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National NOW Times >> Fall 2006 >> Article

Women's Magazines Make it Difficult to Love Your Body

By Julienne Kane and Smita Satiani
NOW Interns

"Beat Your Co-workers to the Punch" (Men's Health); "Learn How to Make Bank Without Getting a Degree" (Maxim); "Land a Much Better Job." (Men's Health); "The Traveling Library— Books to Hit the Highway With" (GQ).

Being successful in one's career, traveling with food for thought and increasing the quality of one's sex life are goals that men strive for with help from their favorite magazines. Articles on recreational activities, winning in politics and sports, building wealth and maintaining good health shape the mindset of today's men. And while men's magazines are working overtime helping them to be richer, smarter and more well-read, most women's magazines are asleep at the wheel.

"Make Him Want To Be Your Boyfriend," raves Seventeen. "Learn What He Loves," advises Cosmopolitan. "He Sees You as a Hook-up if You're… Flashy!," preaches Seventeen. "Real Guys Tell You What They Want in Bed," discloses Essence.

Taken from the pages of the most popular women's magazines in the U.S., the NOW Foundation notes how these messages charge women to mold their bodies and behavior—to suit men. Page after page, photographs and columns strip women of their individuality while promising the "secrets" to becoming the perfect woman. Whether through content or advertisements, women are encouraged to perceive themselves, and in turn their self-worth, through a male lens.

Cosmopolitan may be the leader among magazines that tell women to primp themselves to perfection to gain approval from the opposite sex. "Which Make-up Effect Do Guys Go Gaga For?" is the title of an article polling men's magazine readers, boasting "Hey—6,000 drooling guys can't be wrong!" (September, 2006). "Dress up in a kinky costume because when a woman is in a costume, it feels like being in a porn film," Cosmo recommends ("What Makes Sex Exciting for Him?" August, 2006).Then conversely, the article goes on to tell women what not to do with their bodies: "So much makeup or so any extensions is a tiny detail that can turn an otherwise perfect ten into a turn off."

At all levels of the media, commercialism preys daily on women's insecurities, convincing them that make-up and other cosmetics will not just clear acne or conceal blemishes but ensure happiness. Many women strive to look like what the media presents as a single standard of beauty.

"In my case, each product was purchased with the belief that while it wouldn't exactly change my life, it would somehow make it better," Sarah Mahoney writes in an OnEarth magazine article titled Confession of a Beauty Product Junkie. "At the moment I lay down my money," she continues, "I actually believe that I will exude the serenity that comes from aromatherapy, that my eyes will have oomph, that I'll sport an allover radiance to go with my boundless hope."

Articles about self-beautification serve as a mass distraction, promoted by financial interest. To be fair, some magazines, like Glamour, Bust and Essence do print articles on political issues and advise women in the pursuit of economic independence and career fulfillment and advancement. But they do so in between fashion and beauty articles. Bitch magazine is a rare exception.

While men's magazines are encouraging men to conquer the world with wealth and bask in opportunity, most women's magazines detract from other opportunities by advising women to admire their stilettos and keep up with the season's hottest eye-makeup trends. It's not just a suggested principle; it's a practice. According to e-women.com, "Women spend six times as long as men getting ready." The article continues by tallying two years off each woman's lifetime spent on preparing for work, nights out or any other events where appearance may be judged or validated.

"The goal of NOW Foundation's Love Your Body campaign isn't to sway women from purchasing and wearing cosmetics or trendsetting clothing. Rather, the Love Your Body campaign advocates for women to be informed consumers: questioning commercialism and defining clearly their needs on their own terms," says NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy. The Love Your Body Campaign seeks to spotlight the fact that taking care of your body is much more than simply making decisions about what brands of make-up or clothing to buy. Drawing attention to ads targeting women, especially those featuring unhealthily thin models, and focusing on what motivates our purchases, is one of the goals of the campaign. Women must not rely on the media to tell them who we are, what to say, how to be interesting, and how to love.

Help us continue to raise awareness about the media's maneuvers to promote beauty as defined by men. Participate in the Love Your Body campaign. Consider organizing an event that celebrates women in all our diversity. NOW Foundation's Love Your Body campaign website has lots of ideas, and learn more about the new Love Your Body calendar.

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