Glossy Review: A little worldliness would go a long way in Cleo

Glossy Review: A little worldliness would go a long way in Cleo

BFF to Oprah, Beyonce makes some questionable "knock-your-socks-off" moves, but like Cleo editor Gemma Crisp – who confesses to being a naturally happy person in her editor's letter this issue – and the magazine's tough-talking, highly sex/fashion/body charged cover lines ("Ditch the bitch"; "Have electric sex tonight!"; "New fashion buys you will never regret"), Beyonce's dancing (and bandaged-up garb) is more a reflection of industry standards than her genuine wish to empower women. Misguided, misjudged or missing the big picture?

"Power means happiness. Power means hard work and sacrifice. To me it's about setting a good example, and not abusing your power!" Ms B tells Cleo. "My visit to Egypt was a really big inspiration for me. Once the sun went down, I saw not one woman; it was shocking and fascinating, because it was so extreme. I saw thousands of men walking down the street, socialising in bars, praying in mosques – and no women. I felt really proud when I performed [there] and saw the strength that the women were getting through the music. I remember being in Japan when Destiny's Child put out Independent Women, and girls there were saying how proud they were to have their own jobs, their own independent thinking, their own goals. It made me feel so good, and I realised that one of my responsibilities was to inspire women."

And so too is the job of a women's magazine, don't you think? Which is why it's so terribly frustrating, at least from where I sit, to take in Cleo's content, knowing how very good it could be if it were not for all the zealous hot/sexy/shop/sensationalised mag-factory output and the images that undermine the positive content (like a super-thin model that accompanies a story about a regular-girl's weight loss triumph... the regular girl was not enough on her own?). This is easier to see, as a product overall, when you are consumer and reviewer...but not as clear when you're at the coal face, I know.

Like the magazine equivalent of Bridesmaids, Cleo can be hilariously funny, and "real" when she wants to be, but she doesn't give a lot of credit to her reader's intellect. 'But girls just want to have fun!', you say. Yeah, but, a bit of cerebral grist goes a long way... and reflecting on her earliest days, it's plain to see how far she's gone astray. I'd love to see her bring back the long-form feminist essay and refrain, just occasionally, like the lovely Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (who is pictured smiling this issue!), from pulling the generic, open-mouthed "sexy face". 

Speaking of Bridesmaids, whose lead star Kirsten Wigg is interviewed in Radar page 199, Cleo doesn't hold back on the poop talk with a health story titled "Talking Number Twos" which includes descriptive medical advice from dietician Sharon Natoli. Health-wise, there's also a story that contains natural remedies for common ailments, including indigestion (peppermint), cold sores (lemon balm) and acne (tea tree). 'Are you a cyberchondriac' is just the story I needed to run by my husband before he Google-diagnosed himself with bowel cancer a couple of weeks ago. Get a buff body like Cameron Diaz by battling ropes? I like a challenge, but that's a pass.

My "dry, pasty legs" score low on the hotness chart, according to Cleo, but, hey, who's to know when tights are the order of the day and "punchy, pink statement lips" or crazy outfits and punk hair (see 'The Right Stripe') have the ability to detract attention from one's pins. '10 Things You Should Never Apologise For' has some commendable advice ("don't feel like you have to follow the crowd"; "don't let [health nuts'] judgemental looks ruin your snack"), as does 'Best Supporting Act', advice for handling friends in need.

Radio student Belinda Frizza gives up gossiping for a week, avoiding Perez Hilton and Facebook ("I feel so out of the loop!"), which is a lovely Biblical concept (I couldn't help myself), and Rebecca Whish wonders, 'Why do we care so much about what other people think?' in her essay on restaurant, hairdresser and hotel review sites ("Like most things in life, these amateur reviews really are best taken as a guide and not as a definitive answer. But the odds of them being honest are good if the site has a relatively large community of reviewers.").

The main feature of the issue, a 10-page happiness special, leads in with this text: "More than just owning the latest Zara Threads (although, that is nice), happiness is an overall state of mind that isn't altered by our environment. Research has shown that happiness has less to do with circumstances and more to do with genetics and, most importantly, the way we choose to think about ourselves and the world." The feature gives girls tips on cultivating a happy mind, happy body, happy diet, happy career, happy home, happy relationship, etc. There are also helpful practical reminders for beating the glums.

Further on, women who ditched their Mr Right Guy checklists and then found love and a feature on downsizing one's life and "the cult of less" (a theory contrary to any magazine's consumerist ethos) add to the general feeling of lightness that's propelling the Zeitgeist. 'Anorexia Killed My Mum' is a reminder that life can be more complicated for some, while the feature on Pippa Middleton's bum leans a bit too far on the side of endorsing "The Pop Package Perfect Posterior".

On a happier note, the "Season's Eatings" recipes are a an inviting proposition, with a full-page picture of Fennel & Pomegranate Salad accompanying delicious looking Pumpkin & Sesame Tarts and Tamari Almonds. Yum! My favourite regular page remains 'Book Club' where four women dissect a title over brunch, while 'Life Lessons' gives girls a list of online lectures and short-courses to subscribe to in order to upgrade their education and practical skills on a low-committal basis... which is the same approach girls should take to investing too much stock in living according to the gloss.

See also:
Glossy Talk: Cleo's Gemma Crisp on changing up cover girls

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

I love a magazine like Cleo for a little bit of escapism. I always try and stay on top of women's issues in the media by reading as many blogs as possible, reading websites like Feministing, and The Guardian's Women's section. So glossy and frivolous reads like Cleo are a sometimes treat when I feel like not taking life seriously. If I'm in a mood for some rabble-rousing go-get-em feminist essays, I know that I can turn to the feeds I subscribe to. However, sometimes I want my feminism wrapped up in a pretty package with bows and whistles and fluff. I think Cleo hits the nail head-on sometimes, and I think this issue proves my case in point. And they feature Tamari Almonds, so high fives to you, Cleo!