I have a love-hate relationship with women’s magazines. When I love it, I love it. Two hundred ways to get luscious hair? Seventy-five sexy moves to try on a man? Eight things I MUST tell my gyno? Tell me, Seventeen. I’m listening, Cosmopolitan.
But I hate it, too. Flipping through Cosmo makes my little feminist heart cry out in pain. The glorification of a materialistic lifestyle and worship of a body type that’s unrealistic for many American women kind of pisses me off.
Nonetheless, I’ve subscribed to Seventeen and mooched Cosmo and Teen Vogue from my housemates for the past four years. (Yes, I am a 21-year-old woman who subscribes to Seventeen. Laugh all you want-my hair looks great.)
So what’s there to love and hate? Let’s see, section by section, from this month’s Cosmo and Seventeen.
Fashion: I like this section. I like the sweet, “affordable” fashion spreads in Seventeen and enjoy the diverse, expensive styles in Cosmo.
Yeah, it’s hard not to wonder how, despite being of different ages and ethnicities, the models all have the same body shape and size – but I’m torn.
I love the eye candy and inspiration the spreads give me but I can’t get over the homogeny of the models or the absurdity of reading about swimsuits when it’s still cold and I haven’t shaved my legs in weeks.
“Confessions”: These fall into two categories: embarrassing stories (Seventeen), and embarrassing sex stories (Cosmo). I especially love the ones in Seventeen – they’re light-hearted and no one ever dies.
Even in Cosmo, physical injury rarely happens. Except for one confession where this guy and girl hooked up in a tree house. The tree house fell out of the tree, and they had to crawl out of it naked.
I love this section.
Beauty: There’s probably more product placement in this section than there are penis enlargement ads in my spam inbox. Page after page, you’ll find products guaranteed to make you look and ultimately feel better about your looks.
Call it superficial, vain and a waste of money (I do) – the beauty section is actually my favorite. Despite my own criticisms, I like looking at the trendiest colors and admire the talent, vision and artistry that go into certain makeup looks.
Personal Health/Fitness: After pages filled with tall, thin women, both magazines have the nerve to encourage me to diet and eat healthily?
Fuck no! I don’t want to eat low-fat froyo or do 50 lunges to sculpt my fat ass after reading your magazine. I want to eat a molten lava cake in my grubby sweats and cry silent tears when I realize that I’m gonna die alone in a room full of cats that’ll probably start chewing on my body before it’s cold.
Honestly, though, the tips are decent and the recipes they provide can be delicious. It’s a good section overall, but not one I take seriously, because … I love cake.
When I think about how I feel about magazines, I have to keep in mind a couple things. The first is that Cosmo and Seventeen, like Time and Parents, never claimed to be the be-all and end-all of news on economics, science and lifestyle. No one newspaper or magazine can.
Instead, they cater to specific and different consumers. If I wanted to read about world affairs, you wouldn’t catch me reading Cosmo, and likewise, I wouldn’t be reaching for Newsweek for tips on how to maintain my lady-bush.
The second thing I have to keep in mind is that I have a love-hate relationship with all media, and that’s good. I should be critical of what I read, whether it’s the New York Times or Teen Vogue, and being critical doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading it.
With those things in mind, I still love and hate women’s magazines. Yes, they’re full of bullshit, and yes, they’re great. There’s too much materialism, but the fashion spreads are creative and exciting. All the models look alike, but the magazine resonates with feminine liberation – sexual, professional and personal.
Magazines and newspapers are microcosms of the larger world and their contents reflect our society – the good, bad and ugly. Like us, the worst and best exist in the same body.
KATHERINE TANG NGO loves cake. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you love cake, too.