What I’ve Learned from Women’s Magazines

My very wise young friend from abroad commented on last week’s Coffee and Chocolate post saying:

I think i never liked chocolate [at least not that much] till women’s magazines taught me that women are supposed 2 crave for them.

This is exactly what makes me crazy about women’s magazines, books, advertising and TV shows like (do I really need to say it?) Oprah. Women are constantly being told the who, what, why, and hows of being a woman/human being.

 Here are the top 10 best-selling women’s magazines.[1]

  1. Woman’s Day
  2. Ladies Home Journal
  3. Cosmopolitan
  4. O, The Oprah Magazine
  5. Redbook
  6. Glamour Magazine
  7. InStyle Magazine
  8. Woman’s World
  9. First for Women
  10. Self Magazine

Because I’m dedicated, I went out and did some field research.  What women apparently need to know about on a regular basis are:

  • Fashion: Women do not know how to dress, that much is clear. They need to be told at least 12 times a year by various sources what colours are “in”; what clothes will best hide their unnatural body shape; what they need to buy if they want to look like a real women like the celebrity flavours-of- the- month.
  •  Beauty: Lots and lots and lots of make-up. And sometimes surgery. With the right collection of products and the skills to apply products like a pro, women can do anything from catching a man, keeping a man, disciplining their children and even getting a dream job. My favourite article on beauty is in this month’s Cosmo: How to Pimp a Boring Ponytail.
  •  Health: This always means weight loss. There are usually at least 3 articles in each magazine on how to lose weight and/or secret techniques or surgery to help you get your dream body. The other thing that “health”means in women’s magazines is articles on mysterious syndromes with vague symptoms which you could possibly have and which you should check with your doctor about.
  •  Sex: We’re doing everything wrong, all the time. There is so much to know that it’s probably best if women just stop having sex altogether until all the tests, polls, surveys and new pop-scientific data is in. We could damage ourselves and our relationships forever if we just plunge in and enjoy plain, non-psychologically evaluated sex. My favourite article on sex is in this month’s Glamour: “What’s better than his O face? His O line…”7 things He Says When He’s Just… About..To….” (I don’t think they’re talking about Oprah)
  •  Celebrities: Every magazine features some celebrity every month (except O, which only features Oprah every month and really, she’s like 50 celebrities rolled into one anyway.) These celebrities are always hotter, smarter, more successful, more courageous, more spiritual, more generous, more savvy, more everything than any ordinary woman could ever hope to be. The celebrities are held up as inspirations for us all so we can try our humble best to emulate them and then in next month’s issue of the magazine, related articles will help you on your journey. Next month’s Self, for instance features Taylor Swift’s Playlist. Can’t wait.
  •  Makeovers: All of the above can be resolved with the ubiquitous MAKEOVER. No women’s magazine can go to print without a makeover feature. Out with the old, in with the new.
  •  Quizzes: Then there are scattered articles on how messed up your kids, spouses, home décor, career, and cooking skills are and how you can easily fix everything by taking a quiz and following the 10 steps recommended by the quiz. Quizzes contain much ancient wisdom.

The real problem with these magazines is that they give the impression they’re educating and empowering women, when to me, they’re doing exactly the opposite. They tell women month after month that they’re not good enough in pretty much all aspects of their lives. And then show them in the most patronizing manner possible how they could turn that around if only they were better and applied themselves. Why do all these magazines read like they’re written for 14-year-olds? (No offense intended toward 14-year-olds).

Next month they start all over again.

This month on top of all our other problems it’s quite evident that women aren’t happy because almost all of the magazines feature articles on how to enhance your gloomy mood, how to “get happy”, how less sex or more sex or a hot bath or some chocolate or whatever will make you feel better.

This month women also all want to know how stretch their household budget in these scary economic times while still dressing, looking, skinnying-up, eating, exercising, thinking, smelling and shopping like Oscar winners.

So, hearkening back to my wise young friend‘s comment: How do women know that we’re supposed to love and crave chocolate; that it’s not only our right, but our obligation to be bitches for one week every month; that we’re too fat and droopy; that we’re suffering from stress; that our hair’s a disaster; that we’re emotional eaters; that our spouses are not doing everything they should be doing to make us happy; what we should and should not be buying/reading/wearing/feeling; or how and what to think about stuff?

How much of what you think you know, think or feel has been influenced by this propoganda? Can any woman, no matter how intelligent, no matter how much they avoid popular media, be completely free of its influence?


