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Comment of the Week: On Women’s Magazines and Body Image

Fri, Sep 11, 2009

Comment of the Week, Confessions

“About perfect, model-looking women vs actual women: I believe you women are at fault about society’s direction in respect to looks. You women keep buying all the glamour/fashion/designs mags that show all this fabrication when it comes to female looks. If women would stop buying all those mags, money would talk, and mags would start dropping those models in favour of real actual women. You have the last word, but I am afraid one thing is what women say about this issue, another one what women collectively are willing to do about it. Something like gasoline prices, financial downturn and the American driving habits: The larger the SUV, the more gasoline it is burnt and spent, hence, the more expensive it becomes to drive and also the less money there is for other expenses, vital expenses like mortgage and food; but drivers will adamantly keep and purchase new SUV’s and incur more expenses, in the face of catastrophe, rather than change course. Actual women will keep buying those magazines with thin, slender and near perfect bodies exhibited by late teen and early 20′s women.¬† These models¬† are not representative of average women. While opening the mag’s pages and reading/viewing the images, these women complain about the society that supports said publications, only after having contributed financially to the wealth of these same mags they complain about through the purchase of the last copy. This is what women want, otherwise, women would not buy these publications.”

James, commenting on “Glamour Publishes Picture of Average-Sized Woman, Hell Freezes Over

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19 Responses to “Comment of the Week: On Women’s Magazines and Body Image”

  1. Leigh Olivia Says:

    congratulations james. how eloquently you manage to completely miss the point.

  2. KB Says:

    Awesome, leigh Olivia. Why couldn’t that have been comment of the week(I’m not being sarcastic). the thing about “women buy it” is b.s., has been b.s. and will continue to be b.s.
    I’m sad Em and Lo, you guys are usually better than this.

  3. Em & Lo Says:

    For the record, any “Comment of the Week”s we publish are not full, automatic endorsements of the comment. We just hope they spark further fascinating discussions. So please, don’t be sad. Although…we’re curious why you two have such a negative reaction to this one? We certainly don’t think it’s the only reason women have such body image issues, but buying magazines full of aspirational aesthetic ideals that the majority of women can never realistically achieve can certainly wreak havoc on some women’s self esteem, don’t you think?

  4. KB Says:

    I have a negative reaction because it’s victim blaming, essentially. No, I absolutely agree that the magazines aren’t a good thing. but, because this applies to catalogs too-essentiallly if you want to look at clothes other than what’s at your local stores, which if you live, for example, in a small town in Iowa, might not be so hot, you’re automatically part of the problem? and it’s all your fault? I call b.s.

  5. KB Says:

    to add on to the last one, maybe you guys didn’t think of catalogs/online sites in that statment. The models sure aren’t any better. so women who get bad body image from magazines should only blame themselves, but those who shop online, shouldn’t? It’s not so easy to escape as just saying “don’t buy fashion mags”

  6. Johnny Says:

    Ok, so it’s not a perfect solution… but he didn’t “completely miss the point” and it’s not “b.s.”

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    First of all, I kind of think James has a point. No, it’s not perfect … but the catalogues and online shopping sites would change their models, too, if enough fashion mags did.

    And I kind of rankle at the comparison of James’ comment to “blaming the victim”. A woman might not have much of a choice as to the society she is born into, but she does have a choice as to how she thinks of herself. I’m a curvy woman (literally – not fat, just curvy) and I don’t look anything like the ideal pushed by fashion mags. But I refuse to let that get me down on myself… Sure, I have my “fat days” now and then, but I conciously make a choice to not view myself like that. Anyone can make that choice. The mind is a powerful thing!

  8. Meg Says:

    Personally, I read a ton of magazines (both high fashion and otherwise, it’s an addiction, lol), am a curvy woman, and I feel more depressed when a pair of jeans that used to fit me don’t fit anymore, instead of depressed I don’t look like a model. If that makes any sense? Plus if we stopped reading magazines at all, the state the publishing industry’s in, the magazines would all go down in flames rather than replace the models. Plus it’s not even really the magazine’s fault entirely. Fashion is a giant machine full of many people, and magazine’s are limited to casting the models that agencies have scouted, and plus size models are the minority. Plus, they are also forced to use sample sizes in order to show designer collections, and those sample sizes tend to be around a 2. So it’s really not as simple as saying, “BOYCOTT ALL MAGAZINES THEY ARE BAD”.

