning Herald writer/blogger Sam de Brito (All Men Are Liars) recently posted a tirade titled 'Canaries in the cage: beauty editors', taking aim at magazine beauty editors and beauty bloggers.

de Brito, who spent three days in makeup for a 'Weekend as a Woman' experiment (thereby fully qualifying him to speak on behalf of women), is concerned that beauty editors are "cheerleaders for deception, telling readers they 'can't live without' or 'must have' certain products", in order to buy into the idea of perpetual youth and vanity over health. He says beauty editors are propagandists who aid the beauty industry in "creating a demand where none would naturally exist" and "perpetuate the myth that you can't be happy or whole without these products."

He goes on to say that the beauty editors he spoke to "honestly think they're helping the sisterhood feel better about themselves", which he thinks is crap because "you can look after your appearance naturally and cheaply" by placing mashed-up avocados on your face. His post ends with a lengthy quote from Body & Soul (Sunday Telegraph) columnist and Feeding Your Skin author Carla Oates, who speaks with wisdom but also has her own (organic) agenda:

"How wonderful for women to pursue realistic beauty goals - aspirational and fun, but achievable - and spend their money on really improving their health, self esteem and skin by seeing a naturopath, taking a dance class, eating well, investing time in relationships and bestowing only pure, fresh ingredients on their skin. Mass market cosmetic companies would pay millions to be able to preserve the potency of nutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables. But it's impossible for two reasons. Firstly it's far far more expensive to use natural, organic ingredients (synthetic chemicals are often far cheaper to use) and, secondly, it's impossible to preserve them without using a host of nasty preservatives and chemicals. You are far better off rubbing the flesh of a fresh papaya or avocado on your body in the pursuit of good skin - it is a real vitamin boost! For centuries women looked after their own skin, yet over the years we have relinquished this role and handed over the health of our skin to big companies that often don't have our health in mind and are doing a poor job. Mass market cosmetics are akin to fast food - for the health of your skin, it's best to cook at home! Or seek out ethical skin care companies that use only natural ingredients."

Funnily enough, it is commonplace for beauty editors to run the odd story on organic or at-home skin care (particularly in the teen category), and organic beauty products, like Juice Beauty, are really taking off, though I doubt your average career woman has time to mix a batch of rolled oat exfoliant to slap on her face before bedtime. The products on offer on department store cosmetics floors, Priceline and supermaket stores (the "fast food" of cosmetics, as Oates says) cater to our hectic schedules by providing all the necessary ingredients in one handy tube. It's our choice as consumers as to whether we want to pay $10 or $100 for that tube.

I am a former beauty editor. And possibly the country's top consumer of women's magazines. Yet I'm very low-maintenance. My daily skin-care regime consists of washing my face with an Olay cleanser (bought from the supermarket), moisturising with Olay moisturiser containing SPF (supermarket), applying Blistex (supermarket), brushing my teeth (Colgate; supermarket) and moisturising with Nivea body lotion (supermarket). My day makeup is usually a little dark M.A.C or Napoleon eyeshadow applied with a fine brush, curled lashes (no mascara), M.A.C Blushcreme on cheeks, a bit of bronzer powder to keep from looking corpse-like and lipgloss if I could be bothered (I don't wear foundation; my skin looks better without it). Once I week I give myself a pedicure and paint my nails and if I have an event coming up, I might unleash a little St Tropez fake tan. That's it. Oh, and I may try out the occasional product that lands on my desk for a bit of fun.

At the moment, at the age of 27, I'm starting to think about facial preservation, so I'm wary of the sun and getting good nutrition (I fear looking haggard before my time – I'll take Nigella's face over Madonna's any day). I would like to have the odd facial (they have done wonders for my aunt, who, at 41, looks 31) but rarely find the time, and when I reach my 30s I'll probably consider investing in products containing AHAs and the like to keep the wrinkles from setting in too soon (this stems from my own vanity and because I don't want to buy into Botox). My mother's routine has always been very simple, too – and she looks fabulous (no Botox) at 56. She swears by sorbolene, vaseline, Nivea creamy cleanser and Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturiser (though I personally don't like/buy into that product). And she eats a well-rounded diet and gets daily exercise.

What de Brito doesn't consider is that most women will read the beauty sections in magazines with a critical eye and not take product suggestions as gospel. It is a given that advertiser products will be given preference over non-advertisers (particularly when there's only enough room on the page to feature five products). It is also a given that if you smoke, drink to excess, eat crap and survive on no sleep, your face will display signs of wear and tear.

As in any profession, there are very good beauty journalists (Suzanne Wangmann of Sunday Magazine/Notebook, for example) and there are bad/lazy beauty journalists (obvi not naming names) who are happy to regurgitate press releases/the same old stories month after month, kowtow to advertisers and live for the freebies, champagne and canapes. Those who take their jobs seriously see beauty as a science (a good beauty ed. must have a basic grasp of biology and chemistry) and their role as gleaning the best and latest information for their readers.

Fact of the matter is, beauty advertising is what bankrolls magazines – for the most part, it's what pays everyone's salaries. And 'product mentions' are part and parcel of the business (though some of the more esteemed magazines won't package up editorial product mentions with ad pages). While most mags will run puff pieces about the new miracle product from a big-name advertiser or profile the celebrity behind the latest perfume launch, and none (with the exception, perhaps, of Frankie, which doesn't run beauty ads) will say a bad thing about a product, a good beauty section will also contain stories tailored to the reader.

Beauty editors, as working journalists, have access to experts in the field – dermatologists, scientists, nutritionists (and, yes, health and beauty are inextricable) – which means readers essentially get consultations for free. Now days, unfortunately, many experts are aligned with beauty companies (or selling their own product line), rendering their opinions somewhat one-sided, but a good beauty journo will endeavour to write up a balanced story containing several opinions (given word-count limitations, this can be tough), as well as research from a number of sources.

Most beauty editors come into the role by way of advancing from junior magazine positions. And as it's a varied, demanding and time consuming role, which sees an editor attending launches (during and after office hours), organising shoots, testing product, visiting ad clients and writing copy (unfortunately, there's often little time left for this part!), the beauty beat is an excellent fertilising ground for future editors. Yes, it's also fun – and you are spoilt rotten – but you can't really hate a girl for landing a plumb job?

Many beauty editors donate time to worthy causes like Look Good, Feel Better, send product to women's shelters and bestow gifts on staffers suffering emotional issues. Though some relish (and even live for) the fancy launches and being snapped for the social pages, most would rather be at home with their families or kicking back watching TV. None of them, I'm sure, want to make women feel bad about themselves. They are employed to do a job, and if they were not beholden to advertisers, could do their journalistic skills real justice. But such is the nature of magazines.

I do find all the current reporting on Botox and cosmetic surgery unsettling, as it has the affect of normalising these procedures (just as showing skinny model after skinny celebrity normalises, um, skinny), but am smart enough to make up my own mind. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean I have to. I also know, as most women are aware, that true beauty comes from within – good self-esteem, thinking of others and being grateful for what we have.

As Wangmann wrote in her recent story 'Truth in Beauty', of the 175,000 Australian women aged 18 to 55 Nivea interviewed last year, most rated looking healthy and natural as the most important aspect of visual beauty, while being "caring and compassionate, happy, friendly and optimistic" were ranked as the most important indicators of inner beauty.

The Dove Beauty campaign has been a real turning point for the beauty industry and for beauty editors. Finally something positive to write about! If beauty editors can balance the fluff and puff with substance – talking to real women about their concerns, helping them address them in a meaningful way and starting a dialogue about what drives us to seek perfection – then I don't think they can wear the blame for feeding female insecurities.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel