Elle Woods: “I bought you some necessities—some Calvin Klein 720 count sheets, the entire Clinique skin care line […] and the Bible.”
(Holds up a copy of the Cosmopolitan magazine)
Brooke Taylor: “You’re an angel”
The above quote is from the popular movie Legally Blonde. The main character, Elle, is a lawyer who has to defend her friend Brooke, who has been accused of murder. While Brooke is in jail, Elle brings her some “necessities”. One of these necessities includes the “Bible”; Elle isn’t talking about an actual religious Bible here, but about a popular magazine. Magazines have always been an important part of a girl’s upbringing in popular society. The importance of these magazines to girls and women is oftentimes highlighted in the media through movies like Legally Blonde. But what are the effects of this unofficial “hand guide” on women? And why don’t we see men reading magazines as often as women do? These are some questions that have been passing through my mind and that I will aim to answer for you.
Modern women magazines have been around since, approximately, the 1920’s. Their aim, much like nowadays, has always been to convey a glamorous lifestyle. They are still widely popular among teenagers and adults. What are common things you read when opening up a typical women’s magazine? Beauty and fashion tips, relationship advice directed towards (heterosexual) women, tips on how to get the “man of your dreams”, some personal stories about other women and some scandalous celebrity news. As a teenager, and even as a pre-teen, I used to read about these things almost every month, often with friends sitting on the floor or the bed in my childhood room. As I got older my interests grew, but the things that these magazines talked about were still a small part of my life and, in a way, still are to this day. Now I’m left wondering whether these magazines led me to like their topics, or whether I was destined to like them from the beginning. Basically, do these magazines create a group of women in society to all like the same things and all look the same way? Before social media made its big breakthrough a couple of years ago, fashion and beauty trends were spread through magazines. Young girls would see these trends and go out to the shops to buy the items these magazines claimed were absolutely necessary for that trendy image. When I think of this I feel as if these magazines are completely devoid of originality, and that the girls that all follow the same trends and the same advice lack creativity as well. We all know that the models shown in those magazines are photoshopped. They are all young, have one body type and usually the same skin colour; room for diversity in these magazines is scarce. We know this, and yet, time after time we see that these magazines sell very well. Perhaps their appeal lies in the idea of reading about things to distract us from the hard, everyday life. Or, perhaps seeing beautiful pictures of unrealistic figures is pleasant to our eyes and gives us relief from seeing not-so-beautiful things in real life.
Despite all of this I cannot dismiss the observation that I made some time ago: I haven’t seen many men reading magazines. Yes, I know that magazines marketed towards men exist, but I haven’t seen a lot of men actually reading them. From this observation a disturbing question comes to mind: does society still believe that women should read “flimsy magazines” while men should read intellectual novels? Maybe there is some truth in this. The Western literary canon has consisted of mostly male authors for a very long time, and only recently have female authors been introduced into this canon. If you look at the actual content of a magazine that is directed towards women you’ll probably notice that, approximately, the first five pages consist of advertisements (primarily just pictures of models). What is then left of the magazine is not a lot of actual reading material. This can be seen as problematic: young girls might indirectly be taught that they should focus on beauty and fashion, and leave novels to men. On the one hand I can see how these magazines can impact girls into subconsciously believing this, but on the other hand I believe that none of us are completely one-faceted. Girls can read magazines and simultaneously be interested in other things that are completely unrelated to what they just read in a magazine. An interest in beauty, for example, does not correlate to the level of intelligence that you have. The movie Legally Blonde shows this through the portrayal of Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle, whose physical appearance and personality—blonde, bubbly and dressed in pink clothing—makes her appear like she is the stereotypical “dumb blonde”, but all of this is disproved by her acceptance into Harvard university and her ability to thrive academically.
So what is my final decision on how I look at magazines directed towards women? I don’t read them on a monthly basis anymore, but occasionally I have a look at one of them and I am always intrigued. The advice columns that I once took literally I now take with a grain of salt. The photoshopped models are not human to me anymore; they are created from pixels on a screen. I also don’t think we should be overly worried about the next generation of young people reading magazines as their content is changing to contain matters of social issues, and awareness is being brought to different types of models. Personally, I believe that girls are smarter than what some of these magazines make them appear to be. And, if you happen to be bored with the types of magazines that I just mentioned, then remember that you can always read Writer’s Block magazine, because we will never fail you!