Glamour, March 2008

Normally I don’t go for ‘checkout aisle’ magazines. At their best, they manage to be tragically amusing. The same 30 (or so) articles rotate from cover to cover: better sex, Hollywood gossip, fashion do’s, fashion don’ts, better sex again, lose weight fast this way, [gain it right back again with this] tasty recipe, better hair, relationship advice. Maybe there’s some good stuff between the pages; most of the time, I wouldn’t know – and when I have bothered to investigate, I’ve never been impressed. Beyond the low quality of the ideas and poor underlying philosophy they seem to propagate amongst an already-misguided culture, my complaint is that they all contain the same content. People I know who subscribe to one or another of these magazines have all been able to offer me reasons – often well thought-out – as to why their periodical of choice is “better” (by which they usually mean “less trashy”) than the rest, but take it from someone educated in the analysis of words: They. Are All. The Same.

However, the March 2008 issue of Glamour differentiated itself a little, in a good way. Several pages in it caught my eye, over the shoulder of the girl (JMU alum, class of 03) sitting next to me on the plane ride back from Portugal in mid-March. By that time stores were selling the April issue already, and it’s taken me until now to track down a copy, courtesy of my local library.

Let’s start with the cover. Mostly, it looks like any other ‘checkout aisle’ mag – obligatory female celebratory in mildly suggestive pose, titles like '99 Juicy New Secrets of Hollywood' (I didn’t read that article, but I bet they’re not new, and how could they possibly be secret if they’re published?) and ‘Sexy Hair in 10 Minutes or Less’ (‘Believe it! Achieve it!’), but the article that caught my eye was titled thusly:

‘Why Guys Love Your Body Exactly As Is’

Unbelievable. A magazine that gleans most of its income from advertising that works by creating or playing on personal insecurities is carrying an article about how women don’t need to change themselves in order to be attractive? Now that’s noteworthy.

The article – written by actor Gabriel Olds – is about plastic surgery. Within the magazine itself, it’s titled ‘Why Men Crave Real (Not Perfect) Bodies’ and contains some really worthwhile quotes. Gabriel describes dating in LA, “a town that seems overrun with silicone” and his discomfort with discovering – at various points in his relationships – that the women in his life were “surgically enhanced.” After a few such encounters, he figured out why he was uncomfortable: “Almost all of the women I’d met who had changed their bodies through surgery had either done it to bandage some adolescent body issue or to make themselves more attractive to men. I didn’t like that – it didn’t seem like a celebration of beauty…”

I couldn’t agree more. While I think that cosmetic surgery isn’t all bad, and while I agree with Gabriel’s later assertion, “choosing to have surgery doesn’t [necessarily] make you a dishonest person,” the motive and type of work done is critical to how that surgery is perceived by others. And that’s not just because people are slow to accept change – it’s because every fantasy we entertain is merely a disguised yearning for the genuinely real.

In the article ‘The Glamour of Being Yourself’, which appeared earlier in this same issue, Poppy King wrote: “Lots of beauty icons no longer have the features they were born with… I recently heard that the vast majority of women don’t get plastic surgery to fix something… they do it so they’ll appear ‘more normal.’ The shame of it is women feel like freaks for looking at all different.”

Does that thought scare you as deeply as it scares me? I hope it’s not true – because this, Gabriel’s closing line and most poignant statement, is true: “This is the part I think women don’t understand. When a guy falls in love, his lover’s body parts become bewitching… When we fall for you – really, really fall for you – you hijack our sense of beautiful. What’s sexy to us? You – in the ‘before’ picture.”

Shockingly, Gabriel’s article wasn’t the only worthy mentionable between Glamour’s oh-so-mockable covers. The aforementioned ‘Glamour of Being Yourself’ by Poppy King (whose book Lessons of a Lipstick Queen came out in May) is subtitled “Too many women – even famous ones – are caving in to a cookie-cutter standard of beauty” and wonders, “whatever happened to playing up what you’ve got?”

Poppy continues, “Celebs themselves are looking like they were churned out from the same Hollywood factory… they’re so generic it’s almost alien!”

I’ve said to friends on more than one occasion that knowing how to wear (and not wear) makeup is a great skill to have. Women look best when they use makeup to show off their faces (rather than the other way around). By the same token, a girl who is most readily pointed out of a crowd by the words “the girl who looks like ___ [insert celebrity name here]” should be alarmed. Imitation is not the sincerest form of self-flattery.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite piece in the issue turned out to be ‘Your Race, Your Looks’, a six-page roundtable on women’s struggles to overcome preconceptions about what is beautiful. The opinions and experiences shared on those pages are unutterably valuable. I’ve chosen not to quote it here, but if you can get your hands on the article I highly recommend reading it. Its main theme is the discovery of beauty and style as expressions of the self. This may seem obvious, but our culture describes beauty as pressure, the pursuit of an image of someone or something outside of the self, some distant ideal or standard, deceptively couched in the language of self-discovery. “Become your best self” is the copy text, but the actual message often conveyed is that your best self looks like someone other than you. Breaking out of that often-harmful influence is the journey shared by women contributing to ‘Your Race, Your Looks’ and as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s well worth the read (even if you’re a guy. If I was unashamed to check the magazine out of the library, you should be willing to go read it there for yourself).

