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Women’s magazines and popular culture
Women representation in fashion & lifestyle magazines
From the smallest newsstand to the biggest billboard; from your dentist cabinet waiting room to a fancy airport lounge, women’s magazines are everywhere to be found. Millions of women turn to publications such as Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan or Glamour for a monthly dose of fashion, lifestyle, and advice regarding sex and relationships. Therefore, it can be undoubtedly said that this kind of magazines play a huge role in popular culture, by guiding women in the construction of their own identities.
But what makes fashion and lifestyle magazines so popular? And moreover, how are women represented in most of them? I will try to answer these questions in my paper by analyzing several features of magazines such as cover, content, topics and advertisements.
Women’s magazines and popular culture
To start with, a 2010 article in The Guardian stated that ‘we buy and consume nearly 7 millions fashion and lifestyle magazine each month’. This is no surprise as a study from the National Magazine Company showed that when it comes to believing mediated messages, only 26% of women rely on newspapers compared with the 38% of women who trust magazines. Therefore, a very first conclusion can be drawn: fashion magazines are a real part of popular culture and of our everyday lives, with millions of people recognizing their ubiquity.
There are so many magazines titles worth mentioning, but ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, Seventeen, Nylon and Cosmopolitan are only some of the most well-known fashion and lifestyle publications that really stand out. ELLE is the world largest fashion magazine, it has 42 international editions in no less than 60 countries and it reaches over 4.3 million readers worldwide. This magazine’s main focus is on fashion, health, beauty and entertainment but it also approaches subjects like travel or interior design. They are many national and international publications which follows ELLE’s pattern because this seems to be the key to a successful fashion magazine.
Women of the world love to know all about the latest trends in fashion, beauty and health and they usually turn to this sort of magazines for more information. This tendency may be due to the fact that reading magazines has always been and still is a leisure activity. No doubt that more information can be found quicker on the Internet, but after so many hours spent working in front of the computer, the modern woman needs some time alone, reading a good magazine and drinking tea before going to bed.
Moreover, the information we find in women’s magazine has been filtered by world’s most influential editors and journalists and it ends up in the hands of the reader with a purpose. The role of these magazines is to empower women. The monthly Vogue glossy was declared by the New York Times to be ‘the world’s most influential fashion magazine’ and in its 120 years of publication, 46 out of its 51 editors-in-chief were female. This shows that these women not only stand up for positions of responsibility but that they also encourage their readers to do the same.
Ever since their beginnings, women’s magazines have been in a continuous development, trying to fulfill the needs of the modern woman. We have seen a shift in content, from articles about motherhood to advice sections for working women and from childcare tips to business opportunities. Therefore, magazines promote the idea of a confident and independent woman who has total control over her life and this can be noticed even on their cover.
How are women represented in magazines dedicated to them?
First of all, have you ever wondered why women buy magazines that have an image of a young and attractive female on the cover? They do this because the figure represents the self for the reader, an image that is attainable for her if she continues reading the magazine. As producers of representations of women, their strategy is to attract readers by placing a female character in the centre of the cover. Beauty, perfect skin, sexuality and youth are valuable attributes of feminity which definitely sell.
Moreover, magazines make their readers believe that they will provide them with anything they need in order to look like the woman on the cover. They present the ultimate Alpha female not to stir up jealousy or hatred among their readers but to make them acknowledge that one day, with the help of the magazine, they too can become a cover-girl. And this insurance is what makes women subscribe to their favorite magazines.
There is another important aspect that should not be left out: the fact that women have always been seen as desirable objects for men. Most of the fashion and lifestyle magazines explore this belief in their pages, through their erotic fashion editorials, sex and relationship columns or different advertisements featuring beautiful, half-naked women. In the following paragraphs I will try to explain why women’s sexuality is so emphasized in magazines and especially, why they need to read about it on a monthly basis.
Hot topics: sex and relationships
In the 1600s, discussing people’s sex lives publicly would have been outrageous but now it feels almost perfectly normal. If then, women discussed sexual matters and their husband’s behavior in an extremely private context, now these topics are on the cover of each famous women’s magazine. This is probably reflecting society’s desire to speak up, loud and clear and therefore, magazines provided platforms for women to discuss these subjects among themselves.
Regarding the visual content of women’s magazines, the idea that a strong and confident woman likes looking at herself and also takes pleasure in being looked by men is emphasized. Magazines are aware that their readers are not all 90-60-90. However, they feature a plethora of advertisements depicting young, beautiful models posing in lingerie and surrounded by hot male models because they know that most of their readers will get inspired and eager to be like them. This determination will also make them buy the commodities presented in the magazine, as they are made to think that beauty and happiness are for sale.
Advertisements’ effect on women’s minds
As much as some would like to think that magazines have to only please the reader, we must remember that they are commercially driven. If we take a close look, we shall see that advertisements play a substantial role in the content the magazines deliver. Women magazines are usually promoting a desirable lifestyle in terms of beauty, fashion or class and therefore, their advertisements are focused on the products that can help the readers achieve these. Magazines address to the women first as consumers of the message of the text and then, of the products presented within its pages.
By analyzing the November 2012 issue of Vogue
I have observed that 96 pages out of 250 are completely occupied by
advertisements. These present expensive products such as Rolex gold watches,
Chanel dresses and Louis Vuitton bags. On top of that each of them uses the image
of a sensual, powerful woman (in some cases surrounded by masculine figures) in
order to sell the goods. I have also analyzed the December 2012 issue of
in which 20% of its content is made of advertisements of different products for
women: perfumes, make-up, shoes and lingerie. Therefore it can be concluded
that in fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, women are thought to be
concerned with consumption and there is a good reason behind this widespread
Every woman’s mind hosts unfulfilled desires which are nourished monthly by fabulous advertisements they see in glossy magazines. The latest trends in clothing and beauty products are presented as ‘must have’ items. As a result, readers tend to believe that only by owing the latest designer creations they will be able to feel beautiful, young or important. And these thoughts that are stocked into women’s mind are what make women’s magazine a brilliant mechanism hard to be taken down by the Internet, fashion blogs or forums for women.
To sum up, in this paper I have shown the reasons why women’s magazine play a substantial role in popular culture and what wins them such a large audience. In addition, I emphasized that their focus is to represent women as powerful and independent individuals, with their own interests and doubts. Sexuality is highly approached in these glossy magazines, as a response to society’s desire to open up after being sentenced to silence for centuries. I have also demonstrated that women’s magazines have such a wide and loyal readership because they have never failed in meeting the expectations and needs of their subscribers. Last but not least, I conclude that women’s magazine are not to be neglected as a part of popular culture and nor should they be in the future.
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