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Glamour Magazine As Subversive Text?

23 August 2009

I love Glamour Magazine. I have for years.

I know what you’re thinking. But what about all of their disgusting advertisements? And their thin, unrealistically beautiful models? What about how bad it makes us feel when we leaf through their glossy pages?

That’s exactly what my friends have been telling me for, well, basically, ever.

How can you read that garbage, Shiyuan? That stuff is revolting. Women’s magazines only reinforce the idea that if you’re not a tall, skinny white girl with NO stomach fat, you’re not beautiful. Ugh. Gross.

Cancel your subscription immediately.

First of all, we all support the beauty industry, not just us Glamour subscribers. We’ve all purchased & used cosmetics. We’ve all purchased, or maybe just tried on and lusted after, clothing & lingerie designed to make us look & feel sexy based on standards we did not set for ourselves. And we have all inflicted upon ourselves, our friends, and sometimes, complete strangers, the same rigid and unforgiving set of beauty rules that we’re rallying against here, in the form of Glamour Magazine. So let’s not front. Okay?

Having said that, I completely understand where my friends are coming from. I”ve read my Naomi Wolf and Gloria Steinem. I’ve got a worn out, dog-eared copy of The Feminine Mystique on my bookshelf. I know what the arguments against are. I often make those arguments myself.

But sometimes, as I’m leafing through Glamour or Marie Claire, I find myself feeling really grateful that there is a place in mainstream culture for this kind of writing. Where, in the best of times, I can find articles that, as a woman, I want to read about.

Because, and let’s just be honest, men can go anywhere for their news. The New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN – those publications represent just a few perspectives among COUNTLESS OTHERS of male-oriented culture. Those type of nationally recognized, well-established news publications, many of whom I read & like, fairly exclusively present news that is consistent with a male perspective. Maybe on occasion, the Post or the Times will do several articles about women’s rights & women’s struggles all clustered together and call it their “women’s edition.”

When women started going to college at a higher rate than men, it made the front page of the New York Times. Uh, what about all those years when men went to college at a greater rate than women? Where was that covered in the New York Times? What about all those years that women weren’t allowed to go to college? When colleges didn’t accept women? When college didn’t accept people of color? I don’t remember reading feature length articles about any of that.

So, no matter how much Catherine MacKinnon you quote at me – and really, I am her biggest fan – I still maintain there is no other body of popular literature, besides the women’s magazine, that takes women’s concerns seriously. Everywhere else in mainstream news, women’s issues are characterized as silly, unimportant, vacuous, or “revolting,” as my friends like to say. Look at what’s happening to Hillary Clinton, for example.

But in Cosmo, Glamour, and Marie Claire, some of what women want to read becomes newsworthy. To me, those magazines are not just the codification of misogynistic pictures and advertisements; they also represent a community of women.

In the most current edition of Glamour, I found the following articles:

What He Thinks of Your Hair (Down) There” Pg. 104. C’mon, now. Anyone that waxes, plucks, or shaves below the waist wants to know about other people who do so, as well. The article doesn’t put forth a pro-Brazilian, men-will-think-you-are-nasty-if-you-DON’T-wax perspective. It supports women who don’t, or don’t want to, and offers How To Make It Hurt Less tips to women who do.

“The Healthy Woman’s Checklist” Pg. 149. This article encourages women to get their cholesterol checked (because high cholesterol isn’t just a man’s problem), to stop smoking, and to take more walks outside. There’s a side blurb on how dangerous diet pills are, and gives pointers on how to eat more by eating smart.

“A Girl’s Guide to Everything That Itches.” Pg. 152. Self-explanatory, I think. Who doesn’t want an embarrassment-free way to see if their new itch warrants a visit to the gyno? I mean, seriously.

“Your Instant Whole-Body Makeover.” Pg. 161. This article is FAB-U-LOUS. It covers how poor walking, drive, and sitting posture are the real cause of many of our soreness, muscle tension, and sleeping problems. According to NY City spine specialist Dr. Drew DeMann, 90% of the women in their 20s and 30s (that’s us, guys) that come into his practice complaining of soreness or pain have a posture problem. There’s information in this article that I’ve paid A LOT of money to get. Biofeedback, bodywork, the Alexander Technique – those methods are all about increasing your energy and minimizing your pain through changing the way you hold yourself. If you want to learn the Alexander Technique in the Bay Area, you’re looking at $80/hour lessons. Or, in other words, HELLA MONEY. That this kind of information is given FOR FREE in a magazine that targets women, I think is great.

“Seven Right-Now Rules for Being Happier at Work.” Pg. 188. Rule # 7: Work hard, have fun, and be kind.

“What Everyone But You Sees About Your Body.” Pg. 190. There’s a model in this article with BELLY FAT. A quick Google search tells me that this is her second appearance in Glamour. What I like about this model, and Glamour, is that she’s not featured as a plus-size model, and Glamour doesn’t ask for credit when they publish her photographs. They’re not like, look at us! We have a size 10 model on staff! Love it.

I’m half way through the September issue, and I’m going to stop. My fingers are tired of flipping and typing.

Go get your own copy. You’ll see.

– Shiyuan

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 August 2009 3:30 pm

    About the comments: I KNOW, RIGHT? Nobody’s calling anybody names, or posting semi-naked pictures of anybody. I’m real proud of that. That’s already a step forward for Torrent Mag.

    Talk about sex? Not very often. Talk honestly about sex? Never.

    At this point, I feel like, all of our intellectualism and the exercises in deconstruction, which can forge these great connections between women in certain ways, make it more difficult for us to be honest with ourselves, and honest with each other, in other ways.