[1] The top selling men’s magazines are:

  1. Sports Illustrated
  2. Playboy Magazine
  3. Maxim Magazine
  4. ESPN The Magazine
  5. Men’s Health
  6. Field & Stream
  7. Popular Science
  8. Car and Driver
  9. Rolling Stone
  10. Motor Trend
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33 responses to “What I’ve Learned from Women’s Magazines

  1. I used to subscribe to a fashion magazine called Grazia (think it’s just a UK rag) and realised that it was making me dissatisfied with my lot. I canceled it a year ago. Immediately i had no Nicole Ritchie and Victoria Beckham (esp VB) in my life at all. It was great. Cut out these mags and these women disappear, as they only exist to fill magazines like this and are hardly visible anywhere else.

    I have not felt the urge to even pick it up from the shelves and have a free flick though since.

  2. i used to love me a big fat vogue now and then. i really love the fashions and find them inspiring. however, the day grace saw me leafing through one, pointed to a model and said “mommy, am i as pretty as that girl?” was the last day i brought one of those magazines into my house. she was 5 at the time. young girls are vulnerable to that stuff. i do think once you mature, you can look at these magazines and take them for what they are worth (we all know about photoshop, right?) and the articles seem to be regurgitated slop most of the time, so i don’t take them too seriously either.
    the magazines that do make me feel inadequate are the style at home kind. i really do think if i had that extra little organiser basket that maybe, just maybe, all my problems would be solved. christ, an ikea catalogue can send me into a depression 🙂

  3. Good post! Truthfully, everyone is influenced by the media to some extent and that’s why its important to take a step back and try and find your own way.
    The main issue I have is that most of the “role models” of today are only in that position because of the way they look. Women and girls specifically, need more examples of women who are successful because of their intelligence/personality/talents. 🙂

  4. I don’t read magazines anymore. They always promise so much more than they deliver, and they’re bloody expensive too. I read somewhere that a study revealed that women’s self-esteem starts sinking after as little as 30 seconds of looking at women’s magazines.

  5. she is the only celeb in her magazine because she is a selfish b*tch that doesnt want the spotlight away from her.

    just sayin

    have you ever read any articles in Maxim? omg they are funny. i highly recommend going into chapters one day and just reading a couple of their advice to men articles. trust me.. its worth the time. SO funny

  6. LMAO @ How to Pimp a Boring Ponytail! I’m soooo disappointed in you! How could you miss all the articles on cleaning and organizing? Your house must be a disaster!

  7. Ah the medium is in fact the message. All the “content” produced in mass media is in fact only the loss leader to get you into the ads. TV’s product is not shows it is viewers. Same with mags papers radio etc. The media is only there to bring consumers to sellers. That the sellers make us pay for the privilege of being sd to is the greatest scam going.
    That being said it is obvious that the consumer snaring content of women’s mags are slanted to attract the, non rational, hysterical, status obsessed, modern western woman.
    IE, just about all of you.

  8. MisssyM – The only time I actually see any of this is standing in line at the grocery store. I browse all the headlines because they make me laugh which makes me not so grumpy about standing in line waiting to pay too much for my food.

    Meanie – What did you tell Grace when she asked that? That is probably as important as setting a good example and not forking over good money to be told how inadequate you are.

    Hannah – Even when women are in the media for something other than their looks, they are airbrushed and photoshopped so they look as good as they possibly can. Because who wants to read about an ordinary-looking smart or talented woman, right?

    Zoom – 30 seconds? I believe it. You should have seen me after my field research. And yes, holy crap, I couldn’t believe the price of some of these things.

    Jobthingy – Maxim? No – are they as silly as the articles in women’s magazines? And what? You don’t worship Oprah?

    Lost – Thank YOU for inspiring the post. I hope lots of people stop by and read your poetry.

    Charlene – No! No! How can we ever hope to clean and organize anything if our ponytail is in disarray?

    Bandobras – Ya, we know. We’re only women, but I think most of us are savvy enough to understand that we’re buying $8 worth of advertisements when we buy a magazine. In fact, I would go so far as to say a lot of women actually buy the magazine especially for the ads, so they can see what they need to buy next. That’s the only reason Canadian women’s mags sell at all. The rest of the content is the same as any US mags, but we can’t buy any of the stuff advertised in the US mags – so we buy Canadian.

  9. I don’t read any of those. I read Toronto Life, Macleans, Canadian Living (mainly for the recipes) and occasionally I’ll buy Today’s Parent, though in general I’m not even all that interested in parenting magazines as I follow my own instincts rather than what parenting articles say, anyway. Oh, I love Food and Drink magazine (the free one they have at the LCBO). When I’m going on a trip I sometimes pick up House and Home, Food & Drink, and Cooks Illustrated. I guess I’m more interested in Food Fashion that actual fashion.

    It’s funny because I love watching the show Project Runway….I enjoy watching the creative process. But I’m really not that much interested in fashion as something that I need to go out and get for myself.

    I’m sure I’m influenced by some of the stuff in women’s mags as it permeates our culture. But not I also think I’m reasonably savvy about media…if I am influenced at times I am so knowingly.

