Real Quick: Glamour is shocked. I mean eviscerated. I mean shocked.

By | February 23, 2011


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Did we mention that men's opinions are really important? Because they are.

Do you like irony? I like irony sometimes, when it’s funny, or when it’s apt, or when it serves a comeuppance to a person or institution in need of one. I’m less fond of irony when it fills me from boot-soles to eyebrows with aghast indignant eye-popping head-exploding what-the-fuck-fresh-hell-is-this rage.

This post is in regards to an instance of the latter.

See, Glamour magazine ran a survey — an exclusive survey — of more than 300 “women of all sizes,” in which they asked said women to “note every negative or anxious thought they had about their bodies over the course of one full day.” Glamour was shocked — shocked — to find that a “whopping” 97% of women admitted to at least one negative body thought each day.* The average participant expressed thirteen such thoughts a day.

Unsurprisingly, Glamour has the brazen arrogance to express astonishment at this development. The article calls these results “horrifying,” “disturbing,” “shocking,” “hateful,” and many other choice adjectives.

The points raised in this article are well known to anyone who’s thought critically about the cultural messages we constantly receive about our bodies, but are probably more dramatic to folks new to these ideas. Women are taught early on that self-reproach is admired while self-acceptance or self-love is not. We’re mired in unattainable beauty standards. We bond with other women over mutual body loathing. There’s even a neurological component. The article goes on to list tips for not hating yourself, as though overcoming a lifetime of cultural conditioning is as straightforward as keeping a journal and focusing on your “strengths”. Then it sort of comes apart with no real conclusion, just a collection of reported self-insults (“Fat-ass. Lazy bitch. I hate my thighs. I hate my stomach. I hate my arms.”) followed by some quotes from the few women who didn’t report any body-negativity (“Taking ownership of your choices gives you power.”) and then it… abruptly ends.

The fact that these points are being raised in the context of Glamour magazine may raise a bit of consciousness on this issue, which is a good thing. However, I am bound to mention that the fact that they are being raised in the context of Glamour magazine also makes it a hypocritical thing. I’ve been down this path before, with Seventeen‘s mixed-message approach to “self-esteem”, so this is not unique to to this particular publication: all women’s magazines carry the same “love yourself (but not too much)” message. Such magazines suggest that thinking, “I sure wish I could find some jeans to adequately camouflage the size of my ass,” or “I’d love if it someone could teach me a new exercise to tone my arms,” or “I need guidance to tell me what I should eat,” is fine, but thinking, “I am a fat, worthless pig” is not. Why? What’s the difference? Aren’t these ideas connected, in the end? Don’t they both come from the same place? The first is couched in language that implies a “positive” approach to “self-improvement”; the second is negative and judging. But each only exists in context with the other. The woman who cheerily longs for new toning exercises does so because she is unhappy with her arms. The woman who wants ass-slimming jeans feels that longing because she does not like the look of her ass. The woman who wants a magazine-sponsored diet is unsatisfied with her ability to feed her own damn self in a manner befitting the body she does not possess. These are the same women who will have the brutal attacks of self-loathing described in Glamour‘s survey. You know why? Because these are the women who read motherfucking Glamour magazine, and Glamour itself reinforces that thinking. Hell, even the survey article about negative body image includes the subtext that you are fucked up, poor lamb, and Glamour is here is help you.

Simply put: you do not get to build a magazine around making women feel inadequate and then express astonishment and pity when they comply. This is the culture that Glamour and its ilk have helped to build — a culture that is relentlessly critical of women’s bodies, a culture that considers women’s bodies public property open to debate, a culture that trains women to turn this criticism on themselves, and to accept and internalize every comment, opinion, observation and judgment on their bodies no matter who it comes from, be it a parent, a friend, a boss, a significant other, or a stranger on the street, because they think they deserve it.

Glamour can pretend to be shocked, if it pleases. But I’m not buying it, because the talk without the walk means sweet fuck-all in the grander scheme of life. Glamour can rail against the body image problems of a generation stretching from cradle to grave, and wring its hands and say, oh no, we didn’t mean to make you quite that self-recriminating! It was a silly accident! Oh, and have you tried this new diet? No, really, you’re okay as you are. Check out the new ab-busting exercise that will change your life, on page 43! Jeans to make any figure** look like it’s shaped differently than it’s actually shaped, page 124! But you’re fine! So long as you buy this magazine, believe its body-shaming rhetoric, and loyally purchase the products sold by the advertisers therein.

