The Lies They Tell Us

When I was 14, I read a lot of magazines. I had a subscription to YM, and when that ran out of business, to Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Each month when these magazines arrived at my doorstep, I would take them to my room and read them cover-to-cover, devouring every word. I would take every personality test, rip out pictures of all my favorite celebrities (mmm…Orlando Bloom), and comb through every tidbit of relationship and style advice.

By that time, I had already heard all about the media’s negative representation of women. I was familiar with words like self-esteem, anorexia, body image, Photoshop. Even at 14, I knew, on some level, that I was being spoon-fed a deep and intricate lie about what it means to be a successful and beautiful woman in this country.

Despite knowing what these magazines were really saying about women and girls—about me, really—I still bought in. I still asked my mother to renew my subscription for years. I still read each issue cover to cover every month. I can’t say why exactly, but something in those magazines always got to me. Maybe it was because there, in those endless pages of workout regimes and mascara application tips, I found a perfect road map for how to belong.

10 years later, I am happily well beyond my teen magazine days, however, the narratives and messages these magazines continue to perpetuate are alive and well. And I know the messages they send are seeping into the next generation of 14-year-old girls in much the same way they affected me. Recently, I skimmed through a few issues of Glamour and Cosmo while waiting in doctor’s offices and airports. Below is just a very small sampling of some of the content I came across. It’s always amazing to me to find such adverse messaging in media primarily produced by women, for women. These are the lies our culture tells us, and that we sometimes tell ourselves.

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This was from an article about how to give a successful Maid of Honor speech. Because, you know, nothing endears you to your audience more than a healthy dose of insecurity and self-deprecation. Also, heaven forbid you let people see your ugly-cry face…

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Don’t even get me started on this one. There is this eternal myth in our society that the more a woman pulls back, the more desirable she’ll seem to a potential boyfriend. In actuality, this framework perpetuates rape culture by sending the message that “no” really means “yes.” For more about this topic, read this great article in Feminspire.

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And, here we have an exciting new announcement about disposable cups designed to protect us from date rape drugs. Along with the notorious anti-rape underwear that came out this year, companies continue to profit off of women’s legitimate fears of rape by creating products that teach women it is their responsibility to protect themselves against rape, and that if it does happen, it’s because these women didn’t take the adequate precautions. Women’s magazines continue to advertise products that promote victim-blaming by placing the burden of responsibility for preventing rape on potential victims rather than potential rapists.

Have you seen anything particularly oppressive in a magazine lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts–good and bad–about women’s magazines and their influence in American culture.

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