Self-esteem: Yet another thing you’re crap at

If seeing pictures of skinny models in magazines makes you feel fat and ugly, please don’t blame the mags. The person you need to hold responsible is actually your mum. This, at least, is what September’s issue of Glamour would like you to believe. It is of course complete and utter crap, but you may well think it anyhow. After all, these magazines always catch you when you’re at your weakest.

Once you’ve ploughed through page after page telling you that you’re eating the wrong foods, wearing the wrong clothes and buying the wrong beauty products, what are the odds on you challenging the idea that you’re thinking the wrong thoughts, too? Not very high, I’d say. That’s why pieces such as Dawn Porter’s “Self-esteem? It’s kids’ stuff” come along and kick you when you’re down (while simultaneously berating you for not getting right back up again). Yes, Porter’s written yet another of those articles which are all about YOU and why YOU need to feel GOOD about YOURSELF and why aren’t YOU doing it yet? Go on, get on with it. Stop feeling shit about yourself RIGHT THIS MINUTE!

I’ve nothing against the idea that we shouldn’t hate our bodies; I just rather resent being told this by a magazine that consistently projects the idea that thin is beautiful (and yeah, Glamour, I know, so you had Adele’s head on the cover. Once. That just doesn’t cut it). It’s bad enough to wake up every day in a body that you feel is “wrong”. Worse still to be told that the very fact you feels this means you’re lacking in those essential self-esteem “skills”. What kind of a loser are you?

“Who’s to blame for the epidemic of low-self esteem among young women?” asks Porter, before sagely encouraging us to “move the debate on from skinny celebs – the roots go far deeper than that”. Well, no, Dawn. I’m not ready to “move the debate on”. I want to keep it right here. Sorry. Having spent years – decades, in fact – vehemently denying that my struggles with anorexia and bulimia had anything to do with popular culture, fearing that this would trivialise the whole experience, I’m no longer prepared to twat about with “deep root causes” and all of that bollocks. Yes, I had some personal shit going on when I became ill. But I didn’t get the idea that being thin would make it all better out of nowhere. And yes, I was influenced by the people around me but where do you think they got their beliefs? It wasn’t from school or church or John Craven’s Newsround. It was from the precursors to magazines such as Glamour – Jackie, Cosmo, Honey.

Porter bases her piece around a question she posed on Twitter: did any of your mothers’ attitudes towards food and diets have an impact on your own? Unsurprisingly, she received plenty of responses from women saying “yes” (as if anyone who’d say “no” would be all that arsed to make a point of it). Ergo feeling shit about your body is down to Mummy feeling shit about hers:

What I have learned from the replies I got on Twitter is that negative body image isn’t something specific to our generation. Our mothers suffered with it too, even though their influences were very different. […] For most mothers, their child’s happiness is a genuine quest, but as children absorb all that they are offered, any negative associations with food they pick up at an early age will be the voices in their heads forever.

Will they? Will they really? What if Glamour et al were to feature a mixture of body shapes as a matter of course, not as part of some back-slapping “plus size” jamboree? My mum thinks lots of idiotic things – that only men can use petrol pumps, for instance – but I haven’t accepted them all wholesale. That’s because there’s a far broader cultural context in which such ideas are expressed and, ideally, countered.

What Glamour and countless other women’s magazines offer is a constant build ’em up, knock ’em down dynamic, oscillating between pages which plant negative thoughts in your head and those which challenge them. Or rather, they don’t really challenge them. They just offer extra meta-negative thoughts, which reinforce the first set by letting you know just how shit you are for buying into them. If we’re really in the business of instilling positive thoughts and self-esteem, it shouldn’t be such hard work. You shouldn’t be left feeling rubbish because you’re not good enough at positive thinking.

Porter’s article concludes with “expert tips” on “getting the confidence you deserve”. These include such gems as “don’t pass on your insecurities to your children” (neatly adding “mummy guilt” into the feeling crap mix) and “be realistic” (whether it is realistic to follow Nicole Richie’s hair tips on page 264 or to follow the styles of the mega-thin models on page 220 is not made clear). Without even questioning the reliability of these “tips”, I am seriously wondering when and how getting confidence became divided into a series of laborious step-by-step tasks. But if that’s the stage we’ve got to now, I think it could be done more effectively than this.

