Feminism Friday: Women in magazines

Women are all over magazines. Open one up – whichever gender of adult it’s aimed at – and you will most probably see far more images of women than you will of men. This means that we’re analysed and judged far more often than men are in magazines, yet we still spend our money on them. Loads of cash for something that, most probably, makes us feel shitty? And then we spend time complaining about that*? As Sali Hughes wrote in The Guardian when Brigitte magazine announced they were ditching their ‘real’ women as models policy, “we as consumers need to decide where we really stand and vote with our wallets — not continue to say we want one thing while consistently preferring another.”

This week, I did a magazine comparison to give you a little bit of insight without having to spend money. The September issues of Esquire and Elle were bundled together by the publisher for an (apparently) bargain price, so I thought that it would be a purchase which would give me something to read on a train as well as some blog fodder. As you might imagine, there was a lot of content that would fill many women with rage. Plenty of images which portray women as vacuous bints in skimpy clothing. Many WTactualF moments. As far as I’m concerned, most (if not all) of these were provided by the title aimed at women. Yes, Elle, I’m looking at you with my stern face.

That particular issue of Elle comprised 376 pages (excluding the cover), 168 pages of which was display advertising (45% of the mag), 32 pages was classified advertising (8% of the mag) which means a total of 53% of the magazine is advertising. There were 59 pages of fashion shoot images (including those accompanying interviews), which was around 15% of the mag**. In addition to Elle’s main subject of fashion, this month covered: career, beauty, books, film, music, dating, astrology and travel. (Yes, astrology.) Elle has a lot of messy pages called ‘edits’, which are like mood boards and perhaps of little interest to all but the fashion obsessed. To me, they were like the sort of thing an art student does to quickly fill up a sketchbook, giving them something to show their tutor before a deadline. After wading through masses of advertising and yawn-worthy fashion ‘edits’, I finally reached the section of the magazine with actual content. Proper fashion spreads and decent articles, all squished at the back of the magazine. Somewhat confusingly, they also put an article on abortion in the beauty section. It’s as if the content was an afterthought once the advertising was sorted.

In contrast, September’s issue of Esquire was only 200 pages (excluding the cover), 79 pages of which was display advertising (39% of the mag) with no classified ads. It was a special style issue so I counted 42 pages of fashion shoot images (including those accompanying interviews), which is a massive 21% of the mag**. In addition to all the menswear, this month covered: cars, food, travel, drinks, tech, grooming, culture, wisdom. (Why can’t women’s magazines have a monthly ‘wisdom’ feature?) Interestingly, the “what women want” feature mentioned on the cover of Esquire is actually a report on what (heterosexual) women like men to wear, and the writer actually asked other women too. The only really annoying thing about this magazine was that, as with many women’s fashion mags, there were a lot of models who looked far too young for the clothes they were wearing. Thankfully, this was made up for with fashion shoots featuring David Beckham and Matt Smith. Esquire contained minimal laddishness and maximum interesting content (for a big name monthly glossy, anyway).

So, what did I discover from this little exercise? Well, not much really, as I didn’t go for a truly rant-worthy title like Cosmopolitan or FHM. I did discover that, if this was supposed to be an equivalent pairing of titles, the publisher thinks that men are interested in a far wider variety of topics than women. Come on, we all like food and drink, right? Women drive cars too! To be honest, on this evidence, women’s monthly glossies are still not worth the money they charge and are only really useful for aspirational lifestyle drooling. If you want a women’s mag that inspires and doesn’t make you feel shit about your fashion sense, dress size, skin, hair etc, then buy a copy of Psychologies. If you want a bit of fashion, grab a free copy of Stylist or Shortlist. Or you could, ya know, try the internet.

*I realise that I’m doing this now, so will keep my spending and whining to a minimum.
**My page counting was very rough, so all data is approximate!