  9. Katie Says:

    I’ve NEVER bought any of those magazines and I still have body issues. Guys constantly make comments about other females in a girl’s presence (especially if the two aren’t dating). All those snide remarks about imperfect female body parts eventually go to your head. No one ever has to directly judge your body for you to be body-conscious.

    I also think that women assume the “hotter” they are, the better they can keep a man around…which I think is only a very, very small part of the equation.

  10. Leigh Olivia Says:

    i understand where james’ point can seem logical–but he really is missing a major point. as katie illustrates, we’re living in a culture absolutely saturated with messages about how icky and in need of fixing our (particularly the ladies’ ) bodies are. it is unrealistic to expect that women who have grown up and lived entirely in this environment should all just out-of-the-blue throw off the misconceptions that they have been so painstakingly taught and become phD’s in gender studies. we don’t expect that men raised in an anti-feminist or racist environment automatically understand their prejudices (how many people reading this can think of a real-life instance of someone saying ‘don’t mind grandpa saying those racist/sexist/homophobic/etc things–that’s just how things *were* when he was young.’ ) and to assume that women are somehow endowed with opression-busting superpowers is a bit silly.

    okay, so there is my hopefully-coherent reasonably-polite explanation of the point i thought james was missing.

  11. Mix Says:

    To follow up with Leigh Olivia,
    True, it is extremely hard to simply cast off those ideals of skinny = beautiful. As a girl who used to be overweight and now a feminist getting my PhD in Women’s Studies with a boyfriend who thinks I’m beautiful, I still struggle every day to stop scouring my body in the mirror for flaws . . . and still always finding too many. What makes the magazine even worse is that they often promise various ways to help us conform to the standards presented to us by the rest of society. “Lose those last five pounds!” “Get a bikini-ready body!” “Overindulged during the holiday season? Melt those pounds fast!” These magazines present us with the hope that with a little work and a quick diet, we too can look like the models in the magazine. Who would could resist buying a sliver of hope? Besides, many magazines who “promote” curvier lifestyles or positive body images still fall into the same old traps/ideologies. Case in point: Five+ years ago, I was terribly excited when I saw the cover of a certain fashion mag (I want to say Marie Claire, but I’m unsure). It boasted the headline “Women who tell us what they love about their body.” I bought it immediately, thinking it would discuss women and how they love their body flaws and all, only to be terribly disappointed. One woman discussed her “six-pack abs” which she didn’t have to work for, while others mentioned a “cellulite-free” butt, gorgeous hands, and DD-breasts. Not one of them mentioned having a body that differed greatly from the ideals that we are taught to appreciate (curves, gentile hands, tiny waists). I was left with a sinking feeling that my flabby stomach, non-existent ass, and hands that resemble a five-year-old’s would never be attractive.
    The magazine industry (and for that matter, media as a whole) is filled with messages that remind women that they should be beautiful, thin, and fashionable creatures, somewhat like art on the wall, and they pretend that all women can get there following a few simple steps. Simply telling women to not buy such magazines is ignoring the emotional reaction that such hope brings in addition to the simple fact that Leigh brought up: ideology is a complex system, and few (if any) can cast aside a lifetime’s worth of messages in a single day. My question to James, then, would be: Could you do the same?

  12. Harriet Handley Says:

    In a way i agree with James, it’s a vicious circle of women buying magazines with beautiful people, but why would publishers change a winning formula? Sex sells. But i think what women need to realise is there is no perfect body. So when James says ‘thin, slender and near perfect bodies…’, it suggests to me that to be on the road to perfection, slim and slender is the way to do it, but it isn’t, as there can be no perfect or ideal body image because every body is different, and every man’s own idea of what they like in a woman is different. Shouldn’t the main point be that women in magazines should just be healthy? Eating a healthy diet and doing regular exercise will result in a better body, better confidence and better health. But we all know this. I don’t want to see skin and bones all over my magazines. But neither do I want to see love handles and beer guts. I want to see real women who look after themselves-they should be the role models we look up to.

    On the other hand, are men’s magazine not just as decremental to the self esteem of women aswell? It would seem that these beautiful women that appear in the women’s magazines are also adorning the pages of men’s magazines. So surely the conclusion of that is men do want to see those kind of women? The kind of women that James said should not be featured in magazines. Is it any wonder women are confused and have low self esteem? We have no idea what the hell to think! Somehow women just need to get to the stage where they are happy with who they are, but i don’t think it would be as easy as employing rounder models in magazines and adverts. Even if this did happen i would still complain i was fat and compare myself to every woman i lay my eyes on. But then thats my issue to fix.

