I apologise, this is LONG. SO, I am going to jump right into it. There are a lot of issues at play this week, with almost every magazine playing into body shaming.
This week, only two magazines SLIGHTLY pass – Cosmopolitan with Miranda Kerr on the Cover, and Marie Claire – with Reese Witherspoon. However the strong focus on Sex and Beauty in Cosmo (including the tagline “what guys really think of your tan, tattoo, bikini line and more! “) is quite harmful in its language, as it plays on women’s insecurities – specifically, that we think other people really care what we look like. It re-enforces Naomi Wolfs Beauty Myth by asserting through specifically chosen language that women’s only importance lies in their beauty – and the more attractive you are, the more attention you deserve (just as long as you don’t draw attention to your brain). It reminds us of John Berger’s Quote “Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at“. In just a cover, Cosmopolitans February issue is able to completely encapsulate this quote through a high focus on sex and beauty – which insinuates that the two are intertwined. Not Beautiful? Well then. You aren’t getting laid. I’m not even going to touch the hetero-normative language used – which is also used on the Cover of Marie Claire – though to a much lesser extent.
Marie Claire manages to bypass the idea that we dress specifically for men (and primp and groom and colour our skin for men), yet still focuses on beauty and fashion – to be fair, it is a fashion magazine. However, the language used is less harmful than Cosmopolitans. Its focus on Beauty is on sexy hair (for you! – this is at least empowering, as it assumes you want the hair to make yourself feel sexy), and best beauty buys for you, assumes that women are paying attention to beauty rules for themselves – which is often the case when one considers the aesthetics driven world that we live in. However, this continues to put pressure on women to feel the need to live up to societal expectations on this fluid image of beauty that no-one can quite define. Of course, when this pressure is disguised as being “for You” it’s easier to swallow -but let’s not forget that fashion magazines don’t answer to the individual – they answer to the advertisers.
On to the Tabloid Covers. Where to start? Ok. They all fail. Every single one focuses on Body and Diet.
Let’s start with New Idea – New idea is the best of the worst, with a front cover depicting four women of different shapes/ sizes and ages all in their cozzies/ togs/ swimwear/ bathers (and so forth). On the surface – this is a really wonderful and empowering cover that harks back to the now infamous AWW cover featuring Ms. Deborah Hutton (which, after considering, I have to wonder if my art training is what makes me go, she’s naked? Who cares??? The image is GORGEOUS!!!). However, the tagline is diet, exercise and body tips that will work for you. The cover also features a gorgeous looking cake. In Cant Buy My Love, Jean Kilbourne discusses the issues with women’s magazines placing diet and exercise on the same cover as indulgent foods. This strategy infers while we can indulge in these treats, it shouldn’t be without guilt, because we also need to have the best body available so we can be perfect. It keeps women anxious, and thus readily able to consume diet foods, and the newest diet gimmicks – or, even worse – resort to extreme methods of dieting in order to keep up the facade of being the perfect woman. Of course, New Idea doesn’t actually suggest what that best body is (and no magazine ever will) – and the cover would suggest it is the best body for you. A comment under the cover on New Ideas webpage, states that the cover is Gross, and one has to wonder why it is gross? Is it the choice of celebrity bodies? Or is it the difference in ages? Or is it simply the fact that women are bearing flesh? Clearly, the internet public is as comfortable shaming woman as the media is… I wonder why?
TV Weeks cover features celebrity trainers with their best diet secrets in the lead up to the glut of weight loss TV shows to assault our screens come February. NW features Snookies danger diet. She is that chick from the Jersey Shore. Apparently, the interwebs tell me she has lost a lot of weight recently, and NW seems to be ready to throw around the anorexia tag – YET AGAIN.
