Women’s Magazines: Friend or Foe?

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve just spent £1,500 on magazines.

Ok, so by ‘just’, I mean over the past ten years, and the £1.5k figure is a rough estimate (or guesstimate, if you insist on being an insufferable human), but whichever way you cut it, it’s a lot of money to have spent on magazines. And we’re not talking National Geographic or New Scientist here. We’re not talking anything that could have broadened my intellect or even aided me in scoring a Pointless answer; oh no – we’re talking Grade A trash. The only thing these magazines could possibly have taught me is what Kerry Katona has in her fridge.

Several years ago, an acquaintance confronted my magazine obsession with the charmingly condescending question: ‘why would an intelligent girl like you want to read trash like that?’ It wasn’t until I left the ‘anything goes’ safe haven of my student years that I discovered that, in the professional world, this seems to be a view shared by many people. I’ve lost count of the number of colleagues who seem to find it impossible to reconcile the idea of a woman with a fully-formed brain and career reading an article entitled ‘My New KKK Boobs Have Snagged Me a Hot Nazi Toyboy’.

Even more incomprehensible is the notion of an ACTUAL FEMINIST enjoying the very literature often thought to objectify women and fill them with insecurity and self-loathing. The reading of my beloved trashy literature has therefore become a clandestine activity for me, and many lunch breaks are now spent poised in a defensive crouch, with the words ‘IT’S ESCAPISM, OK?’ already half-formed on my lips.

But does it have to be like this? Or is there a chance that I can justify this grubby habit of mine?

A trashy magazine is by no means the only thing people consume that offers zero long-term benefit. That bag of crisps you’re stuffing down your throat while perusing this page with your greasy mitts – how does that benefit you? That cigarette hanging forlornly between your lips – ditto. But it feels good at the time, right?

Magazines for me – like junk food and nicotine for some – offer brief, fuzzy moments of comfort. Maybe it’s simply the escapism of reading about other people’s lives. Maybe it’s the comforting mindlessness of looking at dresses I can’t afford and ‘celebs’ I can’t identify. But whatever it is, I enjoy it. And as someone who is quite content in their intellect, I’m happy to let my brain loll about in a few pages of fluff now and then, without fear of regressing to an infantile state and having to relearn my times tables. Yep, I’m quite happy to say that reading these magazines has no impact whatsoever on my cerebral functioning.

What worries me more is the assumption that these magazines go hand-in-hand with sexism, and therefore a true feminist wouldn’t be seen dead reading one. Am I being irredeemably anti-feminist by buying and reading these magazines? Am I silently letting myself be objectified, and indoctrinated into believing I should be a size zero, gigantaboobed reality star with an eating disorder and Nazi boyfriend?

Personally, I don’t think so. Maybe if I were a ten year old girl with a raft of insecurities bubbling under, some of the questionable mixed messages might start to seep into my consciousness. However, as a twentysomething educated woman who’s quite secure in her insecurities, it takes more than a picture of a set of ribs perched on a pair of Louboutins to make me feel like a failed woman. Do these magazines leave me feeling oppressed, objectified and full of self-loathing? Actually, no. Do they leave others feeling this way? Most probably. Am I right, and these people wrong? Certainly not – every single person on this planet perceives and experiences things differently.

I don’t believe women’s magazines are an innately sexist construct, created by ‘the man’, to ensure women are uniformly unhappy. True, these magazines certainly don’t help to remedy body insecurities. However, body obsession pre-dates the invent of magazines, and I believe it would still exist even if the entire industry were dissolved overnight.

So, if these magazines offer me genuine comfort and enjoyment, should I really have to give them up simply because other people find them questionable? Or can I be a feminist who chooses to read trash and appreciates it for what it is?

Perhaps instead of me being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading, it should be assumed that, as an adult, I am capable of making these choices for myself. Would I foist these magazines upon my own young, impressionable (and imaginary) daughters? No, certainly not. Once they’re all growed up (first-born a neuroscientist; second-born the world’s first successful ginger hip-hop artist), will I let them make their own decision on whether to read them? Why, yes, I believe I will.

After all, as with junk food and cigarettes, adults should be able to weigh up the benefits and risks of everything they consume, and make an informed decision for themselves. If I choose to consume several TOWIE cast-members and a woman who breastfeeds her cat, then so be it.



    • agirlwithquestions

      True. I think most of the body image messages just go straight over my head now, which is why I can enjoy the magazines for what they are. I agree that the massive focus on body issues isn’t a good thing in the first place, though. Sadly I just can’t see it changing.

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