“The Victorian woman became her ovaries, as today’s woman has become her “beauty.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women
Ever since I was a young impressionable teenage girl, magazines have fascinated me. Initially of course I was drawn to the superficial articles, from “The Hottest Summer Looks” to “How To Get The Perfect Bikini Body” – even though at the time I was so self conscious I wouldn’t dare be seen in a two-piece. The world was fascinating and everyone seemed way cooler than I was. So naturally, I absorbed every drop of gossip and piece of life advice that the glossy pages offered, because I wanted to be one of the cool kids too. I can fairly confidently say it didn’t work in the way that I wanted, because at the end of the day I was still very much me. I wasn’t one of the super-popular kids who was always ahead of the trends, nor did I have boys lining up to take me out to the movies, and I definitely did not have the perfect bikini body according to the magazine – I mean, who even does? What even is that nowadays? Put a bikini on a body and there’s your bikini body. Simple.
But It did awaken a curiosity in me that has stayed with me ever since. I started noticing the undertones in what the magazines thought were the ideal qualities in a person. More often than not, these were things that would put a serious dent in your bank account or were simply unattainable without an intense about of effort. Diets and other health fads would come and go, all promising to help shed those nasty kilos. Not a size zero? Ew, but no worries! Follow our crazy ‘only-have-a-sip-of-lemon-juice-when-you-feel-like-you’re-going-to-pass-out’, you’ll be thin in no time! And when you’re done, how about you toddle off down to the shops and buy this $300 scarf that you won’t wear more than twice because it’s actually hideous! Huzzah, consumerism!
As I approached my late teens I stopped consuming magazines in the same way that I used to. I was no longer reading with the intent of soaking in the latest trends or finding out “What Men REALLY Want In A Woman”, instead I was looking at why the magazines were sending these messages. For me, it always came back to one idea – power. Magazines peddled stories about getting thin and being fashionable, but never in the way that matched the average woman. Size ten was no longer thin, now it was about size six. Simple trends weren’t enough to be stylish anymore, now you needed to have the latest accessories (that are always changing). The image that the media was projecting was never one that correlated with the average woman.
So what does that spell out for us as consumers? The message is this: you are not good enough, but we can show you how to be. Buy our magazine, follow what we say and you can fit in with everyone else. You might not be the girl in this ad with the perfect makeup and draped over some Adonis-like man, but if you buy the jeans she’s wearing, you can pretend you are.
The issue I have with this is that it tries to sell us this image, their idea of ‘who you could be’, when they know full well that it’s not only NOT anywhere near what most women are like, but arguably an unhealthy version of who we could be, driven by consumerism into forking out money for an image that is superficial and shallow.
A quick glance at a few of this month’s magazines will further my point.
It’s not only women that are prey to this media message – men’s magazines display a similar message, though in my opinion I feel like men are not subjected to the same pressures of needing to prove themselves that women are. We still reside in a very patriarchal society, and I think the insecurities projected to men are more concerned with who is the best, the idea of an ‘alpha’ male, rather than who is good enough.
^ Tl;dr: magazines (and a substantial amount of other media, but I could go on forever if I started on those) perpetuate a horrible idea of what is desirable and promote a set of social norms that in my opinion are unhealthy when consumed on the scale that they are.
^^ Tl;dr: society is bonkers.