Grazia – My dear Grazia – is running a feature on celebrity bodies. Sadly, the cover I was able to obtain is largely unreadable, but let me describe. There is a picture of Kate Winslet (wearing the now famous Stella McCartney Illusion Dress) with the word Hourglass above her, and an image of Kim Kardashian with the word Curvy above her. Now…. OK. What is the difference between CURVY and HOURGLASS. Actually, there is no difference. Curvy was largely the word used to describe someone with an hourglass figure (classically 36-24-36 measurements – I would love to provide a decent article, and I will when i can find one that doesnt body shame), but in the media these days it seems to mean … well… that one has some meat on her bones. A discussion about this with the girls at a local newsagent saw them going… WTF??? Grazia is helping redefine the word curvy to have negative connotations. I am not saying that Ms. Kardashian doesn’t have a wonderful figure – it suits her. It is beautiful. It is in fact an Hourglass figure as well. However, the magazine knows that the picture is not her most flattering, and she does, sadly, appear to be much bigger than Kate Winslet in the illusion dress (which, we must remember, gives the illusion that one is slimmer than they are. The dress on its own is incredibly troubling – as is the fact that a woman as vocal about loving her size as Ms. Winslet is, is indeed wearing said dress). This issue of Grazia is the self proclaimed Body Issue, with the cheats guide to a fantasy figure – which one who is non eating disordered may assume is dressing to suit (and slimdown) ones figure, though a disordered person (a mindset I know quite well), will read that choice of language quite differently – as I indeed did when I first saw it on the stand in the newsagent. What I read was – cheat to a fantasy figure by limiting your caloric intake. The holiday season is a dangerous one for those of us who are eating disordered as the focus on body and diet in the media ramps up obsessive levels. The language used on the Grazia cover isn’t as harmful as one would think – and certainly not as overtly harmful as the magazines coming up next, however, the body comparisons, the notions of cheating, and the focus on figure play into body and thin obsession, and works hard to re-enforce negative word associations. Another prominent tagline is finding your happy weight at last. ARGH! HOW MANY CONTRADITIONS ARE ON THIS ONE COVER!?! How can one be happy with any weight depicted on the cover – unless it is possibly close to that of the pretty blonde model who seems to be the magazines version of the body ideal – for this week. I can’t.
Famous, OK!, Who, and Woman’s Day ALL run celebrity body issues – again, seeming to forget that in the northern hemisphere it is winter (or perhaps hoping their readers are happy enough to believe it is summer everywhere), so stars are unlikely to be hitting the beach in their skimpiest bikinis unless they are holidaying in the southern hemisphere somewhere…(exhales!). Lets start with OK! Magazines focus on Jessica Albas post baby body. The focus on Ms. Albas body is troublesome for me, as she is a self-confessed recovered anoretic, and struggles with body issues daily. She is trying to raise her kids in a positive self-love environment, and hates the focus the media puts on her body – understandably. Most of us in the disordered world know of her struggles, so headlines claiming she has lost her baby weight quickly, suggests that possibly she is reverting to old habits – though we know she is now fully committed to healthy living. On the flipside, this cover puts pressure on the average mum reading to lose her baby weight quickly – because look! Furthermore, it raises the expectations for women who aren’t mothers (but are considering the job) that they are going to revert back to their post baby body quickly (sorry to upset you guys…. but it has taken me a few years!).The stars can do it! We saw it with Miranda Kerr, we saw it with another of the Kardashians (though, we also now know that that photo was ridiculously doctored). This pressure is ridiculous – as the saying goes, it takes 9 months to put the weight on, and it should take 9 months to take it off – and for some people that simply is not possible. Furthermore, not all women are genetically blessed to have super elasticky skin that bounces back to a flat post-baby tummy. Magazines putting pressure on women to lose baby weight quickly is not new – however it is incredibly dangerous.
Who and Woman’s Day both focus on diet tips from the stars – just in time to shake any post-Christmas weight I guess? Woman’s Day promises you can drop a dress size in a week, and they have a no hunger diet – and look… Michelle Bridges and Elle McPherson (both on the cover bikini clad) are here to help! And Who promises to reveal what the stars eat. At least they aren’t shaming the celebrities I guess?
Famous. OH. Famous. WOW. Famous gets my award for the worst cover of the week. Angelina Jolie is reportedly hospitalised for a mystery illness, which a reader would assume is anorexia largely due to the accompanying image. Apparently Kim Kardashian turns on her sister and calls her Overweight and Unlovable. AND, to top it off, Celeb Diets that work! 7 get slim and stay slim eating plans!!! We get it Famous. Skinny – Not good – clearly anorexia. Overweight = unlovable. Slim is perfect. Stay there. But when you guys change your mind again on what is apparently beautiful, can you let the rest of us know? This cover has it all. Thin shaming. Fat Shaming. Women fighting and calling each other fat. Insinuations that you are unlovable if you are overweight. Congratulations Famous. As of June, 2011, Famous’ readership was estimated to be at around 317,000. Add that to the people exposed to this headline on posters, in supermarkets, petrol stations, convenience stores, newsagents and so forth, and that is a lot of people exposed to a lot of vitriol and shaming language on one magazine cover. Add that cover to the rest of the January covers for this week, and I applaud the person who doesn’t come out of the week hating their body. The media sure wants you to.
Because, lets face it. The more they can get us to hate our bodies, the more likely we are to get that gym membership, or try some weight loss shakes, and buy new workout clothes. And with the biggest loser, and that other new show excess baggage just around the corner, they are just getting us ready.
Did I miss one? What is your vote for the best (or, rather worst?)
edit – I mistakenly identified Reese as Kirsten Dunst. apologies!!! it just proves my humanity I guess!