Finally, several other articles featured similar positive themes:
· The fashion section includes a couple of ok pages for the ‘pear-shaped’ and the ‘plus-sized’ featuring models of those descriptors.
· ‘Hollywood Sex Myths’ advised against letting ‘silly ideas’ like ‘instant orgasms’ and ‘perfect bodies’ into your bedroom (“the real thing can be a whole lot more satisfying”).
· One article exposed dangerous diet techniques “no sane woman should try.” Useful, quality-of-life-preserving information for the size-conscious.
· The exercise and fitness section featured body-shaping techniques for a “higher, rounder” or “tighter” butt – rather than the sadly typical proclamation to “banish your butt” (along with your belly & thighs, as if the female form would somehow look better if it lacked this triad).
Granted, these aren’t great. But they are important steps towards championing genuineness and diversity in beauty and, as such, I found them laudable.

I wish I were able to speak such praise of the magazine as a whole. Regrettably, the remainder of this issue’s 366 pages not taken up by those articles I mentioned were typical checkout-aisle-mag fare, replete with problematic advertising (see Killing Us Softly) and shallow articles building into an already bad system. It may be worth the reminder, as a closing thought, that one of the original meanings of the word glamour was a bedazzling enchantment cast by fairies and witches to trick mortals into seeing gold coins, sumptuous feasts, and unearthly beauty where there was truly nothing more than acorn caps, wild mushrooms, and ugly stepsisters. However, I do commend Glamour for running these stories, and sincerely hope to see more like them in it and similar magazines in the months and years to come.


  1. I've been reading fashion magazines with "Love Your Body" articles for years. Self-loathing, cookie-cutter beauty, and insecurity went out of fashion with the 20th century. My female friends do not, as the movies would have you believe, self-bashing contests. No: "I hate my thighs." "I hate my hair." "I hate my boobs." "I hate my boobs more." It's just not cool, and everyone knows how annoying such remarks can be. Magazines routinely feature articles like "Love Your Body" and "Bikinis for Pears" and "The Best Hair for Your Face."

    However, on the page facing that wonderfully self-approving article, there's probably a size 00 seventeen year old from Norway with hair like a cloud of spun gold and cheekbones that would cut diamonds. Sometimes magazines feature "My Battle to Love Myself" and "The Best New Diet" back to back.

    The self-loathing, the impossible beauty expectations, the discomfort with everything unique -none of it's gone, and no one is really trying particularly hard to combat it. The movement has simply gone underground. Instead of complaining to their friends, women scrutinize their thighs in the bathroom, desperation and shame mingled with fear and disgust. What's wrong with me? they wonder. Why aren't I happy with my body, my face? Am I so emotionally stunted that I can't even feel comfortable with myself? Instead of publishing articles about changing yourself, magazines print glossy photos of impossibly beautiful, impossibly thin, airbrushed pseudo-women, jabbing deeper into the subconscious than an article could ever do. The beauty industry simultaneously instructs women to be happy with themselves, and praises, rewards, and worships a standard of beauty impossible for most if not all of the population to achieve.

    Not only do we feel bad about not looking the right way, but we fester with shame for our low self-confidence. It seems almost malicious.

  2. Two thoughts.

    1. I think it is malicious, but impersonal; it's about money. That makes it both more devastating to the individual, and much easier on the advertiser's conscience. The magazine, meanwhile, is content to present a conflicted image so long as its revenue remains stable.

    2. Men, I think, are affected by a different kind of self-image jab. Maybe I'm weird, but I don't feel particularly disatisfied with myself when I see a sculpted male model. I'm aware that I don't measure up, but frankly I find it hard to care. My guess is that men's media projects self-image insecurities based on what guys own , or can lay claim to - the fancy grill, the powerful car, the large house, the perfect lawn, the beautiful wife or girlfriend, the professional appearance (even in casual settings), the flashy watch, the I-can-make-it-happen attitude or look (where "it" can stand for anything from a winning business proposal or sale to a tough physical feat involving wilderness, construction sites/vehicles, and/or political assassination, to great sex later that night with the hottest girl in the room). It's an image of casualness in wealth, simultaneously a pointed, results-getting use of money and having plenty of it leftover. If you don't have this, the message is, you haven't "arrived" - you're not a man.

    It's interesting to me how little of these developed insecurities are understood by the opposite gender. "Boys and their toys" mock the mystified ladies (in classic parlance), while men fearfully yet cluelessly ponder why there seems to be no right answer to "does this dress make me look fat?" At the same time, we usually manage to reinforce each other's insecurities without meaning to and sometimes without ever knowing it. The isolation effect of this bit of our psychologies is probably just as harmful as the buildup of images.

  3. In response to Admina, I don't see anything wrong with a size 00. It can certainly be natural, I know by experience.

    Everything else I agree with. They catch attention by trying to up self esteem, but they make money by advertising things that diminish it.

  4. You know.. that is a great thing to see. I wish I could get a hold of it... You know though, "Jane" magazeen would do a lot of those stories. They would even do surveys to see how women were feeling about themselves. Its a shame it went out of business.

  5. http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/blogs/vitamin-g/2009/08/on-the-cl-the-picture-you-cant.html