But you’re fine.

* How big does a number need to be before it begins whopping? I’ve always wondered.

** Figures over a size 12 not included.


27 Comments

Anna Guest-Jelley on February 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm.

Thank you for this. Spot-on and f’ing fantastic. “Simply put: you do not get to build a magazine around making women feel inadequate and then express astonishment and pity when they comply.” YES!

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Rebecca on February 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm.

Thanks for bringing this article to my awareness, Leslie. I can’t even flip through these magazines any more because of these “love yourself, but not too much” messages. It’s amazing that those contributing to/creating this magazine are so utterly “unaware” (supposedly) of the reality of women’s self-esteem/body image, especially when they help define these women’s “realities”. I need to add, you are a great writer. I can’t wait to read your book. Every word is in such a great place.. even the “fuck”s. How do you do it?!?!!?

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charlie'sdaughter on February 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm.

This is the same magazine that featured dating advice from The Situation, a guy who constantly humiliates random girls and uses terms like “grenade” to describe those he considers overweight and unattractive. Yet, Glamour gave him space to pontificate about romance. Nothing that rag prints could shock me anymore.

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Jeanean Simon on February 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm.

“Size 12 not included”.. That is freaking great! No wonder when I did all that stuff when I was a size 16-18 it didn’t work, my fat ass was already above their size limit..

Smacks forehead and wonders when will the madness end.
Oh and I’m a first time poster, long time lurker

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BuffPuff on February 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm.

This issue makes my head explode on a near daily basis. I’d hazard a guess though that Glamour‘s shocked handwringing is probably genuine rather than disingenuous. The folks, (most notably the women), who put women’s magazines together have themselves grown up enjoying them and believing that the rot they spout is aspirational – so much so that they aspired to work in the milieu. Having ingested the same pernicious tripe they’re now regurgitating for their audience, they believe they’re providing a service that has women’s best interests at heart. To them, self-hatred just is. The sun rises and sets; the moon waxes and wanes; women are never satisfied with their appearance. And on it goes, the great big ugly self-perpetuating cycle of duh!

The aspect that frustrates and saddens me the most is the way women who often recognise that reading these magazines makes them feel worse rather than better about themselves, choose to turn their feelings of anger and resentfulness on each other rather than the publishers, editors and journos who blithely encourage them to do so. They have the power to demand so much better. Hell, they have the power to create better. But instead of realising that power and recognising the inherent shittiness of the system, they feel safer castigating the size of some hapless celebrity’s thighs.

Something else too: I think it’s probably easier for those of us to whom the magazines aren’t really speaking to question the system or opt out altogether, than for those who can or desperately want to identify with the targeted demographic. To them the magazines simply reflect normality. If you can squeeze your arse into the clothes featured, if you look vaguely like the woman in the make-over feature, then you’re Normal® even if you feel like a freak. Fat women, butches, gender queer folks, women who aren’t interested in prescribed girly editorial or invested in narrow definitions of attractiveness and worth are outliers anyway, so we’re invariably the ones that start up subversive alterno-mags and zines. And since we’re all othered by society those who cling to normality don’t want to be associated with our subversive ideas. After all, we’re only angry because we’re jealous, right?

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Lesley on February 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm.

I agree that their astonishment is probably genuine — I did not mean to imply otherwise. I suspect once one has saturated oneself in this ladymag world, it’s easy to believe that this media is empowering and not suffocating.

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Ashley on February 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm.

You make some valid points. I thought it pretty obvious how many women are unhappy with their bodies, but no matter how unbelievable it is to find out they are “shocked” by the statistic and no matter how many mixed messages there seem to be, I think it’s good that they are at least talking about it and trying to do something. Maybe I just like to stay positive but I do feel that they do deserve some credit. It’s better than sending the message that “Hey we know our magazine triggers women to feel bad about their bodies but you know what, we don’t give a shit.”

Also, not all Glamour readers are sitting at home bashing their bodies. I personally like the magazine and I have a lot of confidence in myself and love for my body. It’s nice to get suggestions for new things including foods, style tips, and exercises but that doesn’t mean I feel like I “need” them, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I want them because I am unhappy with my looks. Some people like to get style tips out of magazines because they are stylish and fashionable people, not because they trying to slim their ass. I like to get toning tips because I like to keep my body toned, energetic, and strong mainly because I have to stay that way to keep up with my job that is somewhat phsyically demanding, lots of lifting. It’s not because I’m trying to shed inches.

