The defining moment came at the Airport, when I returned from Duty Free with Heat and Grazia, and my boyfriend came back with a copy of The Guardian. Cue a glimmer of amusement crossed with a look of genuine concern that he had managed to hook up with a woman who likes reading a bit of trash. And one who had managed to keep that particular penchant rather well hidden thus far. Not that I really class Grazia as trash – it’s a high class, weekly fashion mag, as I tried to explain as he flicked past an article on Suri’s designer wardrobe, and one man’s description of how he finally stopped cheating on women.
If I’m honest, it’s not just the gossipy magazines like Heat, Now and Closer. It’s also trashy TV – TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, and some of the delightfully schmaltzy American imports such as Vampire Diaries, One Tree Hill, and Gossip Girl. Don’t get me wrong – I like the moderate to highbrow as well, it’s just that I devote a certain portion of my life to the dirtier side of the coin.
But why? Why do we like them? Why do we buy them and watch them? It’s escapism I guess. I have no interest in the real life magazines that litter the shelves - no desire to read about flesh-eating bugs, the sister who slept with her step-dad, or the breast implants that shockingly (given that you went abroad to save cash) went wrong. The Jeremy Kyle of everyday life holds no allure – that’s not escapism – it’s a sort of schadenfreude that I find unnerving.
And yet, I don’t mind it when it involves the “famous”, which I suppose is hypocritical. However, I am of the opinion that if you court the media in any way, shape or form, then you open yourself up to the downsides. Not the hacking sort of downsides, but the “build them up, knock them down” mentality the British media and public are particularly fond of.
But forget the celebs who feature in the magazines, what about the readership? From a very young age, my Mother read the Woman and Woman’s Own – both fairly similar: a mix of real life stories, some celebrity interviews, a little fashion and beauty, horoscopes, and circa 50% devoted to weight loss or dieting stories. It is much the same today: in almost all the weekly women’s mags there is a huge focus on body shape and dieting – how to shift those extra pounds. Why do we buy them? Is it social conditioning? Is it parenting? Do I buy my two weekly magazines because my Mother did? What would happen if there we no such magazines readily available?
The irony is that we think we’ve come so far – women speak out against the photoshopped images, the ridiculous editorials that scorn extreme weight loss on one page, only to feature the latest dieting fad on the next. Women have a voice. Well, yes, we do. But it’s a faint one. And it serves little purpose, and carries little weight (no pun intended), if the majority of the female population continue to feed an industry which belittles said voice. And why are there so few male magazines? Or are there? There are the obvious ones: Nuts, FHM, Men’s Fitness, and so we think their section is small. But then I remembered: there’s the porn section (for those who haven’t stopped paying for it), the car magazine section, the computer section.... Now I’m not saying women don’t buy car or computer magazines, but take a look at the front cover – they are targeting the male consumer market, not the female. And that takes me back to content. The women’s magazines focus inwards – looking at “the woman”, at “every woman”. Yes, they cover fashion, lifestyle, current events, but the thrust is on you. How you are. What you want. The men’s magazines are looking outwards – women, cars, gadgets. I’m generalising. But does that hit on a more pertinent point? Are women better at discussing their feelings because it is innate, or because we have learnt it? Are men conditioned to live outside of themselves just a tad? To compartmentalise? Is that what prompts the mid life crises?
I’ll be honest, I flick through my two magazines in about 20 minutes total for both. It’s switch off time. Allows my brain to slow. But I’m sure there are better ways to go about that – a walk, meditation, a proper book. And perhaps I shall start trying that. Both for my self-improvement and the feminist within. Now, time for 4OD to catch up on Revenge....