I stopped buying “women’s magazines” around the age of 20 when I realised that they only ever made me feel bad about myself. Starting on Girlfriend’s ‘How embarrassment!’ section from the age of 9, however, meant that that my formative years were spent obsessing about snagging my ‘crush’, having perfect hair and wondering how I was ever going to save $500 for a formal dress. And as I got older, how I was possibly going to please a man using only my tongue and an ice cube. Once I worked out that sex and dressing myself aren’t that complicated, I stopped buying that rubbish and never looked back.
It was you guys and this piece that led me to, after a years-long absence, pay money for this trash again (the things I do for you!). I purchased three women’s/teen girl magazines to see what messages they were sending the female sex these days… spoiler alert: it’s the same old shit.
Issue: January 2012
Target audience: (allegedly) older teenage girls aged 14-17
Cover girl: Dianna Agron (Glee)
Main cover story: ‘It’s the Summer of Love: Your Ultimate Guy Manual’
Other cover stories: ‘You’re Hired!: Tips to landing a J.O.B.’, ‘Easy As Hair Dos You’ll Totally ♥’, ‘What The?!!! The Most Cringeworthy Confessions Ever!’, 16 Bikini Confidence Tips That Really Work
Free stuff?: One size fits most pyjamas
The good: Upfront, of the three, this is definitely the magazine to give your daughter. The magazine proudly labels itself ‘a retouch free zone’ and features a variety of body types – in fact, I believe it may have a policy of only using models in their healthy weight range. As mentioned above, there is a story on getting a part time job, and the ‘real reads’ are suitably empowering (‘I worked in African schools and hospitals’). The sealed section on masturbation, and the ever-informative Dolly doctor help girls to accept their bodies and learn that most things are normal. A ‘true confession’ reveals a teenage girl as a lesbian, providing some much-needed visibility for adolescents who may be questioning their sexuality. And although there’s the obligatory shopping spreads, they do actually feature products that are affordable for the target market, with a lot of pieces at the $20 mark. No problem with the cover girl, who stars in a PG-rated show that is queer-friendly and pretty popular with ‘the kids’.
- Who knew that Dolly now costs $8.95?? Damn!
- The retouch free zone apparently does not apply to the advertisements in the magazine, still giving girls unrealistic role models and expectations of certain beauty products (being a summer issue, fake tan and hair removal products feature heavily, as do models in bikinis).
- An article on ‘Super Groupies’ is hardly appropriate for young girls. Maybe an article on hard-rockin’ chicks would be more inspirational?
- An anti-social networking scare campaign that has the main message of ‘get off the internet’, which I’m sure has nothing to do with Dolly’s desire to sell more hard copy magazines.
- The lead story is on the ‘ultimate guy manual’. I know, I know. I was a boy-crazy teenager once too but maybe instead of telling girls ‘this is how to identify/find/get the attention of him’, a bit of a lesson in ‘just be yourself’ might not go astray. And what if I want to attract someone who is not ‘the surfer guy’, ‘the indoors dude’, ‘the festival fella’ or ‘Mr Action’? What if he is an actual person who has traits of all/none of them?
- A piece on Asian-inspired fashion called ‘Orient Express’ featuring a white model channelling her inner slutty geisha is ignorant if not outright racist.
- There is something to buy on practically every page. You already know how I feel about shopping as an approved activity for women. Thanks Dolly, for teaching girls that it is never too early to start spending your money on meaningless trendy shit instead of, I don’t know, saving or whatever it is they teach guys to do.
Issue: January 2012
Target audience: Women in their 20s-30s (I have seen 24-34?)
Cover girl: Gisele Bundchen (supermodel)
Main cover story: ‘Bring On The Holidays: Pack the Perfect Summer Bag: 1 Carry-On, 7 Effortlessly Sexy Outfits’
Other cover stories: ‘The O To End Them All’, ‘Fastest Way to a Flatter Tummy’, ’2012 Psychic Special’, ‘WTF? Why 80% Of People Lie On Their Status Updates’, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…. sorry. Fell asleep. Headlines too boring.
Free stuff?: No
The good: There’s a section on awesome things to do if you find yourself single. It’s ok ladies, Cosmo knows that you can’t all be with a man all the time.
- Clearly the worst of the lot. Avoid. Apparently sex + men + shopping = being a real woman.
- Cosmo’s staff ‘best moments of 2011′ mostly relate to the men in their lives (getting married; being proposed to) or being maternal (getting a nephew; puppy).
- Fearmongering by turning literally everything into a disorder. ‘When a friend becomes a follower’. ‘The skin test that shocked the Cosmo Office’. ‘Are you guy-polar?’ Also, apparently only posting happy things on Facebook means you have ‘Competitive Social Networking (CSN)’. I thought it just meant you were trying not to be unnecessarily emo/passive aggressive??
- Why, why, why are breasts always called ‘assets’ in these publications?
- Plenty of retouching here, as well as models under their healthy weight range.
