241 reasons I don’t read ‘women’s’ magazines

Scrolling through the usual swathes of newsletters and junk mail in my inbox last week, I stopped to have a quick glance at an e-mail with an appealing title from a well-known ‘women’s’ magazine (received, no doubt, due to my relentless lunchbreak competition-entering):

“241 tips to help you feel fabulous!”

It popped up on my virtual radar on a gloomy October Wednesday – when the only fabulous element of my life was a fabulously angry-looking boil on my forehead – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who welcomed its breezy, optimistic opening gambit. And 241 tips! 241! That much fabulous is dangerous!

You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I opened it and saw this:

Far from an inspirational page full of tips to feel fabulous, we’re presented with a whole host of reasons we’re not good enough. 241 ways we can try even harder to conform to social norms about the way women are supposed to look.

60 tips to look younger. Because god forbid you actually look your own age. It’s de-rigeur to be de-wrinkled, de-bagged, de-greyed and devoid of almost all facial movement. If you’ve still got enough snarl left to ward off even the most obnoxious of chuggers, you’re not trying hard enough.

‘Linda, are you constipated?’

‘No, love, I’m positively furious’

Clicking through to the page, it links me to a never-ending slideshow of exorbitantly over-priced beauty products, cleverly restricted to one-per-page for maximum ad views.  Concealer for those dark circles, powder to blend in the concealer, a facial peel in a tube, eye cream made from goats tears and whipped despair – and so on and so forth.

16 tips to look sexy.  ‘It’s all about attitude, feeling confident and comfortable in your skin…’ ok, I can sort of get on board with that; ‘…So learn a few hot new beauty secrets right for you!’

So close, but yet so far. I’m not even sure that last sentence makes any sense, but I’m willing to let the perpetual pedant in me take a break – just this once. What’s particularly infuriating about this one is the ‘I’m on your side, chica!’ bullshit. It’s immediately followed by – surprise, surprise – another slideshow of suitably expensive (and therefore, clearly effective!) sure-fire ways to feel confident and comfortable in your own skin.

Yoga retreats? Full body massages? Cognitive behavioural therapy? Er, no. £72 individual false lashes and a £20 eye shimmer in ‘wheat’, to really boost that positive mental attitude – just try not to think about the credit card bills, ok?

50 diet tips

But what’s a girl to do if that chemical peel, eye-bag concealer, and working your way through 100 different hairstyles in the time between having: a job/social life/ family/partner/dog/annoying mother/a bathroom to clean/meals to cook for yourself/the realisation that your glasses are on your face when you’ve ‘lost’ them – just doesn’t give you that fabulous feeling?

Of course – get yourself on a diet, fatty! The usual suspects are all here: eat your greens (steamed, not fried), pop some supplements , stop telling yourself you’re big boned or have a thyroid problem, and stop eating your problems – but my favourite has to be this:

‘Copying the habits of slim people is a good way to reinforce the messages that help is out when we need to make good food choices. When you have to make a food/portion/exercise choice, ask yourself, “What would ……. do?’

Because, obviously, all slim people are a beacon of health and discipline. And none of us have at least one friend we love who is gorgeous and slim and lovely, but who eats bacon sarnies like there’s no tomorrow and thinks Zumba’s a type of sanitary towel.

At best, this is stupid, but at worst it’s encouraging you to find idols on which to base your future happiness, obsessively comparing yourself to them and berating yourself if you ‘slip up’ and eat toast with butter – the horror!

Do you buy it?

I stopped reading these kinds of magazines about 5 years ago because they bored me. After picking one up a few months ago for the free gift on the front (sucker, I know), I now don’t read them because they depress me, patronise me, and make me angry – all at the same time. I call them ‘women’s’ magazines with inverted commas, because they’re not really written for us; they’re written to make money for the executives and shareholders of various multi-national companies by making sure we ceaselessly strive to buy the products that promise they can help us to be ‘better’ versions of ourselves.

Yes, there may be a few token articles about human trafficking, domestic violence, or ‘how to get a pay rise’, but beneath that, the messages are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. Except now there are more adverts, and adverts cleverly disguised as articles written by ‘girls like you, for girls like you!’

Buy these products and you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex.

You must work hard to look good if you want to keep a man.

Dress this way if you want to be taken seriously at work.

Your success as a woman depends on the way you look.

If you really want to feel fabulous (and this is a message to myself as much as anyone else) stop taking the airbrushed adverts and barrage of ‘quick fix’ tips at face value. Stop spending your money on overpriced products that promise to make you beautiful, and start working on feeling fabulous from the inside out.

Be healthy, be a good friend, give back to society, spend more time with the people you love, work hard at things you’re passionate about, give praise where it’s due, and stop being so damn hard on yourself. We are all human. We all age, eat cake, skip the gym (from February onwards), get smile lines eventually, look like shit in the morning, leave the house with hair we know shouldn’t have been allowed to fester for another day, and occasionally go to work looking like we’ve fallen through a jumble sale.

It doesn’t stop us from being intelligent, good at what we do, and just plain fabulous.