If Glamour are really interested in giving their readers confidence, they just need one page – not the four devoted to Porter’s piece. And all that’s required are a series of bullet points, along the following lines:

  • Ignore Dannii Minogue’s waistline on the cover – we airbrushed it.
  • That advert for Special K? Yeah, we know – ridiculous, but we needed the money. Sorry.
  • I’d skip pages 199 to 272 if I were you. You look fine anyhow.
  • Why are you buying this, by the way? There wasn’t even a freebie this month.

And that would be about it. There’d still be the usual crap about hair, clothes and makeup but without all the pathetic, two-faced hand-wringing that follows.

And yes, you may wonder – why am I buying it, still? Because Take a Break’s too grim, Elle has too many adverts, Mslexia’s too worthy and no one’s yet produced non-sexist versions of Viz and Private Eye. And I believe everyone needs to read total bollocks from time to time. But yes, I’ll admit – me and my self-esteem are still battling this one out.

8 thoughts on “Self-esteem: Yet another thing you’re crap at

  1. Try psychologies, my personal hospital appointment magazine choice if I don’t have a book with me.
    That is the main thing thought isn’t it? I have never, and will never buy any womans magazine, thought I do upon occasion annoy Tesco (other corporate money grabbers are available) by rearranging their mens and womens magazines. You wont give money to PE because you deem it sexist but will to a magazine that clearly is bad for anyone reading it? Not wanting to get into a whole PE debate, but it hates everyone, it is misanthropic, and at least you learn some useful gossip rather than which z list celeb is shagging who.

    If people stopped buying this trash their wouldn’t be a problem, you support them by buying them, and 1000 blogging feminists isn’t going to undo that. When you give someone money to continue something you disagree with then you really do loose your right to complain if they go on and do something you disagree with.

    1. To be honest, I do buy PE as well (but I’m aware that doesn’t make it any better!)
      I’m not convinced that purchasing something means you can’t criticise it – I don’t think your money has to be a full endorsement. But by and large, yes, I think you’re right, I shouldn’t buy it. I still get sucked in by the “lifestyle” crap and a bit of me still wonders whether, if only I followed the advice “properly”, perhaps this month it would work… But I think it does help to look at it critically at least (she says, weakly).

  2. I used to buy that tat (and it does make you feel crap and fat and ugly) but the last straw for me was their continuing insistence at peddling homeopathy “because if celebrity X uses it it must work despite there being absolutely no scientific basis”. Because a celebrity uses an “alternative” medicine is a good enough reason?? My intelligence was insulted one too many times.
    I’ve read a couple of my partner’s GQ as a comparison, and at least I was most offended by the politics not by body fascism and faux science.

    Why do we do this this to ourselves?

    PS I agree that PE insults everyone, but at least is factually correct and informative.

  3. An excellent post as always. I avoid buying anything like this, but sometimes I just happen upon them in the tearoom at work and have a sneaky read. I disappointed myself yesterday, by reading an article in the Daily Mail about a miracle eye cream and I am ashamed to say I was googling the best price for it on the internet before I managed to get a grip of myself….

  4. Fantastic post.

    My mum has brilliant body confidence but that didn’t pass on to me. I loathe my body. My teenage daughter is aware of this but thinks I am incredibly stupid & shouldn’t judge myself on how I look. Clearly we do not absorb our feelings about or physical appearance just from our mothers. Certainly not if we’re members of society as a whole & not living in just our family bubble.

    I can’t stand the magazine stands these days,male or female. All I see is images of physical perfection attained from nothing more than ‘lucky genes’ or surgery or both. Just bores the hell out of me these days. I used to buy magazines a lot. I also used to self edit them. By that I mean I would rip pages & pages out of them & throw them straight in recycling so I could read bits with out having to look at perfection the whole time. Then I even started disliking what I read. The whole focus of the magazines were how to look our best….for men. Yawn. Mens mags full of images of perfect women but womens mags not full of images of perfect men, just yet more perfect women for us to aspire to.
    Ha ha no thanks.

    I love blogs now. No more mags for me. Blogs written by intelligent,nice, ‘real’ women or men. I do buy psychologies altho all the ads for plastic surgery dissapoint me.

    Epic comment. Sorry. Fantastic post tho:-) x

    1. I’m especially bad when there’s any Benefit or Clinique stuff (if you’re reading this, Condé Nast, that’s how you can keep me on board)

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