The Hypocrisy of So-Called Women’s Magazines

by Pamela Fraker           


    One of the articles on the cover of a recent ELLE magazine was called “The New Politically Correct Anorexia”.  This article happened to be about fruitarians, colonics, raw-food eaters, and anti-calorics; people who become obsessed, in one way or another, with low food intake all in the name of good nutrition.  The article’s author made the connection between these obsessions and anorexia, asserting that anti-calorics and their low food intake cousins may be anorexics in denial.  However, what really interested me was not the latest fad in starvation.  My attention was truly focused on the interesting observation that I was reading an article heralding the importance of food that happened to be wedged in between a Ralph Lauren swimsuit add featuring  Britneyesque models that were pushing fifteen at best, and a perfume touting model who honestly looked more like a sweet-smelling victim of the holocaust than a sex goddess. Why is it that a magazine would offer such conflicting ideas of truly desirable womanhood, and how does this contradiction affect beauty magazine readers?                                                                                               

         ELLE isn’t the only offender.  I’ve noticed that nearly every monthly issue of the popular “beauty magazines” (or should I say ugly magazines, because that’s how they make me feel) includes one or two signature stories about a very non-controversial women’s issue.  I have never seen a beauty magazine voice an opinion that commonly faces opposition.  Even George W Bush isn’t pro-Anorexia.  Female genital mutilation seems to be another safe favorite.  These articles serve to camouflage the appearance-conscious origins of beauty magazines.   In a world where such sacred traditions as The Miss America Beauty Pageant have been attacked by feminists because of their role in perpetuating the restrictive physical burdens of the woman gender role, what safe haven is there for beauty magazines?  Clearly, the true mission of American beauty magazines is not to make women aware of the negative aspects of the woman gender role.  Beauty magazines are, in fact, aimed at doing quite the opposite.  Almost all of the articles in a recent Marie Claire included make-up and clothing advice.  And these were no crash courses in basic fashion. Beauty magazines provide women with instructions for practicing the most advanced physical burdens of femininity.  The authors offered make-up advice as though I were a pro at the daily paint job, and showed me how to “Rev up My Wardrobe” for spring with the standing assumption that I had a closet full of “the basics.”

    Beauty magazines, with their newfound interest in selected topics of real importance, aren’t doing a very good job of hiding their true nature.  Because beauty magazines are marketed to a very impressionable teenage population, they are, in fact, be doing more harm than good.  If on one page, teenage Sally reads about the importance of proper nutrition, and on the next page views anorexics glorified, which image, or what combination of two very conflicting images, is she internalizing?  ELLE is going to share with their readers the criteria for emotional and physical health, and then encourage them to disregard it all in the name of beauty?  Does this seem a little twisted to anybody else?  Sure, our mothers were taught the importance of beauty, slenderness, and stereotypical physical femininity, but they were also taught that refining these characteristics was in their personal best interest.  They may have been grotesquely misguided, but at least they thought they were doing the right thing.  As far as Mom knew, she was treating herself well.  What is teenage Sally supposed to think?  “Well I know this is really bad for me, but I ought to starve myself anyway!”

    Many teenage women in modern American society learn to understand the importance of both physical and emotional self-love and self-nurture.  Unfortunately, they also learn to desire physical perfection.  Magazines filled with articles about fad diets and images of unnaturally slender women encourage teenage women to achieve physical perfection at any cost. I worry that because modern young women understand real human need, teenage women who read beauty magazines internalize the message that starvation, and a near masochistic attitude is the key in reaching “the perfect weight”, and having “the perfect look.”  As long as beauty magazines place articles about eating disorders in between romanticized adds featuring anorexic women, teenage women will internalize societal pressure to practice near masochism, in the hopes that they, too may be able to starve their growing bodies into ungodly shapes.  I also fear that this encouraged practice of self-hatred will spill into their ability to interact confidently with others.  I see nothing to be gained by featuring articles about emotional and physical health in magazines that could otherwise be more clearly seen by teens as shallow and meaningless.  So what is the point of running these “politically correct articles”?  Give it up, Cosmopolitan, you aren’t fooling the feminists, anyway.  

Pamela Fraker is a student at Santa Monica College.  She is double-majoring in Women's Studies and Sociology.  Pamela has been working with the Voices editing staff for two semesters.