Nearly every woman I know will occasionally purchase what is known as a “woman’s magazine.” Some of us have subscriptions, eagerly awaiting the monthly arrival of those glossy, perfumed pages. Some of us buy them as a means to mindlessly pass an hour or two, perhaps feeling a twinge of embarrassment at the check-out stand as we fork over five dollars and anticipate reading all about “This Spring’s To-Die-For Wedges.” Myself, I fall into the latter category. To me, buying these publications is akin to devouring an enormous, freshly glazed apple fritter: it may be sinfully indulgent – perhaps so much so as to become nauseating – but once it’s over with, all I seem to be able to think about is the circumference of my thighs.
I’m not saying that this kind of behavior is something one should feel guilty about; much like cramming your face full of fried dough, picking up a Cosmopolitan or a Vogue here and there is just fine on occasion, so long as one is able to maintain a certain level of perspective while doing so. The reality of it is this: these magazines embody everything that we as intelligent, empowered women consciously fight against on a daily basis. They cater to the idea that women should value appearance over substance, please our partner before pleasing ourselves, and that the best way to achieve fulfillment in life is to make sure that our cleavage is displayed with just the right amount of visibility that we avoid being branded as “slutty” while maintaining enough sex appeal to keep us from being viewed as “butch.”
These are, of course, categories that women rarely intentionally apply to one another; rather, they are two ends of a spectrum that have been almost entirely crafted by men, and nurtured by the American media to a point that it becomes ingrained in our heads that we must remain steadfastly in the center, with just the right amount of blush on our cheeks. These contradicting dualities run rampant throughout women’s magazines. On one page, a bold headline proclaims that the author has discovered the very best new way to Trim That Excess Belly Fat By Swimsuit Season!, while another tells the story of a sad, young woman and her battle with Anorexia and Bulimia: Silent Killers. Towards the front, an article may detail the Top Ten Ways To Drive Your Man Wild, while in the back lies a piece on the importance of Putting Yourself First: A Woman’s Guide To Being Single…And FABULOUS! The articles are maddeningly incongruous, confusing and generally fail to serve much of a purpose beyond informing us what shade of nail polish will provide the proper balance of edgy and chic.
Within these same, slippery sheets of paper, we are bombarded with opinions, pictures, and examples of how to be perfectly, “effortlessly” feminine, all laid out in the authoritative form of printed media. As any woman knows, being conventionally feminine is anything but effortless. Hence, the advertisements for hair removal products, creams that claim to banish cellulite, and styling tools that promise to deliver sultry locks, free of frizz. What they are selling is unattainable; like it or not, beneath our perfumes, lotions, waxes, and dyes, we are the same, hairy, smelly, aging mammals as our male counterparts.
But it is not the average, twenty-something and up woman that is the most affected by these images and articles. It is the teenage girl who scans the page of Jeans To Fit Any Body Type yet fails to find her own, it is the middle schooler who finds a role model in the likes of the Kardashian sisters and their vapid, materialistic drivel, simply because they are portrayed as the definition of beauty, albeit completely void of character, and it is the young adolescent who sees food as an enemy, gobbling up any advice she can get on how to shed just a few pesky pounds, while keeping a mental note of every evil little calorie that she consumes. These are the girls that we all were, in some form or another, and that some of us still are.
There is no escaping the media and its influences, so instead we must remember to pace ourselves. Though it may at times be fun to turn the rational brain down for a while and amuse ourselves with color swatches and hair tutorials, these fluffy periodicals are the jelly donuts of literature; if we allow ourselves to consume them with too much frequency, we will become intellectually lethargic, driven by a need to refuel our damaged confidence with another dose of sugary garbage. In short, the next time you find yourself turning that first page, make sure you’ve fed your self esteem for the day, and remember that junk food is nothing without that grain of salt.