There’s that one moment, post essay blues that I find myself looking forward to every week. Coffee in hand, I sneak round to the corner shop and stock up on my weekly magazines – Grazia, Marie Claire, Look, Vogue, Elle, etc etc. Instead of buying a daily broadsheet that would stimulate my intellectual curiosity and make me a worldy individual, my pickled brain is secretly much more excited to skim through the pages of Marie Claire’s sex column, or my often feel-bad horoscope, which this week told me that “certain people have felt undermined by your so-called supreme self confidence”. Fashion magazines have for generations now provided our insatiable appetite with lifestyle guidance on our appearance, love life, emotional stability, celebrity news, oh and occasionally our work life. How much have these magazines changed over the generations? The 1940s the magazine Glamour produced hundreds of columns with titles like ‘How to get a boyfriend even when you have pimples on your face’. Nowadays in amongst the glossy pages of beautiful women in beautiful clothes we are presented with articles that seem to tell us how we can achieve the best orgasms of our life in under five minutes, or just how common it is to obsess over our ex boyfriends even years after we have split, or how many of us are now constantly questioning our sexuality, or how stress levels amongst ambitious twenty-somethings are sky-rocketing as we prioritise climbing the career ladder above having babies. In the early 1940s actor Roman Navarro wrote a column in Glamour with the title WHAT MAKES A GIRL ALLURING TO MEN. Journalism in glossy women’s magazines of today is undoubtedly more honest, more explorative and more unconventional. Lifestyle magazines are not outwardly sexist and conventional in the ways that they used to be, but in some ways there are still lingering similarities between women’s popular journalism of today and of previous generations.
In the early days of women’s fashion magazines, primarily in the post war period, new ideas about consumerism started to emerge and advertisements for women burgeoned. Now laughable adverts appeared on the cheap, black and white pages. For example, a scary looking contraption called ‘Mr Trilety’ appeared on the market for the purpose of nose correction and pink pills ‘to take the lead out of your legs’. Adverts appealed to the worn out, hard working woman who needed to cling on to her femininity by buying these essential products. Don’t advertisements in these magazines to some degree still do the same thing? Inside the beauty and fashion magazines of today there are no line drawings depicting lovelorn heroines in despair, no images of exhausted women needing tonics or pills, no serials or short stories – but glossy, digitally perfected glamour. Women cover the pages with perfect breasts, perfect legs, perfect skin and perfect hair. Today I fell in love with a skirt advertised in Grazia. It was from Prada and cost £815. My student loan certainly wouldn’t stretch to that and guaranteed that 99.9% of Grazia’s readership would not be able to casually afford something like that either. Then why still recommend it to readers? Surely it’s all about aspiration. Finding affordable alternatives to the most luxurious products on the market or looking at images of perfect beauty will make us feel special, glamorous and escape from the reality of every day strains.
Granted the columns and stories that fill the pages today are not like the ones in the 1940s which were sensational and far-fetched with titles such as ‘Never a Bride’, ‘The Scarlet Nun’ and ‘The House of Hidden Secrets’. They ended up being very conventional and markedly respectable when they warned young women to value the familiar and every day over the seduction of unknown glamour. Today’s stories pride themselves on choice. But are these so-called ‘lifestyle based on choice’ stories simply regurgitating similar themes that came around sixty years ago, just in more modernised version? Articles applaud women for proposing to their own boyfriends as if it a matter of huge consequence and claim that men are indeed the new Bridget Jones – terrified of being single. Is this really new feminism? I wasn’t so sure after I read a comment in the latter mentioned article which read ‘what’s the point of being a hunter-gatherer when there only you to hunt and gather for?’. I’m not pretending I don’t love these magazines. I love the clothes and the gossip they present me with, the escapism and aspiration that underlie their pages are something that in our busy lives it’s very pleasing to immerse ourselves in. But we still have to be careful. These magazines, whilst they can produce good and sophisticated journalism can sometimes still provide us with essentially the same messages that they always have done. Female lifestyle is something now that can go down any avenue, let’s make sure we write about all of it or I might end up having to read serious journalism when I’ve finished my essay and not looking at pictures of perfect women in perfect dresses. And we most certainly wouldn’t want that.
Rosa Schiller Crawhurst