Fashion Magazines – Friend Or Foe?

I love clothes. For me, clothing is a form of self-expression just like paint on a canvas is a form of expression for an artist. So, over the years I’ve been known to scour the pages of fashion magazines for ideas. Sometimes I buy the magazines in the store, other times I subscribe to them for a year or more. Often times, when I flip through the pages, I get inspiration to combine colours, textures or styles in a way I hadn’t thought of in the past.

I’ve known for years that fashion magazines are filled with unrealistic, computer-enhanced images. I know that many models have eating disorders and drug problems and I know that many young women aspire to look like models and therefore become victims of eating disorders, compulsive dieting, body dissatisfaction, drug use, smoking and more. I know because I was one of those girls.

But I figured since I “know better” now, since I’m smart enough to see beneath the surface, that there’s no harm in looking at the magazine for fashion ideas. It was only this past week, after the mailperson delivered a 500 page copy of one of my favourite fashion magazines that it all began to hit me. I sat at the table eating cereal and flipping through the pages one at a time.

I googled a £350 purse and a £140 pair of shoes. I saw pictures of £750 watches. Page after page was permeated with items that would break my bank if I were to purchase them. I realized that I was literally paying money out of my pocket to be advertised to. I was paying for a 500 page manual which might as well have been titled: 500 pages of things you will never be, do or have.

I realized I was paying to look at and read lies. Even though I “know better” on a conscious level, there was still a little girl part of me that wanted “that purse”, “those shoes” and “that watch,” even if they were all incredibly overpriced and sure to wreak havoc on my financial future and my self-esteem.

On this particular day, looking at the fashion magazine wasn’t enjoyable, it was infuriating. I suppose this fury has been working it’s way out over the past few months. There was the time when I saw the picture of Madonna in a Versace ad and it hit me: she doesn’t have a wrinkle or a smile line or crow’s feet. Not one sign of being a mother of two, over 40 and a woman with an incredibly demanding career that spanned several decades. I thought to myself, “that’s impossible.” It wasn’t a jealous or envious thought, I meant it very literally. It is impossible. Computer enhancement and heavy duty make-up is the only logical explanation for the flawless face I saw.

I decided to put my emotions and judgments in check and get objective about what I saw. I performed an unofficial research project and scanned the pages of this 500 page magazine to get an accurate account of what I had been absorbing mindlessly month after month and year after year. Here’s what I learned: of the 500 pages, 300 were full-page ads. 172 pages were ads that pretended to be fashion advice, party advice and editorial content. Let’s get real, when the fashion advice includes the name, phone number and website of the store and the price of the item, it truly is an ad. About 30 pages of the magazine were not technically ads but they were things like: “This star likes this” or, “This star does that.” Three of the pages were public service ads (I believe this is a requirement). So, there you have it, my 500 page contained 472 ads and approximately 30 pages of “content.” And I’m the sucker who sent the check in to cover the yearly subscription fee.

Now after this informal research project, I was beginning to get a little steamed up. Then, my friend Cindy e-mails me a link to the Dove website (campaignforrealbeauty.com) I go there and watch a 30-second video that shows a sped up version of all that goes into your typical fashion photo shoot. The 30-second video clip encapsulates the hours of time spent on hair, make-up, lighting, professional photography techniques and computer enhancement that takes place before an ad is published or broadcast. When I say the magazine ads are unrealistic and unattainable, I mean it. Because not even the model looks like the model!

So, I’ve made a decision. I am boycotting all fashion magazines. I will never purchase another one again. I will not spend my money on lies and images that lead to self-hatred, deadly behaviours and oppression for women. I know that money is power and I refuse to spend my money on harmful lies that destroy the lives of many women.

I know that my few pounds will not be a big loss to the mega-rich publishing industry but I think it’s important for all women to realize that in a very real way we do not have to buy the hype. I mean that in two ways. We do not have to buy the magazines with our money and we don’t have to buy the lies that reside within their pages. We can also decide to support designers and manufacturers that promote positive images for women. We can choose to withhold our pounds from companies that exploit women whether it’s the model or the sweat shop worker that sews the clothing.

If a full boycott of fashion magazines is not for you, you always have the power to write advertisers when you see images that are harmful or ridiculous. These letters do make a difference.

Now, as far as my fashion inspiration, I decided that if my clothes truly are to be a form of self-expression then I will decide for myself what textures, colours and styles I want to combine. I’m a grown woman living in a free country. I don’t need a magazine to tell me how I should dress.