  10. well, i told grace she could be as pretty as that girl if she got her nose fixed, grow some teeth, lose some weight and told her to save her allowance to get a few highlights to brighten her face.
    OF COURSE i told her she was so much more beautiful than that chickita, explained the fine art of photoshop to her (using Mr. Potato Head as an example). I think we might have also drawn a mustache and eyepatch on the model for giggles. oh, and food for grace is an energy source. she is very conscientious of eating well.
    grace is a very muscular girl, and (so far) quite proud of her solid gait. her extracurricular activities are all about sports and athleticism and so far she aspires to be an olympic athlete instead of model. her love of velour tracksuits over hannah montana t-shirts or bedazzled clothes shows me a love of comfort over “fashion”. there’s no doubt in my mind the kid is going places.
    edie on the other hand would love nothing more than to grow a tail, don a red wig and become Ariel……

  11. Blech, I say. the only magazine I find even vaguely interesting on either list is Rolling Stone. And sometimes SI, during baseball season. I just don’t get it. But I also completely ignore it, so I feel unfazed by THEM, who tell “us” what to do and how to do it.

  12. Hi There ~ Coming over from Raino’s site. I never was a fashion gal growing up, so the magazines didn’t affect me as much when I was younger. As the years ticked on, the magazines seemed laughable. They want society to be the perfect image for women. Is there any magazine out there that discusses the importance of what’s inside that truly counts?

  13. I can’t read that crap. I might as well be reading something that (legitimately) helps or educates me, especially if it costs $7 or whatever magazines cost now.
    I buy Bitch magazine, and sometimes Bust. Oh, and the occasional knitting magazine if there are some good patterns in it.

  14. As someone who works for a major fitness magazine (AHEM) I can’t say I don’t know what you’re talking about. However, I am happy to say I don’t work for a typical woman’s magazine where crack-whore skinny = healthy/happy/yourlifeisperfectyayyou!!! Our pub is all about muscle tone and strength and eating healthy (and many times a day!). All this being said, what you’re saying here is still all too true and prevalent. Not only in mags but all over TV and movies as well. It’s a wonder sometimes any women can manage to have healthy body images these days.

  15. Mary Lynn – Well, Food & Drink is in a category all on its own. First of all it’s free and secondly it’s about two of my favourite things. And ya, Canadian Living has some good recipes, but overall is a crappy magazine.

    Meanie – Har har — I was wondering if you explained about photoshop.

    Ellie – Ya, you don’t strike me as someone who’s worried about whether or not the particular blue of your sweater is still wearable this season.

    Jazz – No, I don’t think it’s important. I’m not sure who she is either – some kind of pop singer or tv actor or movie actor or something I think.

    Aleta – No. The reason for that being that the people who believe that what’s inside counts, don’t need magazines to tell them that. Welcome to the blog and thanks for the comment.

    Em – I’m surprised the glam advertisers haven’t swooped down on the knitting market yet. No bust-enhancing knitted vests? Or age-erasing woolen tams?

    Lesley – Not even just body image, but these magazines make women feel insecure about everything else as well – their relationships, their health, their mental well-being, their parenting skills, their cooking skills, their careers and their home décor – along with a whole host of other crap.

  16. Great post. Magazines always remind me of The Story of Stuff

    I particularly hate grocery shopping for having to stare at these damn things. Especially now that there’s no longer a paper version of The Weekly World News (R.I.P.)

    As a male I’ve never had much interest in women’s magazines… okay I admit every male will peek into them if there is one lying around. Especially the sex parts and just to perv on the models.

    I’m not sure what is more depressing, the fact that this is marketed as empowerment for women of the fact that there are so many women that buy this crap. Sheeple! Soo many pathetic little Sheeple out there!

    Women’s and Men’s popular culture magazines are so bloated with advertising I can hardly believe anyone would pay for them. For me I still like to pick up the occasional National Geographic or Economist but that’s about it.

    Consumer culture must die.

  17. Okay, I only read these things when I’m bored sh*tless (i.e stuck in a doctor’s waiting room for an hour and there’s nothing else to read except Textiles Quarterly).

    But there’s ONE thing I DID learn from all these Women’s magazines: menstrual fluid is merely harmless, fluorescent blue water….that can easily be dabbed up with a paper napkin. 🙂

  18. I can’t tell you the last time I bought a woman’s magazine!!! It’s the same thing over and over and over… Truthfully I think that they recycle everything every 17 years!
    Good thoughts!

  19. Actually, you wanna talk about unrealistic body images?

    Check out the dudes in Maxim Magazine.

    How many guys do you know who look like THAT?

