I was buying a stack of women’s magazines the other day. Maybe eight or ten of them. All of the covers featured bubblegum or hot pink something or other. They were heavy. I plunked them down on the counter and the woman behind it glanced curiously up at me.
She gestured at the one on top, to the woman posing seductively on it, and asked if it was a certain actress from a TV show I’d never heard of.
I said, “I really don’t know. I’m a writer. These are just for research. I don’t actually ever read them.”
She looked the slightest bit impressed. “Oh!”
(This one’s a couple years old. Notice the pink. Always with the pink. source)
I was smacking myself internally as I walked out. Seriously? What happens next– you buy a couple cartons of ice cream and tell her you’re feeding it to test subjects as part of a study on dessert and neurology?
It was true. I was buying them for research. I am trying to figure out which magazines to submit essays to. Everyone who has given me any advice about this has begun with, “Get a bunch of magazines. Learn their format and their tone.”
The real reason why you have to get a bunch of them is because finding the articles takes a long time. They’re buried between thousands of glossy ads for Gucci and veggie pizza and mystical age-defying creams that can make a sixty-year-old woman look eighteen again. You become a detective, following the trail of an article, trying to guess its next move. Learning how deep inside the ads it will hide when it’s running.
The last time I looked at one of these things I was probably fifteen. And it wasn’t even mine. It was my friend’s. And we weren’t looking at it earnestly. We were making fun of it. Is it OK to say that? I can’t actually tell how many women read these things seriously. Is it mostly twelve-year-old girls? But the majority of the written material is about sex! Well, twelve-year-old girls are curious about sex. But curious enough to keep an entire industry afloat? Is it possible that any sixty-year-old women ever see that ad about the magical science fairy cream? Is it possible that anyone sees the ad for some new food-based skincare product that is being poured in milky gushes over a model’s ecstatic, open-mouthed face and not think– See– I have no idea how all this works.
After reading (looking) through several of the magazines, and making Bear take the test about what guys are really thinking along with all the guys who Cosmo appears to keep locked in a back room for the sole purpose of responding to their quizzes about what guys are really thinking, I realized that nothing had changed since I was fifteen. Not that I really expected it to.
These are the main written topics:
What guys secretly want from you sexually
What your hair secretly wants from you sexually
What guys secretly want from your hair (sometimes sexually)
What other women are saying about having sex
What supreme, universal experts with PhDs are saying about dieting, relationships, and sex
These are the main visual topics:
Oh my god! You’re getting old already! Cover it up!
Be yourself by putting a lot more makeup on your face
Stop eating so much, fatty, and live on Crystal Lite instead
Thinness is happiness
Movie stars love cosmetics
Everything you wear is about sex
I feel like I’m missing a few. Something else that has to do with sex and thinness? But none of this really bothers me anymore, except in a sort of vague, distantly disappointed-in-society kind of way. It’s like I’ve grown calloused in places I used to be vulnerable. In places I used to think, “Why is it women who look at endless images of panting, flung-open, glisteningly sexualized young female models? How is this an ad for sunglasses or a granola bar? Why can’t women look at ads that don’t involve supermodels? Is that really so difficult to change? Why are we supposed to care about pleasing a guy in bed more than we care about anything else?”
OK, so I still think some of those things. But mostly what struck me this time around was the editorial “we.” Practically every bit of text was written in it. “We love Jake Gyllenhaal! We just can’t get enough! We think he’s absolutely the hottest hunkiest piece of smokin’ manflesh Hollywood has cooked up!”
The tone was perky, excited, collective, and relentless. As though everyone on the staff of Glamour is just bouncing up and down on their stilettos all day, working themselves up into a frenzy about Glamour’s Top Ten Hotties for The New Year (It’s Not Who You Think!!).
Every piece brings to mind a frantically grinning, desperately chipper, perfectly coiffed group of starving editors and staff writers. Perhaps chained to their desks. Speaking as one. The fashion borg.
And I put the magazines down, unsettled.
I shouldn’t nit-pick, but I also couldn’t help but notice that the No-Fear Guide to Hair Color was contradicted several hundred pages of ads later by “Ten Totally Gorgeous New Hairstyles (Because Every Woman Deserves Man-Magnet Hair).” Real men ( albeit the same fifty of them locked in the supply closet on the 14th floor) voted that brightly dyed hair is a turn off. The No-Fear Guide urged women to give it a shot. Who knows what chaos might result. We’ll have to tune in next time, to see what the PhD relationship specialists make of this. And by “we” I mean “me.” One terribly unperky little cynical woman who could not care less about Jake Gyllenhaal’s “drool-worthy bod.”
* * *
Un-roast: Today I love the way my skin hates skincare products. It’s not even me, I swear, it’s my skin. It turns an angry red and goes, “Get that stuff off me before I sprout a rash of the biggest pimples you’ve ever seen in your whole life, punk.”
P.S. I’ve been loving the un-roasts you guys include in your comments!!
P.P.S. I feel kind of lame for writing about women’s magazines. I know they’re an easy target. But having so many of them on my couch makes it practically impossible to think of a better topic at the moment.
New post at Un-schooled, which is actually a chapter from a book I started to write when I was 16, about my life. Because 16-year-olds have definitely lived long enough to write memoirs.
(What do you think? source.)