Glossy magazines: Not dead yet

Last night my partner and I were in the bathroom, watching our children in the bath but also managing to flick through this June’s copy of Glamour. This was done in a manner that was in no way neglectful or dangerous. We’d even got to the feature on “best dressed celebrities” when the following insightful conversation arose:

ME If you squint and don’t read the actual words, it looks like a “most thin people” countdown. Excluding Kim Kardashian, who is a bit less thin and therefore “curvy”.

PARTNER What does Kim Kardashian do?

ME Dunno. Let’s make a pact never to find out. It’ll be like never watching The Matrix. There are some cultural phenomena about which we’ll comment without ever knowing the truth.

HIM Yeah, let’s. It’s weird, though. Kim Kardashian’s in the best and worst dressed lists.

ME So are Kristen Stewart and Emma Watson. Although if you compare the two lists, Watson and Stewart are dressed more badly than people whom they’re also better dressed than. How does that work?

HIM Dunno. It’s like –

[sudden interruption from furious, Matey-covered four-year old]

ELDEST SON Mummy and Daddy! Will you stop talking such SILLINESS!

As you might have gathered, Mummy and Daddy “talking silliness” is a common feature in our household. Nevertheless, never before has it been challenged with so much passion. From the mouth of babes, eh? (Or possibly not. I have a terrible suspicion that “from the mouth of babes” has been tainted forever as a phrase due to its use in some lads’ mag for a “women say the funniest things” feature.)

Eldest is clearly in keeping with the public “mood”. The knives are out for glossy mags. Okay, maybe not the knives, but the cocktail sticks at least. In yesterday’s Observer, Eva Wiseman wrote about how time stands still in women’s magazines. It’s a good article. Mind you, the magazine she mentions, and even the first quote she uses, are things I already identified as crap in a post last week (so, yeah, Eva, quit copying!). Although for some reason Eva doesn’t actually name names (either it’s unprofessional or, what’s obviously more likely, she doesn’t want people to trace her piece back to my extremely famous post). So anyhow, I will reveal the true identities for you: the magazine’s Marie Claire and the Carrie Bradshaw wannabe tosspot is called Lindsey Kelk. So now you know.

Wiseman asserts that reading a glossy magazine “is like entering a time machine. You look down at a page and lose a decade”. I’d go much further than that. I don’t think they’ve changed since at least the late 1980s, which is when I first became aware of them. Oh, alright then, two things have changed:

  1. advice on sun tanning (now it’s all about getting a St Tropez spray tan, whereas it used to be Week 1 in Malaga on Factor 4, Week 2 on Factor 2 and final day on chip fat for that ultimate holiday glow)
  2. advice on tackling cellulite (cellulite was invented in an editorial meeting in 1988 and it’s taken the beauty industry a while to catch up)

Other than that, it’s all the same. Isn’t that depressing?

Well, not for Wiseman. She thinks the situation’s getting better because women are losing interest:

Along with many publications (yeah, hi), their sales continue to drop, but I wonder if this is in part because they ignore the growing awareness not only that women are choosing to opt out of the life they draw for us, with the weddings, the diets and the sexual attraction to shoes, but that lots of us have found alternative places to chatter about it. On Twitter. On blogs like The Vagenda, which hits such nerves that the writer of their post about body hair was invited to show off her armpits on This Morning.

Hmm. I have to admit, I’m not so sure about all this. Surely part of the reason why sales are dropping is not because we’re all turning to The Vagenda (which, let’s face it, is just having a moment because some woman who doesn’t shave her armits is considered a national freak show), but because there are lots of places on the internet where we can find the same old shit the glossies used to give us.* With blogging, for instance, surely one of the most pernicious trends of recent years is the rise of the style blogger, the woman who claims she’s encouraging us to be “individual” but is actually telling us that every day – every sodding day – you’re on a fucking catwalk? And there’s no escape.

So what’s the way forward? Well, look. My son is four. HE can see it’s all nothing but “silliness”. Shouldn’t we be catching the kids while they know, innately, that it’s just ALL WRONG? Let’s harness this feeling of “it’s shit” and run with it. Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to glossy magazines, we need some education!

To get us started, here is a summary of our leading glossies, what they are and what they do. Pay attention. There will be a short quiz to follow:

Marie Claire “Think smart, look amazing.” That is what they tell us. No, Marie Claire. “Think critically, wear clean pants.” That is the way forward.

Glamour The essence of Glamour is best captured by the regular “Hey, it’s okay..” feature near the start, in which readers are “humorously” given permission to do things which they always assumed were okay but now of course don’t. Often it’s “okay” to do things that Glamour tells you aren’t “okay” a few pages later (eating’s often one of these). Glamour is your evil, manipulative “best friend” who “only wants what’s best for you”. She can fuck right off.

Cosmo Older than Glamour, yet has somehow ended up being Glamour’s trashy younger sister. Intermittently does vaguely feminist things, like supporting pro-choice campaigns and being cross about domestic violence. Intermittently allows Irma Kurz to tell rape victims they were probably asking for it due to their suggestive behaviour. Very confused. It’s probably the hormones.

Company One long advertisement for River Island.

In Style Like Company, but for older women, therefore with more expensive brands. Works on the curious assumption that when you hit your thirties (i.e. when you have kids and your career stalls and all the men are whizzing off to the boardroom) you suddenly have money to spend on designer labels. Are you going to tell them, or shall I?

Grazia “Britain’s best-selling weekly glossy”, because no one else can be arsed to produce a weekly glossy. Once ran a TV advert in which a posh woman reading Grazia floated down a shoe production line, much to the puzzlement of some old, scummy, poor woman working the line. It was confusing, and also reminiscent of that Two Ronnies/John Cleese class sketch, but without the irony.

Good Housekeeping/Woman and Home You’re older, the kids are about to fly the coop, now’s the time to sit down and reflect on how you’re still a fat minger who hasn’t found her “own style”. And acquire some additional worries, such as not yet owning an Aga.

Those, I believe, are our main culprits (I’ll be running a catch-up course on Red and Elle later). I haven’t yet written the quiz I promised. I’m sorry. I’m too depressed (and fat and my clothes are shit. I can’t possibly do thinking when I’m like this!). Perhaps I’ll hand the running of this course over to my son. Please allow him to stand before you, covered in bubble bath, proudly proclaiming “STOP TALKING SILLINESS. NOW!”

* Since writing this post (and on the advice of someone I had a go at in another post) I have now started following Vagenda Magazine. It is good. I underestimated it (but lest we forget: Marie Claire still exists).