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Lesley on February 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm.

Oh, I absolutely recognize that individual women will read these magazines and get good stuff out of them! I’m not telling anyone what they should or should not read.

However, I will stubbornly maintain that the purpose of these publications is to both reinforce and impose beauty standards that are damaging to a majority of women. We can get positive and useful info from these magazines, for sure, but our individual experiences are not necessarily reflective of the broader cultural impact of the conflicting messages put out by magazines such as Glamour.

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Mulberry on February 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm.

I can’t blame Glamour. I’m shocked and astonished too. I mean 97%?? After all these years, shouldn’t it be at least 99.5%? How did they happen to miss the last 3%?
Oh and Ashley, it’s different when you see a magazine that reflects your body and interests somewhat, and when such a magazine shuts you out completely (AND still claims to speak to and for you as a woman).

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Zanna77 on February 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm.

It sort of reminds me of that “Good Advice” song that was popular in 1995 or so? Something about sunscreen? Anyways, one of the lyrics was, “Never read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.” So yeah, SUCK IT Glamour.

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Robyn on February 23, 2011 at 11:00 pm.

Here’s a tip:

STOP READING FUCKING GLAMOUR MAGAZINE.

There, don’t those women feel better already? Glad I could help.

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Robyn on February 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm.

Ashley said: It’s better than sending the message that “Hey we know our magazine triggers women to feel bad about their bodies but you know what, we don’t give a shit.”

Except that’s exactly what they said: “We conducted a survey of our readers and found out that 97% of them have regular, negative thoughts about their bodies. We’re publishing our results along with some half-assed “tips” about how to resist the programming women have received FROM OUR MAGAZINE for the past 72 YEARS and pretending like we care. But, really, we hope that the tips won’t work because then you might gain a modicum of media literacy and stop looking at our highly photoshopped images of the thin, white ideal. Also, please note that we do not plan on making any changes to our magazine as a result of this.”

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Ashley on February 24, 2011 at 4:31 am.

What I just read of your comment was nothing but a heck of a lot of your own personal interpretation and opinion of the magazine. If you want to criticize the magazine, fine, but what do you have to say about it that isn’t laced with your own angry, subjective, and judgemental point of view?

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AlisonY on February 24, 2011 at 7:58 am.

Subjective? I don’t know if the 97% of women would agree with you.

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Willow on February 28, 2011 at 9:59 pm.

“What I just read of your [magazine] was nothing but a heck of a lot of [your magazine's] own personal interpretation and opinion of [women]. If you want to criticize [women], fine, but what do you have to say about [them] that isn’t laced with your own angry, subjective, and judgemental [sic] point of view?”

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KellyK on February 24, 2011 at 9:44 am.

Pretty much this. If they meant it, there would be some change in their content. I only skimmed the article, but it doesn’t sound like they really acnkowledged the role their magazine plays. They talked about “outside cultural forces” as though they weren’t a part of that. (If someone read it in more detail, I’d be happy to be proven wrong. If there’s a line in there about how *Glamour* is contributing to the problem and would like to stop doing it, that would be awesome.)

It’s hypocritical to talk about how awful a problem you helped create is, without taking some responsibility or making some steps to quit causing it.

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vesta44 on February 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm.

I stopped reading fashion/women’s magazines when I was in my late teens/early twenties. Being a size 14/16 at the time, I wasn’t their target demographic, and even back then I knew that their diets/exercises wouldn’t make me smaller than I was (hell, if getting hit by a car, fracturing my pelvis, breaking my leg, and breaking 3 front upper teeth couldn’t get me below 160 lbs, nothing was going to do it). And the cognitive dissonance of being told that I needed to look a certain way (thin and fashionably dressed) while those same magazines were pushing decadent desserts/elaborate meals drove me away. The fact that I never was a “girly” girl helped, also. Jeans and t-shirts made up the majority of my wardrobe, and make-up was something worn for weddings/funerals. I still had my share of things I disliked about my body, but it wasn’t something I thought about on a daily basis (probably because, even back then, I wasn’t into tv and magazines, I had better things to do with my time).

