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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Cosmopolitan and Glamour: friend or foe?

Up until the age of seventeen, I was a women's monthly addict. I renewed my Cosmopolitan subscription with pride and would never miss an issue of Glamour either. I poured over the pages of these magazines, always trying to emulate the latest beauty trends and taking their latest tips and tricks on board. At my worst, I even started storing them on my bookshelves- they held the same status to me as literature. One day in 2012, I decided to have a clear-out of all my glossies to make room for new - such is their recyclable nature. Once I'd piled them all on my floor, ready to go in a bin-bag, I started to notice a frightening theme. Indistinguishable headlines scattered every single cover - 'How To Keep Your Man Happy in Bed', 'Top Tips for Your Bikini Body', 'How to be Your Sexiest You' - and photoshopped images of the same-old celebrities smiled back at me. That was my epiphany moment. These magazines reiterate the same dangerous messages each month. Their idea of female empowerment involves pleasing a man, conforming to society's twisted ideal of beauty, and trying to be sexy in the meantime.

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What's so concerning about these messages is how it affects their readerships. Its terrifying to think that these sexist and incredibly misogynistic messages can get under our skin without us noticing. Its a new kind of 21st century, well disguised sexism. I spent years of my life reading these glossies from cover to cover, and never thought twice about these underlying issues. It wasn't until every magazine I'd ever bought was scattered in front of me that I noticed the problem.
Additionally, it didn't take me long to find a cover that reeked of all these dangerous women's monthly stereotypes. Cosmopolitan hides behind its feminist heritage of empowering women and writing candidly about female sexuality - editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, was a feminist icon of her time. Nowadays, the magazine still leads the way when it comes to writing about sex, but the focus once again lies with pleasing your man. The bold, black headline 'BAD GIRL SEX' further fetishes the image of a 'naughty' girl who exists purely for male enjoyment. Whereas the regular stories on how to lose weight and tone your body pushes the idea that Cosmopolitan readers should conform to society's distorted beauty ideal before pleasing your man in-between the sheets.
My greatest problem with monthly glossies isn't just their sexist undertones, but the way they create insecurities their readers didn't even know they had. By publishing weight loss and fad diet advice every month, these magazines further promote the idea that women need to achieve an unattainable standard of beauty. Why can't 'bikini-body ready' mean that you simply have a two-piece swimsuit in your possession? But it doesn't end there, stories such as 'A Cougar Stole My Man' scare-monger women into thinking that their fellow females are threats to their relationships. That their men can't control themselves and that they need to be carefully monitored. It would be ridiculous to lay the nation's relationship blame at Cosmopolitan's door but pushing the idea that other women are out to seduce their partners can't do anyone any good. Especially as the men get off scot-free. These publications pretend that they're for women: catering for our interests, and providing us with helpful advice when it comes to fashion and relationships. But instead they reinforce all the pressures society already puts on us - they promote the idea that 21st century women can 'have it all' while trying to teach us to be sexy and sweet. In other words, every man's ideal woman.
When I was confronted with my magazine problem, I decided to go cold-turkey and stop reading them all together. I've always preferred books anyway. I instantly felt so much better about myself. The constant beauty, fashion, relationship, and dieting tips were overwhelming and only ever set me up for failure. In that time, I realised that I don't need to emulate this season's electric blue eyeshadow just because it's on trend or try out the latest Hollywood overpriced superfood. For me, magazines are a fun form of escapism to delve into on my lunch break. But Cosmopolitan and Glamour weren't enriching my lunch hour in any way, they were stressing me out! Nowadays, I'm a Vogue, Elle, and Company convert - these publications focus primarily on fashion but publish fantastic articles written by strong and intelligent female journalists. Hadley Freeman and Victoria Coren Mitchell are my absolute favourites - they prove that magazines aren't all full of fluff and can actually be stimulating to read. However, this month I bought Glamour for old times sake and couldn't even reach the end. I left it at work in case anyone was in desperate need of some trashy stories. It was the same old material just regurgitated over and over again. But a funny read none the less. If you can take your glossy with a pinch of salt then they're harmless.
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