Reading Between the Lines

Monday, July 27, 2015

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that was published in the Huffington Post, featured in their blog section.  Below is that same article which is essentially an analysis of today's women's magazines.

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I have a confession. Sometimes, I read blogs (think this blog, but less substance). Hell, I even write my own blog. Blogs offer a glimpse into a stranger's life. They expose private tastes, like favorite sulfate-free shampoos, or secret sea salt chocolate chip cookie recipes, or even relationship intricacies. Ultimately, blogs welcome the peeping Tom lurking in all of us, with open arms. What's not to like!?

My reading habits extend past blogs. I also relish reading the occasional women's fashion magazine. When flying, I curl up in my stiff plane seat like it's a cavernous armchair. With honey-roasted peanuts in one hand and a copy of Vogue in the other, I soar through the clouds, dissecting Mario Testino's latest "Towel Series." Why Vogue, you ask? Because the chances that Blake Lively is on the cover are as high as is the cruising altitude of my plane. I like to look at the meticulously styled photographs with the intensity of a five year old drawing in a coloring book. I am also a genuine fan of the writing featured in Vanity Fair. When reading these periodicals and blogs, one cannot ignore the overwhelming presence of women in the industry. As a young woman, it is truly encouraging to read the work of strong women.

From the cult of domesticity to the cult of Warren Jeffs, the publishing industry has enabled women to sculpt a niche for themselves in media. Women's magazines have adapted to the desires of readers since their inception in the 1600s. These publications have given women a voice and earned a rightful place in American history. For this, I am grateful. On the one hand, there has been a transformation from the first British women's magazine founded in 1693, The Ladies' Mercury, to the major publications that dominate the fashion industry today. Yet, in many ways, these magazines remain unchanged. As I read my daily roster of blogs the other day, a sinking feeling grew within my gut. What is opinion and what is the paid influence of advertisers? And why do we allow products to dominate the conversation of precious article space instead of occupying it with meaningful and empowering stories? Maybe it's my growth into adulthood, or maybe it's my recent introduction to the world of business, but the blatant advertising and unapologetic praise of material goods recently struck me as something that is also growing, like me (...sort of, I think I'm 5'7" for life, though).
The more I considered it, the more I questioned it. The downright worship of materialism in certain magazines is soul-crushing. They pitch the intangible: the promise of happiness. This incessant focus on materialism is often funneled toward female clientele.

Much of society runs on conspicuous consumption. On top of this, though it may be shifting, women are objectified and taught to self-objectify. Why should I comply to someone else's standard of beauty and why is beauty held on a pedestal as the most sought after value anyway? If we live in the shadow of an arbitrary standard of beauty that many women cannot comply to, this manifests in the form of increased competition and, in some cases, unhealthy habits. This is no longer revolutionary and thankfully it is now a topic of discussion in public, mainstream media. It's important to be transparent about advertising and photoshopping. Let's not encourage self-hatred here. Many women's magazines feature gorgeous women under the premise that readers should want to be like her. I understand that magazines are not as two-dimensional as it may come across in this article, but the dynamic deserves attention regardless. We become that upon which we focus, right?
By no means do all women's magazines fall into this trap. In fact I do recognize the positive benefits that these magazines offer. They are just magazines, after all. I am simply pointing out that we should continue to question the influence of these institutions to which we've grown accustomed. Just because it's a "women's magazine" does not mean that it refrains from objectifying women.
I was feeling pretty down and out about publications that label themselves as "women's." But then, I came across Darling Magazine... At first I was suspicious: an entire page devoted to a mission statement declaring their efforts to light a fire to the outdated mold of womanhood? The name "darling"? But after reading the inspiring articles written on the platform, I changed my mind. There is hope for the future of women's publications, after all.

Favorite Women's Magazines:
HuffPost Women, Darling Magazine, Refinery29, Man Repeller, Rookie
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