    (Yeah..that makes ME feel GREAT!) 😦

  20. I LOVE this… hilarious and ingenious all at once… although to argue a minor point, I loved chocolate LONG before I was old enough to realise these magazines existed…

  21. I don’t read women’s magazines. I had to spend a few hours in my dentist’s office last week, and all he had were women’s magazines. They were the same thing – over and over and over… ad nauseum.

    My favorite magazine is The New Yorker, followed by The Economist, The Utney Reader, Vanity Fair, Newsweek and Time.

    Oh, and MacLean’s *heh*.

    I have often thought that women’s magazines — much like daytime television — is a “plot” to keep women in their place. Really, I’m not kidding. Anyone who watches Oprah, or reads her magazine has a serious problem.

  22. I have to admit, I used to love getting trashy women’s magazines, reading them in the bathtub, and hooting with laughter at all of the ludicrous content. But, XUP, I think you’re right in the sense that they are definitely feeding an ugly side of North American culture. And I do know people who take them seriously, and religiously follow every suggestion (even when one month contradicts the next!), and those people frighten me.

    That said, I think that they are also a product of our culture. There wouldn’t be a market for women’s magazines if we didn’t think that women are sex objects/babymaking machines who are only interested in celebrity, beauty, and being thin. Just like there wouldn’t be a market for men’s magazines if we didn’t think that men are obsessed with cars, sports, and titties.

  23. I’m having an identity crises. The mags I take are People, Entertainment Weekly and National Geographic. Maybe I am a gay aborigine?

  24. I suck as an American I subscribe to:

    Harper
    The Atlantic
    The Sun
    Utne

    Wow, I don’t subscribe to one homo magazine…dang I suck as a homo too.

  25. Ruhh – I don’t think it’s going to die any time soon. People are too much in love with their stuff. And just when you think you’ve got all the stuff you need, they come up with a whole bunch more stuff that you MUST have.

    Friar – Ha ha – did they also tell you that deoderant needs to be smeared in the palm of your hands? And toilet tissue is rubbed gently on the side of your face? (I guess it’s good to know that magazines demean men and women equally. That’s something, I suppose… isn’t it? )

    Helen – If you’ve ever written for magazines, one of the things the experts tell you is to recycle your article and ship it off in various forms to all the magazines. And, to go back through your old articles every year or so, throw in a few new buzz words and ship the bastards off again!

    Laura – Check back in a month and let me know if you have a whole new positive outlook on life, okay? Mexico, eh? It’s minus 28 this morning here. I hope that makes you a little more satisfied!

    Noha – Glad to hear you became addicted to chocolate all on your own. And thanks for the hilarious and ingenious.

    Jo – I agree completely. At least, if they didn’t have a serious problem before, they will after getting sucked into that world.

    Meloukhia – I don’t think people are born consumers, I think in many cases the market is created. Take the example I used a while ago of women shaving their body hair. No woman would have thought of this on her own – Gilette waged an intensive and prolonged media campaign to convince women they were hideous with all that body hair and bit by bit women bought it. Now it’s the norm. And we are now being convinced to do away with more and more of our body hair. Young girls think pubic and arm hair on women is gross. Never underestimate the persuasive powers of a good propoganda machine. They have wrought incredible things over the centuries.

    Geewits – You may be one of the few among us who actually has an identity now. It may be a tad off-the-wall, but at least it’s solid.

    Cedar – The Atlantic? You suck as a Washingtonite, too.

  26. i very rarely ever look at these magazines, if they are in the waiting room i find myself getting sucked in with the headlines but it’s really all the same crap just recycled.

    if taken with a grain of salt, they are mildly entertaining.

    i think that women and girls get sucked in to this stuff, they buy into it hook, line, and sinker. it’s destructive in that we are not taught to value ourselves, to know that everything we need resides in us already.

    just like the wizard of oz message at the end where dorothy clicks her heels.

    we are enough and to view these magazines as a valid source of identity is a huge mistake.

  27. Just once I would love to pick up one of these magazines and read an article with substance. Soemthing that goes beyond make-up, clothes, how to seduce a man.

    How about focusing on the importance of education, the importance of being independent and forward thinking, how to be a successful professional, if that is what you choose in life.

  28. Leah – I wish everyone was this smart, but these things sell big time. Fly off the shelves.

    GND – They have articles like this – disguised as this — all the time, but they’re really just the same old crap.

  29. I love this post. It’s so true! And I still find myself unable to pull away from those things in the supermarket checkout line. They draw you in with all those promises (Lose 10 lbs in a week, Organize every closet in your home in under an hour) and then make you feel like an idiot. It’s quite a brilliant marketing scheme.

  30. Kimberly – Isn’t it? That’s how they’ve gotten women to buy stuff for decades – maybe even centuries. Play on their insecurities, maybe create a few new ones while they’re at it; offer them solutions that can’t help but to fail – which keeps them coming back for the one magic formula that will succeed. It’s positively diabolical. Avert your eyes.