They whisper seductively from the shelf, “This will make you look fabulous,” “Here’s how to be your best self.” They promise to improve your sex life, they tell you to love yourself but love your body more, and they masquerade as your best friend and loyal companion whilst flogging you endless amounts of clothes, shoes, jewelry and terrible advice.
Welcome to the world of women’s fashion magazines; a glossy exterior hides a darker side of low self-esteem, eating disorders and chronic unhappiness.
Recently, Cosmo ran an online article acknowledging that ( surprise, surprise!) not everyone is straight. The article comprised of sex tips for lesbians and was met with widespread criticism for knowing absolutely nothing about real lesbian sex.
The sub-Reddit ShitCosmoSays is plastered with articles, berating the magazine seeming complete lack of research. Many denounced Cosmopolitan for its surface attempt at pretending to reject its heteronormative structure, to embrace diversity. This lazy and emotionless attempt only highlights their lack of diversity, and heteronormativity more. But in the eyes of the editors at Cosmo, they have done their part in acknowledging the LGBTQIA community, and now they can go back to giving bad sex advice to straight females.
Fashion magazines have a responsibility to their readers to present them with options and choices about who they should look up to. It’s time to offer young girls something other than this vacuous hole of narcissism. We live in a world that promises girls equal opportunities and then presents them with nothing but sex tips and shoes. This at best is tedious and at worst is dangerous and damaging.
Back in 2012, a 14-year-old girl named Fiona Geraghty hung herself at her home in Somerset, UK. She suffered from Bulimia Nervosa. The coroner, Michael Rose, ruled, “The one class of person… whom I hold directly responsible for what happened is the fashion industry. I ask for magazines in the fashion industry to stop publishing photographs of wafer-thin girls. For their vanity, families like this suffer. It is an increasing problem and, until they control themselves, tragedies like this will continue.”
The link between eating disorders and the fashion industry has been established for years. However, this was an unprecedented move. The coroner took the death of an innocent teenage girl and laid it directly at the feet of a multi-billion dollar industry. Two years on, where are we now?
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, the mortality rate associated with Anorexia Nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15 through 24 years old. This by any standards is an epidemic. Far from becoming the beacon for change that the coroner hoped for, Fiona Geraghty became another statistic, joining the growing numbers of young women losing their lives to this terrible disease.
If you were an alien who came to earth, and your only source of information about the female sex were the magazines that are apparently written to reflect them, you would not be wrong to think that the average woman’s main interests are weight loss, sex, men, and clothing. Granted magazines like Grazia and Cosmopolitan have introduced some more practical women’s issues into their magazines, but that doesn’t stop them from slapping celebrity diets and wafer thin models on their front pages. Now of course, there is no supply without demand, but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If every magazine that is apparently designed for you tells you that this is where your interests should lie, as an impressionable 15-year-old female wouldn’t you start to believe it?
These magazines are perpetuating an endless cycle of unhappiness and abuse. They tell their readers to love their size 14 bodies, whilst glorifying unattainable models on their covers. They flourish within an outdated and reductive expression of female sexuality that demands that we spend half of our time concerned about our partner’s sexual happiness and the other half simultaneously preening ourselves to look fabulous, whilst staying up to date with the domestic chores.
This is not to say that clothes, sex and boys do not feature in the lives of some females. But instead of being presented as fun side notes or as only partial sides to female desire, they are instead all encompassing and breed obsession. This is not only diminutive to their target audience, the middle class female, but it also banishes any expression of diversity in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation and other groups.