Here’s part two of my interview with Jennifer Nelson, author of Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines. In her book, Nelson gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the business of women’s magazines. She delves into how articles are made — and just how they affect us.
Below, Nelson explains why she still likes women’s magazines and why they continue to promote damaging ideals. She also offers valuable advice for readers on becoming smarter consumers.
Nelson also explores the world of women’s magazines in her blog.
Q: In your book you still conclude that you love and admire women’s magazines. Why?
A: Well, I grew up and came into my own reading women’s magazines and then went straight to the source of that love in writing for them for many years. You might say I was raised in their culture, and I’ve probably already been affected by their sexist message and negative improve yourself tone, and even perpetuated it in my work for them.
However, even though I now look for both the good and the bad in the monthly issues, I am quick to point out there is good work to be found there. There are often fabulous essays, incredibly insightful writing, and cutting edge health news.
It’s because of the women’s magazines that we know heart disease is the number one killer of women, or that we support breast cancer research and the pink ribbon campaign that has made a difference in this generation’s awareness of that insipid disease, so there is still good to be found on the silky pages.
Q: Advertising dollars are usually blamed for the hyper-focus on looks and unhealthy tips in women’s magazines. Why do you think women’s publications continue to promote narrow beauty ideals and weight loss and shame women about their eating and exercise habits?
A: Yes, advertising dollars are a biggie when it comes to promoting beauty ideals, anti-aging and weight loss. These are billion dollar industries that count on the women’s magazines as vehicles to promote their products.
And while traditionally, women readers may have thought there was more separation between editorial content and advertorial pressure, I found there was a very slim line.
While advertising may not be dictating story ideas to the glossies, their very presence in the pages implies a tightly wound incestuous relationship, whereby you’ll read a two page dieting story followed by a diet product ad like a weight loss smoothie, or a story on how to have a younger makeup routine will be right next door to some anti aging serum.
What’s more, these diet and anti aging topics promote a mindset in themselves that women aren’t good enough as they are, that they need to be improved by losing weight, looking better, not aging.
Q: In the book you write, “But while we can’t change the way the media thinks or how it portrays reality, we can change the way we think. We can learn to use our critical minds to distinguish what’s real from what’s false within the pages, and we can choose to support more realistic ideas.” How can women become smarter consumers when it comes to these magazines?
A: Well, first, women should ask themselves if they feel better or worse after reading a women’s glossy. Do you find your self-esteem lacking after paging through a traditional fashion rag full of airbrushed women?
And if so, you may need to take a magazine sabbatical. Taking a break from some of these images and content can help.
Also, be choosier about the magazines you do select, staying away from those that blatantly airbrush every image.
Instead, read women’s magazines with topics you enjoy such as home décor or crafts, food or money—that are minus much of the digitally manipulated women images and underlying negative messaging about youth, beauty and aging.
Also, assume the images in magazines are all airbrushed; never compare yourself to the women in the pages.
And boycott those that send the wrong message. Why let your subscription dollar or newsstand money support the magazines you don’t agree with?
Get behind anti-airbrush magazine campaigns and grass root efforts (two young girls petitioned Seventeen to stop airbrushing young teen girls—and the magazine complied!).
And finally, let the magazines know what they’re doing right or wrong. Tweet them, Facebook them, comment on their blogs, send letters to the editor-in-chief.
Social media is a powerful way women’s voices can be heard today.
Thanks so much to Jennifer Nelson for sharing her insight with us! If you haven’t read it yet, here’s part one of our interview.
P.S., Don’t forget about the book giveaway I shared on Monday. Enter here to win a journal on gratitude.