Women have face-lifts in a society in which women without them appear to vanish from sight. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (highly recommended).


  1. Kerry

    Great post! I don’t read ‘women’s’ magazines either, I find them toxic and they make me angry that they think all we want to read/talk about is beauty/fashion/men. There’s a whole lot more to us, you know! The only ‘women’s’ mag I read is EasyLiving which I quite like altho it too has its own ‘urgh’ moments from time to time. Remember that song from the 90s that said “don’t read beauty magazines, they will make you feel fat” well that’s some great advice!!

  2. Nathalie Southall (@nattorama)

    One of my faves so far Laura – you should get this bad boy published. One thing I totally agree with you on is those ‘serious articles’ that are popping up in mags (GUILTY Grazia!). I’m not talking the life stories, but the token news stories.

    One I remember from very recently was in Glamour (a subscription i’ve recently substituted for Empire) where the headline was ‘So what’s really happening in Libya?’
    The subtitle read something along the lines of:
    ‘we know you’re too busy being gorgeous to watch the news and give a shit, so here are some bad metaphors with frills on to explain s-l-o-w-l-y how real people’s lives are being blown the shit out of somewhere in this world’
    (that wasn’t really the subheading but you get the drift.)

    Rock and a hard place but personally I’d rather they steered clear of that stuff altogether and stuck to what they did best. Just wish they could do it a bit better…

    • Laura @cakeandfeminism

      Thanks for the lovely comment, Nat! Not sure who’d publish my ranting…perhaps I should forward it to some magazine publishers..(!)

      The Libya story sounds hideous. The assumption that most readers are completely unsavvy about what’s happening in politics, how to manage their finances, or how to eat their five a day is endlessly infuriating. I think what’s worse is that it’s such an obvious and gratuitous attempt to deflect from their own agenda of selling stuff and making sure we don’t get too happy with ourselves by marketing themselves as being ‘for the smart women out there’…

  3. Kelly

    I heart you, Laura! And talking of “be a good friend, spend more time with the people you love, work hard at things you’re passionate about” – I’ve a bottle of wine on my table that would encompass each of those 😉 When are you free for dinner next week? (and should we invite Alex & Mark, who equally won the bottle, or leave it for us girls?!) x x

    • Laura @cakeandfeminism

      I heart you too! Vino and good company? Now that’s definitely something I’m passionate about….I’ll check with Alex and be in touch -prod me if I don’t come back to you, I’m away at home this weekend and am a bit like a headless chicken at the moment! xx

  4. Hannah

    You have such a skill with words young Blakey! I agree whole-heartedly that you should try to get this published; I thoroughly enjoyed that this morning 🙂

    Oh, and ps – my monthly mag subscriptions these days are National Geographic and Time; much healthier for the mind, and I’m not left feeling inadequate because I can’t afford to buy EVERYTHING in the article entitled “autumn fashion you can’t afford not to buy”… err, what?


  5. afroharold

    Great article, and so true. The magazines are worse than ever because now they pretend to be promoting ‘natural beauty’, while selling you overpriced miracle creams! At least in the old days you knew where the articles stopped and the ads started!

    • Laura @cakeandfeminism

      I find the articles showing you how to achieve the ‘natural look’ with 8 different beauty products are the worst. The sad part of it is, if I go into work without any make-up, I’m constantly told I look ‘tired’ and asked if I’m alright….

  6. Ruby A

    Good post! This is why I don’t read a lot of women’s magazines either. There are a few good ones which don’t insult your intelligence or make you feel inadequate (The Gentlewoman being a recent and excellent example, and Stylist gets kudos for a good piece on investing) but most of them make me flip through them and go ‘marketing, marketing, marketing, blah blah blah, meow meow meow’ and they get tossed aside.

  7. Christine

    Ugh, women’s magazines… don’t get me started!

    But in other news, people have their panties in a twist over a limited edition, pink-haired, tattooed Barbie (http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/1020/Barbie-doll-tattoos-Is-new-doll-appropriate-for-kids). Their biggest complaint in a nutshell: “What if my precious child is influenced to look like this when she grows up!?” — and they’re not worried the doll’s anorexic proportions, they’re worried about the ink. Sheesh. Because wanting to be a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, size 00 is A-OK in our society, but getting a little art on your body is not.

    This sorta ties in to the women’s mag issue, because they, like Barbie, tend to promote a very narrow and restrictive form of “looking good = success”. Blegh! Time for cake.

    • Laura @cakeandfeminism

      Oh sure, Barbie gets a tattoo and suddenly she’s not a good role model – because your 6 year-old might just pop into a tattoo salon and get ‘live fast die young’ on her neck while your back’s turned. Agh. Barbie’s an out-of-proportion, unattainable stick insect, modelled in outfits and positions of traditional femininity from 50 years ago, and no one bats an eyelid. Ironically, the dolls aren’t even on sale in toy shops, they’re targeted at the adult collector market. Time for cake indeed!

  8. hungryhinny

    I am so with you on this! Especially the absolutely ridiculous part about copying the food choices of thing people – I think that near enough every person I know who is thinner than me also eats less healthily than me, what a load of rubbish!

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