    This is a topic i could rant on about all day! but i’ll stop now before i bore everyone and my ramblings start to really contradict themselves!

  13. james Says:


    I can see that some panelists did not like my words.

    I can say that I strongly believe there is responsability on part of women that purchase these publications.

    I understand the concept of catalogs and the need to see items of clothing in said catalogs, but the industry is not limited to catalogs.

    All female publications , of all kinds, perpetuate the kind of woman women complain about. Magz that are not into clothing, but into lifestyles and other issues still portray women as late teen early 20s in looks, although these publications are geared to adult women, not to teen agers.

    There is a vicious cycle and women are the only ones that can put a stop to it. Men have no saying in this issue, aside from an opinion. Women are the purchasing power, and women have to do something about it.

    Denying this purchasing power, and saying that a boicot would do nothing at all in regard to this issue is tantamount to saying that americans keep buying SUVs because it would be silly to think that by boicotting/stopping the purchase of ridiculous “Navigator” sized vessels the auto industry would feel compelled to change course directing its efforts at building smaller vehicles with better mileage characteristics.

    In fact, that situation in regard to SUVs ( diminishing sales volumes )is what send the big American three automakers into a downward spiral. But that loss in sales was not the result of the american people’s decision to stop purchasing giant SUVs, not at all, unfortunately it was the financial crisis what forced, compelled americans to stop purchasing those vehicles, together with gasoline prices reaching prohibiting prices.

    So, sales of a product, and the purchasing power of those that purchase those products indeed have direct relation to each other.

    Perhaps the problem with America is that the current generations have lost touch with reality, America has become a nation where the cult for “coolness” has overcome all other issues and concerns.

    Americans purchase SUVs because it is cool, albeit they are running into deep waters when it comes to budgets and expenses. Americans are losing homes, jobs, purchase power, yet still drive SUVs that have 8 cylinders and “burn” up into the air dollars that could very well cover food, mortgage and other vital expenses.

    Not only gasoline consumption, but insurance premiums and maintenance expenses make SUVs a cool ( to those that believe SUVs are cool )but costly proposition.

    In this manner, most women think that society is not portraying women as they are in reality, yet american women buy these magz because these magz are “cool”.

    This is the “cool” thing to do, albeit we know it is completly unhealthy psicologically.

    Women, you have to take control of your issues and stop this silliness.

    This is something women have to confront themselves. Perhaps women are embarrased about themselves, because I hear and hear all the time women making comments that sound like they ( women themselves ) do not like to see average, actual women in their magz. Could it be women feel embarrased about actual women and hence prefer to portray women as an ideal rather than what they actually look?

    There is nothing comparable to womens magz on the other side. I mean, men do not have magz devoted to mens looks. There could be a few, but those are not that prevalent and men do not give those issues/magz the relevance women give to female magz

    All I can say in regard to that issue is that I no longer purchase Surfing or Surfer magz. I am a surfer, done it all my life, but I quit reading those magz ( except for the few occassions when I learn about a great article about some nice waves in some exotic land ) because those magz are full of late teens and early 20 smtg guys that I belive are not representative of real surfing as a culture. Surfing does not stop at age 23 and those magz are plain bubblegum in my eyes.

    Do you women think that some of the womens publications are plain bubblegum? I would, had I been a 30 or 40 or 50 smtg woman looking at a 19 year old girl on a publication

  14. Alex Says:

    I agree that women need to stop buying these ridiculous magazines, HOWEVER, can’t it even be a part of the conversation that men do have a huge effect on our collective body image? Why can’t anyone admit that?

    I don’t read those magazines. I don’t pay much attention to models. I am thin, in fact, so I don’t obsess over the weight issue anyway. But I’m not hot. I don’t know this because magazines tell me, I know this because men tell me. Obviously they’re not saying, “Alex, you’re not hot” but all women know what I mean when I say that we are constantly hearing feedback straight from the male mouth that we are not attractive enough.

    It’s a complicated issue. For one thing, men are hard-wired/socialized to give looks more weight than women do. They also have been found to all have a generally homogeneous idea about what is “attractive.” But why can’t they? It wouldn’t be fair to say that they have to ignore these thoughts or lie about them. But then why don’t we as women deserve to be valued more for our personalities/minds/whateverthehell? There is no good answer, as far as I can see.

    And maybe that’s why people don’t talk about this part of the problem. It’s such an easy to solution to just say, “women need to stop buying the magazines, and then it won’t be an issue.” It’s not so easy to say that we are completely aware of a man’s appraisal of our looks, and more than that, we care about it. I could get into why we care about it and why we have to care about, but that’s a whole other story. The point is that men do have a hand in this, and whether or not there is a solution, it needs to be acknowledged.