- Also props for featuring an actual supermodel on the cover. How realistic for your audience! Oh wait, the other thing.
- Additionally, diet tips are found everywhere, even outside the ironically-named ‘Body Love’ section. I seem to remember that under Mia Freedman diet tips were banned at Cosmo, but in 2011 they are back and more incomprehensible than ever. Gems include: ‘Resize your stomach… drink water before every meal’ and ‘eat more frozen yoghurt. A study revealed that low-fat dairy slashes belly fat, and pudge in that area can inhibit orgasms’. What Dolly giveth in body image, Cosmo taketh away.
- The low-fat dairy tip was one of ’50 NEW sex resolutions to keep in 2012′. The sex tips continue to insult science by recommending saffron as an aphrodisiac, and their audience’s intelligence by advising that ‘men can lose their desire if they are not mentally turned on’.
- Far, far too many articles about how to please your man. The O to end them all? It’s his.
- Your 2012 Psychic Special? Everyone knows horoscopes are written by fiction writers… right?
- More shopping as women’s number 1 favourite activity (after finding a new sex tip every week to please/keep their man). I particularly enjoy the emphasis on the need to look ‘sexy’ rather than dressing for oneself.
Issue: December 2011 (a straggler at the supermarket, I think)
Target audience: Women aged 18-30, per ACP website
Cover girl: Rachel Bilson (The OC and whatever it is she does now)
Main cover story: ‘Life Of The Party! Sequins, shoes, sunnies, skirts, shirts, the works’
Other cover stories: ’15 Naughty Things To Try In Bed… In The Shower… Or In A Hammock!’, ‘Win A Trip To London For The Ultimate Harry Potter Experience’, ‘Could You Go a Whole Year Without Looking In A Mirror?’, ‘The Only Health Check You’ll Ever Need (Psst! Miranda Swears By It)’
Free stuff?: No
The good: There is an actual article on the ‘F’ word – feminism. It is two whole pages long, and makes the argument that if we, as women, want to be treated equally by men, we need to stop accepting the seat on the train and start paying for our own cocktails. WORD. Another article, ‘Pretty Little Liars’, advises readers to ‘drop the facade of “effortless” fabulousness’ and start being honest with each other. I am all for this! More women speaking their minds makes canbebitter less bitter. There is also a section on careers and professional achievement, which was quite obviously lacking in Cosmo. I have no problem with Rachel Bilson as a cover girl, she seems ok. I am entering that Harry Potter competition right now.
- Cleo says ‘it’s all about orange’. To quote Elle Woods, ‘whoever said orange is the new pink, was seriously disturbed’. (A minor complaint, maybe.)
- The cover story is dedicated to buying stuff and focusing on one’s appearance.
- A spread on a book that pictures Rachel Bilson is aimed at fundraising for brain cancer yet is a feast for the male gaze featuring women in their underwear. I find the link tenuous at best.
- The advertising is almost exclusively airbrushed women in bikinis, which is always a positive message for ladies. Who knows what they are selling? I can’t hear the product over my thighs.
- The sections of the magazine are, in order, ‘fashion’, ‘beauty’, ‘features’, ‘body’, ‘love & lust’. So glad to see Cleo focus on what’s important up front. Feeling good about oneself and fiscal responsibility can be found way down the back of the magazine, next to ‘Cleo inbox’.
- More moronic sex tips (my favourite: build a beach fort so no one knows you are having sex inside it). While our generation quite obviously did not invent sex, the monthly recurrence of these features makes me wonder if there is a whole demographic of women who have forgotten how their parts work. Here’s my sex tip: put down the damn magazine and go with the flow!
The good news is that the disease of sex/boys/shopping seems to have only infected print media. Or at least, it’s much easier to avoid if you head online (where you are now!). It seems that with websites being less reliant on luxury advertising and the need to move product, there is more room to actually listen to reader comments and publish stuff that matters. Jezebel, The Frisky and The Hairpin are great blogs for women, that regularly – as in, every day – feature stories on women’s rights, world news and politics, as well as the other fluff. These sites even sometimes write pieces about being queer, which apparently doesn’t exist in the world of Cleo and Cosmo. The online mag I love the most though, is Rookie, created by teenage blogging sensation Tavi. A dear friend sent me a link to this article, knowing the way to my heart is through Sabrina. From there, I found that the teen site features great feminist writers and that most articles actively discourage girl-on-girl hate and encourage the ‘sisterhood’. It has sections like: ‘books and comics’, ‘dear diary’, ‘eye candy’, ‘fiction’, ‘fun’, ‘live through this’, ‘movies and tv’, ‘music’, ‘sex and love’, ‘style’, ‘tech’, ‘you said it’ and ‘everything else’. How well-rounded! If only Tavi had been around when I was 9…
RESULT: Blogs are free, and better for you. Also, magazines can’t embed cat videos.
Up next: Boxing Day Edition – Sport