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CollieMom01 on February 24, 2011 at 9:13 am.

Yeah, I stopped reading these mags years ago. I mean, now that I’m past the age of 40, not only am I too fat but I’m too old for their demographic. But there really did come a point when the fact that I am a make up junkie and love matching my shoes w/my purse just couldn’t overcome the “advice” and the general tone of superiority that these publications exude, and I stopped buying them. Now I look at the covers of magazines at the store and half the time I have no idea who these women are–I just know that magazines like Glamour may still be talking; I’m just not listening anymore.

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flightless on February 24, 2011 at 2:44 pm.

Gambling at Rick’s!

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Lara on February 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm.

I’ve always wondered at magazine articles that are *shocked* to report that a certain celebrity starting dieting when she was young – 8 or so – as part of a narrative of her recovery from weight problems or an eating disorder. I always think that’s strange because – what – are we not supposed to start really hating our bodies until we’re 9? What age is the correct age to begin starvation?

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Willow on February 24, 2011 at 8:06 pm.

What Robyn said.

I stopped reading ladymags when I was a teenager. I was already a size 14/16 and there was just no way I could fit into their “but as long as you’re thin, you’re okay!” bullshit. So I said, “Fuck it.”

For FUCK’S SAKE, quit reading that shit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ladymag readers are not only subjecting themselves to torment and self-abuse, they’re enriching their abusers!

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Louise on February 27, 2011 at 11:53 am.

This is brilliant. We spend our lives trying to fit in with what these magazines says is beautiful, men spend their lives trying to find the “high IQ, lovely Personality” Model, when most of the time they are photoshopped anyway, or so thin that it is unhealthy.

The “advice” given is bullshit – based on what society things a woman should look like. Size 0… do me a favour. You want a woman to feel good about herself how about you stop shoving anorexic, boob jobbed photoshopped twigs in our faces for a start.

To Ashely: what size are you? Do you buy these mags and feel good about yourself when you put it down, or do you try the diets and excersize programs in it because you want to be like the cover model / actress?

This article reflects so many womens thoughts. Including most YOUNG women.

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Isaac Shapira on March 3, 2011 at 2:51 am.

Isn’t there a simple answer here? Stop buying the magazines. The magazines that have such horrendous material sell, because women want to read that very same horrendous material. Do not women buying these things hold the real blame? Can you really condemn a publication for marketing to the content that is selling? Its an open marketplace of ideas, and while I despise publications like Glamour, where seems to be no rational competition. When that happens its not because of conditioning by the market, which can have only limited effect, but by market demand.

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Anna on March 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm.

I will never, ever forget the day when I bought my first Glamour magazine and read a column by the “resident male expert.” He answered womens’ questions about relationships in a shockingly (or maybe not-so-shockingly) misogynistic manner. One answer really, really bugged me. A woman had written “How do I get my boyfriend to appreciate my body?” and he told her “Use it to have sex with him more” (direct quote) because if the more her body was associated with sex the more her boyfriend would like it and the more comfortable she would feel naked around him. I put the magazine down then and there because I was so furious that a magazine in the 21st century would publish such outdated, horrible tripe. I will never, ever read one again and this article reinforces that view.

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Willow on March 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm.

Yah, ladymags are essentially rags on how to be a man-pleaser, yet they masquerade as paragons of knowledge that exist only to serve and enrich the lives of modern women.

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Edith on June 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm.

Wow, now I understand why my parents didn’t want me reading Seventeen and YM when I was younger and steered me toward the Economist, summer art classes, Saturday organic chem class, and a part time job at the Farmer’s Market instead.

Thanks, parents!!! You did an even better job than I’ve been giving you credit for, as I am now a well adjusted woman who is reasonably happy with most aspects of her life.

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stellanorte on July 20, 2011 at 8:42 am.

Definitely start by NOT BUYING THE MAGAZINE but that is not enough….I’m about to use the “P Word,” so get ready: The PATRIARCHY must be fought on fronts that keep the hatred of women alive and kicking us in the ass. Glamor mag is NOT about fashion. FASHION is not about fashion. If you have to change yourself to “fit” in ways that say, covertly or loud-and-clear, that you are not acceptable as yourself, that is not about choice, it’s about hate. Ladymags are there to keep us as repeat, self-hating, customers. That’s the way the world economy works.

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