I don’t read women’s magazines. Well, that’s not totally true. I do read them. I skim through them in the dentist’s waiting room or at the hairdresser. I read them on holidays or when they’re lying around in someone else’s home. But generally speaking, I rarely read them and I never buy them. Which is odd, when you think about it, because for all my three (with some loose change) decades on earth, I’ve read pretty much anything I could get my hands on, from the back of the cornflakes packet straight on up to the literary big guns.
My refusal to love women’s magazines isn’t a snobbery thing. I’m not a culture snob: I’ve read every single one of the Twilight books and Hunger Games series and enjoyed them. In literary terms, I’m as fond of a hamburger as a sirloin steak.
But here’s the thing: you might complain to me (and oh how people have) about Twilight being rubbish. But Twilight has never told me I’m too fat, badly dressed, old, or in need of “blow-job tips from our resident sexpert”.
Women’s magazines, on the other hand? They never stop picking on women. They huddle together on the newsstands like a clique at a girls’ school, shrill, snickering and pointing fingers. Celeb A has lost weight! Celeb B has gained weight! Celeb C is a fat slag! Then there’s their dubious notion of self-improvement. `How to please your man.’ `How to wear florals.’ `How to fake being thick so guys will like you more.’ (Okay, I made that last one up, but I bet someone, probably Cosmo, has published it.)
With few exceptions (Grazia definitely tries harder than most, and Bust is smart and sparky), I feel like women’s magazines are actively grabbing hold of my brain and trying to shrink it.
Of late, it seemed like there was an opportunity afoot for women’s publications. With the advent of new, female-focussed webzines, it felt like a chance to transform not just the format, but also the philosophy behind such enterprises. That was the promise, at least, that new Irish website Her.ie seemed to offer to readers. Created by the same company that founded Joe.ie, Her.ie announced itself as an Irish website “solely dedicated to the needs, interests and aspirations of modern Irish women aged 18-44.”
But one flashy Dublin launch later, it’s more of the same. Her.ie seems to be waving at us from the 1980s, so retrograde in its thinking it might as well have a hoover and a feather duster in its hand. I should probably mention some of its downfalls (the endless pink, the terrible headlines such as `Katy Perry does not eat junk food on tour’), but honestly it’s too miserable to bear much thinking about.
It’s not a big deal for me. My life will go on as before: I won’t read the magazines, I won’t check out the websites. But the owners of such sites and publications should be fretting. Sales of women’s magazines are slumping, titles are closing. Big names like Glamour and Cosmopolitan are feeling the heat. The migration to free online information is part of their problem, but not all. Far from it. It’s time for them to look in the mirror.
If webzines and publications focussing on women are to succeed, they’ll have to take some lessons in self-improvement themselves. They need to recognise that there is room in their pages for a more generous portrayal of women; and that female readers are cleverer and more impressive than their content currently admits. Online or in print, the model needs to change, if its purveyors mean to survive and prosper.