  15. Maddie Says:

    You look longingly at the clothes, why not at the body, too? I think the industry has gone to an extreme with photoshop, making the skinniest of models skinnier, but I personally like seeing the clothes on skinny girls.

  16. Alexandra Says:

    I see that many people don’t agree with this comment of the week, but I would argue that it makes a very valid point:

    1) Studies have shown that women are significantly harsher in judging the attractiveness of other women than men are when judging those same women. Overall, men tend to prefer “average” women.

    2) In a way, female body image often isn’t even about sex, or about looking appealing to men– because women have throughout history been judged by their appearance more than men have, this tendency has, in its own twisted way, reincarnated itself under a “feminist” veneer. Media images of successful, intelligent, independent, and stable women are always slender and attractive. Overweight women are depicted as sloppy, low-income, stupid, or unstable. And so, in a way, female ideal body image is a form of competition independent of the male sexual gaze.

    Now, I’m not denying that the female ideal isn’t distorted by an obsession to look attractive to men, but at the same time I don’t think this is a case of “blaming the victim” because that assumes that women are clueless about what’s going on when often they know exactly what’s going on even as they try to “cheat” the game by becoming the best player, rather than recognizing that the game itself is bogus.

  17. bettyboo Says:

    My first thought when I see arguments like this is ‘yes, it’s terrible the pressure women are put under to conform to the ‘ideal’ to be big busted, yet skinny, practically hairless beach body etc etc..’ and that’s true, but then I think about history.. the way’s we torture ourselves may be very 21st century, but the fact we do it definitely isn’t.. until the early 20th century it was expected that every grown woman would spend her waking hours in a restrictive corset that affected her movement, her breathing (contributing to the idea that women were fragile creatures, prone to faint at any kind of shock) and in
    extreme cases when especially tiny waists were desired actually compressed and damaged her internal organs. A couple of centuries earlier, people who could barely afford food would pay a penny for a ‘lucky-dip’ wig that was likely to be infested with disease carrying fleas or lice and may have been made from the hair of a corpse because going about town with just your own hair was deeply unfashionable and marked you out as the poorest of the poor, before that, in elizabethan times, both sexes where wearing lead make-up that would cause skin lesions (covered up with more lead based make up) and lead to lead poisoning because it was fashionable to be pale like the queen.. history abounds with examples of pressure to conform to what has been regarded as perfect, well before the invention of the printing press let alone the fashion magazine, it may not be right that anyone feels this pressure, but unfortunately we’ve always done it to ourselves and probably always will.

  18. Madamoiselle L Says:

    The thing is “boycotting” although maybe making one feel powerful, usually does NO damage to the industry you have an issue with.

    Years ago, when industries made their money by the actual selling of the product they made, it did. (I remember boycotting lettuce, grapes and even meat as a child, and I haven’t bought Nestle in decades. The grape, lettuce and meat boycotts worked, the Nestle did for a while, but they recovered.)

    NOW most big businesses make their money from their SHAREHOLDERS, and their wealth has little to do with making a good product or even selling much of that product to most people. Magazines make MORE money from the ads than the subscribers or the magazines being bought anywhere. Most big businesses are SO big that no boycott does a thing to them. It sounds good, but they no longer bring businesses to their knees.

    Stocks in companies which make inferior products can still do well, and the company stays in business, magazines aren’t much different, although they rely on both stocks AND advertisers, giving boycotts a double problem to over come. Plus, one would have to boycott the EVERY MAGAZINE, fashion, news, sports, that every publisher a fashion magazine publisher puts out. If one reads magazines, nearly impossible. Also, one would have to avoid television, print ads, newspapers, movies, the internet, ads in malls, basically become a hermit to never come in contact with “waifs” who model clothes and have bizarrely thin and tall body types. It’s simply impossible to avoid.

    I don’t buy fashion magazines, (I sometimes get a Cosmo from the library, but their model type is a little more Zaftig) but avoiding the TYPE of body shown in them is simply not possible in our current situation.

  19. Mandy Says:

    I would say I don’t buy magazines (I’m poor and they don’t appeal to me to begin with) but I think the bigger problem is in billboards not magazines. How do you boycott a billboard?

    Women are too varied and too many for it to matter what a segment decides to not buy. Even if only 10% of women are buying a magazine, that’s a lot. And it’s enough for advertisers to want their ads in the mag.

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