The idea for this piece was born in my mind with a quote from New York City’s Fashion Week that stuck with me for many hours.
Magazine editor Atoosa Rubenstein, evidently in love with designer Bryan Bradley’s new line of clothing, said, “I feel like I want to start starving myself so I can wear those clothes now.” Sadly, this statement is hardly a surprise; rather, a variation of it was probably heard echoing up and down the runway at most shows that week.
The kicker is that Rubenstein is editor in chief of Seventeen magazine, which is often read by girls much younger than that age. I can see next month’s cover lines now – pink script font reading “Your body’s so great but lose 10 pounds in the next week to fit into the latest fashion discovery!”
By reading Rubenstein’s enlightened thoughts on fashion and bulimia – her sensitive sound-bite was widely reported in the media, and therefore not hard to miss, even by self-absorbed teens – girls are being prepared for the fun that awaits them when they start reading publications such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour, the equivalent of Seventeen for twenty-somethings. Veiled insults litter the cover and pages of each magazine, a trend that isn’t likely to die out anytime soon.
In some magazines (such as Glamour and the relatively intellectualized Vogue) the put-downs are somewhat hidden, as though some disgusted editor made a small attempt to humanize his or her colleagues by editing villainous copy.
The way that Glamour, for instance, manages to place its readers into the shamed state is by urging them to drop the hunk of white chocolate and lose ten pounds, yet this is worded in a way that convinces the reader that losing the ten pounds is their choice, and should not be decided for them by the opinion of a man, no way no how; however, the implication is there. While it is the reader’s choice to lose that last 10, 20, 30 pounds that they’ve held on to since five Christmases ago, it will lead to happiness in the form of a man.
This line of thinking is pounded into a woman throughout each issue, and then she reaches the piece de resistance: the infamous “how to do anything better” guide near the back of the magazine, a section that in actuality never offers useful tips or ideas that could be beneficial to any reader. Rather, here you will find out how to make certain recipes, how to decorate your home in a style that will please any man, and might please you as well, but as the section might as well be called “how to do anything better in the hope of winning a man,” all changes to your home must be pleasant to future husbands, first and foremost.
The problem with this section – and certain other parts of the publication – is the implication that the reader does not do things well, or at least not well enough to make cooking or the home presentable, and thus has to do everything “better,” a process that never ends.
Cosmopolitan doesn’t have a specific section implying that women need to do everything better. Rather, the entire magazine is a testament to insults about everything from your sex appeal to your importance in all of your relationships, romantic or otherwise – oh, and if you were wondering, you are the one who is responsible for a lack of sex appeal, and are the least important part of a relationship, at least according to Cosmo.
In the current issue, every headline on the cover manages to make women feel sexually deficient or significantly less important in her sexual relationship. The cover line that reads, “How to love your time alone” might as well be concluded with “because you will always be alone – UNLESS YOU LOSE THIS WEIGHT IMMEDIATELY. We do mean immediately!” I can only assume that they ran out of space.
Before I wrote this article, I convinced myself that maybe I was just overanalyzing everything on the magazine cover, that in the end I was seeing evils where there were none. I then read a study on body image and the effect that women’s magazines have that was conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One 21-year-old student, after seeing Cosmopolitan, announced that she felt compelled “to have sex more, get drunk more and be really skinny” – all of which would, evidently, make her happy and score her a man.
Her conclusion just seemed to validate my idea – the magazine states that all she is good for now is being skinny and a sex object, and silly things such as intellect and wit can be put on hold for when she’s old and gray or – Heaven forbid – fat. What is far more troubling is the student’s willingness to go along with the attack on her character – after all, she is used to the treatment by now.
Lauren Robeson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.