    By that I mean, I think there’s the kind of woman you are outside of your bedroom, you know, as someone who bikes a lot, because cars are killing the environment, and shops at the farmers’ markets, because supporting local agriculture is important, who buys their clothes second-hand, because consumerism is wasteful, who stopped shaving their armpits, because you started reading Susan Bordo in college, and someone who hates everything that even looks like it could be patriarchy at work, because that’s what a good feminist does. And then there are the ways you are inside your bedroom, the woe you feel over your imperfect body, the piles of makeup and hair products and lotions that spill out from your bathroom cabinets, the lingerie you wear to feel sexy, and the kind of dirty, degrading sex you like to have.

    Those more private kinds of conversations, they feel harder, and more uncomfortable to have with other women, especially women who self-identify as feminists, because of the kind of ruthless deconstruction that we’re used to doing. Nobody wants to be the first to admit to behaviors that make them seem less like a feminist.

  2. 23 August 2009 8:28 pm

    What’s wrong with reading Ms. or Bitch magazine? Why does it have to be Glamour?

    • 24 August 2009 9:55 am

      There’s nothing wrong with reading Ms. or Bitch. It’s not that I think that there is nothing worthwhile to read as a smart, informed woman PERIOD. Or, as a smart, informed, woman of color. There’s Disgrasian, Racilicious, Double X, Jezebel – all decent places to get your news.

      And obviously, I think there’s a lack of quality, pro-feminist literature – that’s why I started this magazine. (Because I looked around the blogsphere, and didn’t see many other options.)

      But Disgrasian, Racialicious, Double X, Jezebel, Torrent Magazine, Bitch, and Ms. are all fringe publications of the left. None of us can boast a readership that’s on par with the NYTimes. Of mainstream publications, such as the NYTimes, or the Post, women’s magazines, as gross and icky as we may think they are, are the only folks around willing to publish articles about women. If there are other mainstream publications that take women seriously, please let me know. I’d love to read them.

  3. tracy permalink
    23 August 2009 7:27 pm

    “Men can go anywhere for their news.” Yes, it’s true that journalistic publications are traditionally male-dominated and male-oriented, both in terms of scope and perspective. But I would have a hard time consenting that the content in women’s magazines, such as Glamour, is even news at all. It’s hardly a victory for women if men get the Washington Post and we get Glamour.

    So then what is Glamour? Entertainment, clearly — and there’s nothing wrong with that. I like to read Cosmopolitan from time to time for beauty tips and glossy ads, but it still needs to be read with a careful eye. The ostensibly pro-woman format of most women’s magazines makes the subtext of their content all the more subversive. Let’s take a look at some of the articles you mention in your post.

    “What He Thinks of Your Hair (Down) There”: It’s not called “What Do You Think of That Hair (Down) There?” or “Ever Wonder What Other Women Do With That Hair (Down) There?” or “You Don’t Have to Shave Your Pubes If You Don’t Want To” or even “If You Want to Shave (Down) There, Here’s How to Make it Hurt Less.” Just by the title, this is pretty clearly a male-oriented perspective without any effort to disguise it.

    “Your Instant Whole-Body Makeover”: Wait, I thought this article was about health? Nope, the main point of the article is that you’ll look better by standing up straight — mom always said boys wouldn’t like a girl who slouched!

    “What Everyone But You Sees About Your Body”: There’s a model with belly fat. Awesome! Let’s leave aside the fact that she’s white, in relatively good shape, has flawless skin, perfect hair, etc. How many other pictures of women are in this magazine (ads included)? How many other women are bigger than this one model? My guess is maybe a handful, and they probably appear in the categories of “hilarious sassy ethnic best friend,” “before photo,” and “how to flatter your hips.” My initial interest at seeing a “real-looking” woman in a feature-length article diminished quickly when I realized that, one, the article is about body image so of course they can’t have a teeny model representing without an uproar, and two, we’ve been duped! How many women are now going to think that Glamour is really sticking it to the man by showing the world what real women look like, despite the fact that this is ONE article in ONE issue that is otherwise filled with photoshopped models? A whole hell of a lot, unfortunately.

    I’ve got to say, I resent the statement that Glamour is the only magazine taking my concerns and interests — as a woman — seriously. I’m not particularly concerned about an instant makeover, or cookie-cutter rules about being happier at work, or thinking about my body any more than is really necessary. I AM concerned about climate change, my friends who ride their bikes drunk, the protesters in Iran, healthcare reform, and whether a test for HPV will ever be developed. But then, these aren’t things that are simply “for women.” The distinction between gender here is irrelevant.

    Glamour is fine as a source of shiny, pretty entertainment and feel-good articles, but to claim that Glamour is a source of news for women is pretty degrading. Are we, as women, so self-centered that the only articles we find interesting are about how to make ourselves prettier and happier? I hope not.

    • Shiyuan permalink*
      24 August 2009 10:25 am

      I hear you. I’m not one of those people who can’t see any harm in the woman’s magazine. I know that Glamour and Marie Claire aren’t the best reflections of what women want to read.

      But I’m also not one of those people who can’t see the good in the woman’s magazine, either. I went to a women’s college, so I have no shortage of really sharp, great women friends. When we get together, we talk about politics, feminism, great books we’ve read recently, our hopes and dreams, but we don’t, for whatever reason, talk about vaginas. We just… don’t. We don’t talk about our beauty behaviors, insecurities, or our posture. Or the best way to walk in high heels without giving ourselves chronic back problems later in life. No matter how high or hard we wave our F card around, you can bet that we’ve all worn high heels. And, I guess I’m saying, I want to talk about those things. With someone.

      I can’t deny Glamour’s harms. But I can’t deny its pleasures, either. I’m trying to develop a politics here that can make sense of both.

      • 24 August 2009 1:57 pm

        Hey, look at all this awesome commenting!

        I am surprised you don’t talk about vaginas with your friends. Do you talk about sex?

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