How Do You Read Magazines?

May 25, 2009

Rebecca

Acclaimed author Rebecca Walker (Black White Jewish, One Big Happy Family, Baby Love) shares her thoughts on women’s magazines and feminism:

How do you think mainstream girls/women’s magazines have impacted “modern” feminism?

Girl’s/Women’s magazines impact women positively and negatively. They provide a sense of community, a location for fantasies of glamour, a shared generational visual language, a heightened appreciation for fashion, and content that is relevant and helpful for girls and women, i.e. articles on breast cancer prevention, body-image issues, and the plight of women in other countries.

However, the magazines are often at odds with their own goals of befriending the reader. If they define beauty in a limited way-white, thin, rich, overly-sexualized, and objectified-sometime magazines manufacture in girls and women a desire to alter ourselves, or, even worse, to question the worth and fabulousness of our own (i.e. not white, not thin, not rich) lives in comparison to those portrayed in the magazine.

And because models don’t speak, their fabulousness is all about how they look, not how they feel. The reader begins to see herself that way, to focus more on the external, “Do I look okay?’ than on the internal, “Am I okay?”

That said, as a reader of women’s magazines, I believe women can have an interactive relationship with a fashion glossy. The reader does not have to be a passive absorber of the messages of the magazine, but can pick and choose, based on their level of insight, which ideas and images to integrate into their consciousness.

Readers can also read/look with a sense of irony and critique, changing the material into a piece of cultural matter to be engaged and partially rejected, and not mindlessly shaped by. This line of thought is consistent with the Third Wave idea that women are not only victims, but agents in our own lives; our work as Third Wavers is not just to diminish victimization but to amplify agency.

What do you think of the direction that these mainstream magazines are headed in? Negative or positive and why?

Mainstream magazines depend on advertising dollars to survive, which is why the magazines reflect so directly the interests of those advertisers. Make-up, pharmaceutical cosmetics, fashion, etc., will continue to claim more pages, and meaningful, unsubsidized content will continue to fall away unless there is significant intervention.

As media empires are driven toward healthier trends by consumers-like green products and conflict-free diamonds-I believe we will see some positive change. Supporting the Dove campaigns for Real Beauty is one way to apply the needed pressure for change. Dove is having an incredible impact on women, girls and the industry at large by expanding the standard of beauty in their models, and initiating dynamic public discussion about the right for women to feel good about themselves as they are.

Is there a counter balance to whatever effects these particular mainstream magazines have? Any examples?

Women have to take responsibility for loving and accepting ourselves, period. There is an old Langston Hughes poem about a woman looking for her reflection in a sink full of dirty dishwater. We will never see ourselves if we keep looking to the wrong places for glimpses of our beauty.

We live in an amazing moment. Never before have there been so many incredible women at our fingertips. From Frida Kahlo to Anais Nin, Yoko Ono to Angela Davis. With a simple Google search we can see some of the most brilliant and fashionable women in the world. These women of history should become our magazines, our friends, our mentors across time.

Other measures for counterbalance include education: readers should know who profits from the magazines and how the mags function as pieces of pop culture. Feedback about beauty and everything else should come from reliable sources that know and love us. Women and girls need to be involved in cultivating dynamic lives.

I am learning French, swim as much as I can, study Tibetan Buddhism, travel as much as possible, read, cuddle with my partner and son. There is so much with which to build a life filled with happiness. The magazines can be an alternate world, almost like a drug, that delude you into thinking that happiness is in there, in that make believe world, rather than out here, in the life you have. Not true!

Exposure to international standards of beauty is also helpful. In Mali a woman is not considered beautiful unless she has a large forehead. To realize that different cultures have different ways of defining beauty helps to understand that ours is also just cultural, just local, and not universal. This can be liberating.

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3 Responses to “How Do You Read Magazines?”

  1. Lourdes Lopes Says:

    i love you for putting these wonderful thoughts in writing. i think we need to look within to see how we are really lookin at beauty.
    it comes from within and she who feels beautiful from within,will really look beautiful from outside. fashion keeps changing and so does the way we look at it.
    but trends will stay. young women must realise that all that glitters is not gold.

  2. michaelamaria Says:

    This is truly interesting. I challenge everyone to check out this short clip (35 min) about advertising’s image of women.. I actually changed my whole way of reading magazines and interpreting advertises since I watched it. Watch!

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1993368502337678412


  3. YAA Adding this to my bookmarks. Thank You


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