BY Sarah Turley
Will you do something for me? Think back to when you last read a women’s lifestyle magazine. Perhaps you were in the bath, soaking its pages to crinkled as you supped on a glass of woozy warm red wine. Or on the bus home from work, gripping it three centimetres from your face because you were rammed up against a hundred other commuters like a tin soldier in a child’s overflowing toy box. Wherever you were, think back. And tell me: how did you feel when you put it down?
Informed? Inspired? Empowered, maybe? Or perhaps simply entertained? Those are certainly the words the editors of these magazines might hope you’d say. But let me tell you a secret: the words I’d use are more along the lines of inadequate. Overwhelmed. Self-loathing.
Some background: I’ve been away from home (that’s London) for the past three months and in that time, I haven’t read one women’s magazine. Then my sister came to visit, armed with precious gifts from England including teabags and two fat and juicy women’s magazines. I thought it would be heaven flicking through those glossy pages. But in fact, they caused my head to spin uncontrollably – very like the way the back wheel on my bike spun when I hit a rogue paving stone and was catapulted over my handlebars wondering why I am cursed with the balance of a three-legged donkey.
There was the “F*** the work/life balance” article, written by a young journalist who thinks women in their twenties don’t need or even deserve any ‘me’ time. The interview with Christina Hendricks, which focused on her “real-life fairy tale” life and concluded by stating she “has it all”. The piece about friends who are jealous of our careers. The article about what men are really looking for in a girlfriend. The endless fashion and beauty pages teaching how to be on-trend this summer, and how to make our skin tighter, our bodies firmer and our hair shinier. And to finish off, there were those back pages, filled as they always are with adverts for breast implants, liposuction, face lifts and diet packs.
Can you see now why my head was spinning? The PRESSURE! Three months away from those magazines and I’d forgotten how crushing they can be. How their manicured pages set off fireworks inside me that make me feel I should be buying more, exercising more, dieting more, working harder, dressing sexier, seeing my friends more, devoting more time to my boyfriend, considering having babies sooner, considering having babies later, changing my hairstyle, wearing gloves to bed to stop my hands from ageing… the list goes on and on.
Sitting where I am, in a tiny fishing village on the island of St Vincent, 4000 miles from the marvelous but often very stressful buzz of my life in London, these magazines have done nothing but confuse and depress me. To tell you the truth, I am struggling to see the point of their manicured pages, if not to make us look at what we have and what we do with disappointment and loathing, and to make us crave things beyond our reach.
These magazines place us on the outside looking in at a world where we are told some women “have it all” while the rest of us must keep preening, purchasing and busting our mere mortal guts to keep up. Only, we’ll never get there, will we, because in truth even the most beautiful models in these magazines are airbrushed, and even the most successful actresses, popstars, businesswomen and politicians have their own body hang-ups and insecurities, their own fears that they don’t spend enough time nurturing their friends, families, boyfriends and husbands.
I wish these magazines would paint a more honest, a more forgiving, picture of our reality as women today. I wish they’d show that when it comes down to it every single one of us – from Victoria Beckham and Madonna, to your next door neighbour and boss – like every woman before us is trying to carve herself a little bubble of happiness. And in this 21st century world, where for the first time women have choices to make over how we lead our lives, it is really, utterly confusing.
I suppose when you look at it like this it’s hardly surprising that these magazines are pushing us to be more successful, more hardworking, prettier, more fashionable, more fun, more sociable, more lucky in love, more, more, MORE! Because like us their editors are trying to make sense of who we are supposed to be now: career woman, mother, wife, model citizen, academic, beauty, or all of the above? Heck, those editors are in the same dilemma themselves.
We have acknowledged how damaging gossip magazines must be for the celebrities they feature. Faux concern over weight gain or loss, slating outfits and prophesising about imminent breakdowns must be at times torturous, always frustrating for the rich and famous. But I would argue lifestyle magazines are equally detrimental to us ‘normal’ women. So if there are any magazine editors reading this, this is a plea to give us a break. Don’t batter us with fairy tales about celebrities who we know struggle just like us, with digitally-enhanced images, with lectures on why we should work harder and with adverts for liposuction. Show us all that it’s possible for women to achieve, but ground it in reality and in the truth.
Featured image by Joana C on Flickr