Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What would your dream magazine contain?

I recently read a post on Feministing.com that echoed my recent thoughts about women's magazines. It's summer, and I tend to find that I'm more attracted to glossy spreads and bright colors than I am to musty classics and heavy nonfiction. But after reading magazine after magazine geared toward women, I can't help but wish that there were more substance to these publications. Feministing blogger Courtney agrees:

Too often, the magazines targeted at my age group are chock full of anxiety-inducing body features (even when they claim to be giving you a "body image makeover" it tends to feel like they're secretly making you hate yourself), fluff pieces on what kind of sex you're supposed to be having, and shock-and-awe memoir by women who were kidnapped by a cult or discovered that their mother was their sister etc. etc.

The editors at these magazines, I imagine, would argue that they are just supplying the demand, that young women ask them for this kind of content in letters and focus groups.

But where are the women who ache for these anxiety-inducing sex columns and another frickin' article on working out? Why is it that older women seem to want complex personal essay and complex features on cutting-edge science, reviews of literary novels etc., but we youngin's just want fashionfashionfashion?

Like Courtney, I doubt that this is the case. Sure, we youngin's do like our fashion. Even the most intelligent woman likes to rest her eyes on some pretty pitchers now and then, and even the most substantial woman is conscious of the ways in which she clothes, presents and expresses herself in a highly visual culture. And yes, many of us like to keep fit, eat healthy, and own our sexuality in an infinite amount of ways. But most of us don't need much additional help from magazines in order to do so, and in fact, we could do with less advice and meddling from the ladies' press, and more good talks with girlfriends and grandmothers on these subjects.

So what would we like to see instead? Courtney starts the process with her own brainstorming session:

What would your dream magazine contain? Mine:

-Lots of personal essays by really smart, funny women
-Reviews of memoir and novels, indy movies and music
-Profiles of social entrepreneurs, feminists, great thinkers
-Cutting edge science that features legitimate peer-reviewed studies on health, psychology, and the environment
-Op-eds where women take different points of view on complicated issues
-Photo spreads featuring women with diverse body types wearing gorgeous, original, affordable clothing
-Those awesome spreads where a magazine takes an issue--like the wedding industry--and gives all kinds of fascinating facts and figures (my favorite version of this is in Mother Jones

I'd second Courtney's suggestions and add to them:

- witty personal essays (of the non-shocking kind)
- reviews of books and movies that are not on any best-seller list (but that you might find on Pitchfork or Slashfilm, only without the pretense)
- useful health information (to counteract the huge amount of misinformation out there and the damage done by abstinence-only sex education)
- op-eds (to underscore the fact that "women", "white women", "black women", "Christian women" etc. do not constitute a monolithic group)
- photos with diverse body types and affordable clothing (because I love the "real" photos on the Sartorialist, but I have yet to see a woman featured who is shorter than 5' 7" and heavier than 120 lbs.)
- exposes of the industries that prey most on women's insecurities (Courtney's choice -- the wedding industrial complex -- is spot on).

I would go further to say that what I want is this:

Less advice columns telling me how to pluck my eyebrows or pleasure my man - I can do this without the help of Cosmo. Both come easily enough with good instincts and a little practice.
More advice columns telling me how to pick an ethical mutual fund for my money, and how to share my finances with my man, without going crazy.

Less photo spreads featuring perfect women and perfect homes.
More photo spreads featuring real messy apartments and real messy people, with material goods that suit and reflect all ages, sizes and budgets.

Less redundant and advertorial copy on the best new microdermabrasion product or the most eco-friendly eyeshadow.
More "service pieces" that actually do service. Tell me and my 20something friends how to find health insurance (even if we're baristas, contractors, artists, interns), and how to find the best physician and/or gyno.

Less features telling us how to perfectly cook our food or count the calories in our food or avoid food altogether.
More features telling us how to truly enjoy our food.

Less features on models and celebrities who are mainly famous for being famous, or for being beautiful.
More features on the women -- and men -- who are actually shaping our world.

(note: image above is from Apartamento, a new Italian design magazine not yet available in the States. More to come on this, probably, since I'm a bit in love with it.)


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