Mag Cover of the Week.

Kim Kardashian finally lands her first Aussie glossy cover, Cleo‘s November issue.

The beachyness of the cover is obviously a step away from the quirky frankie-meets-Nylon essence that former editor Sarah Oakes evoked, channelling more of a typical Aussie girl vibe. Although I’m not sure many typical Aussie girls look like Kim in a bikini… I certainly don’t!

Magazines: Goodbye Notebook:, It Was Nice Knowing You.

Why on earth News Magazines would get rid of one of its best titles in Notebook: is a mystery to me.

While Notebook: wasn’t a magazine I bought religiously each month, based on its reviews on Girl with a Satchel (where I found out about its discontinuation) or a quick skim of its cover, it was often one I would buy and feel all warm and fuzzy inside after reading it, much like InsideOut or frankie.

There were always fab recipes, home decorating ideas, eye-opening human interest stories and quirky features. One that springs to mind focussed on a baby-boomer mother (or perhaps grandmother) and a Gen Y daughter and the romance movies of their time. Such flicks as An Officer & a Gentleman, His Girl Friday and An Affair to Remember were added to my “to watch” list.

Also, the calendar I’ve been using all year was a freebie with Notebook: (see below).

According to the Girl with a Satchel article, “Notebook: has struggled to find its feet since its 2008 redesign, at which point it did away with its traditional flower-and-vase covers, opting instead to run generic models, as well as ditching its trademark ‘tabs’ in favour of monthly postcards and bookmarks.”

To borrow another quote from GWAS, “Notebook: will be sorely missed.”

REPUBLISHED: Is There Really a Beauty Myth?


Following on from Monday’s post about the Feminism Has Failed debate, I thought I’d republish an entry from earlier in the year, when I went to hear Naomi Wolf speak at the Wheeler Centre about her book, The Beauty Myth, which led me to ask: Is there really a beauty myth?

Last night I went to see prolific feminist author Naomi Wolf speak on her book, The Beauty Myth, and how images of beauty in the media are used against women at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing & Ideas in Melbourne.

The common perception about “feminists” is that they’re all—to borrow a quote from Bring It On—“big, dikey losers” who burn their bras and don’t shave under their arms. But at the risk of sounding cliché, I don’t believe you can be female and not be a feminist.

There was an overwhelming amount of people packed into the Capitol Theatre, off Swanston Street, and the majority were your average woman on the street, most coming from work or uni, with the odd flanny-wearing, mullet-rocking stereotype. And a few men, too, one of whom posed the question as to whether women’s magazines facilitate the media’s ideal of what a woman should look like. (More on that later.)

I also don’t like the notion, and nor does Wolf, that to be a “feminist”, or to even be interested in the topic without adopting the extremist views that some “second-wave feminists” espouse—Catharine MacKinnon, I’m talking to you—is to be a Germaine Greer tome-thumping man-hater. She touched on this when she mentioned that whenever there’s a move forward for women (ie. the right to vote, the availability of the birth control pill meaning women could have “sex without the punishment of pregnancy”, Jennifer Hawkins posing nude and unairbrushed on the cover of Marie Claire), there is the inevitable backlash.

It was interesting to note the fact that that the three most important pieces of literature on feminism—The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Greer’s The Female Eunuch, and The Beauty Myth—each have twenty-one years between their publication dates, a “coming of age” of sorts in understanding the “lexicon of feminism”, the MC said.

Another point of interest was the beauty and vivacity of the author herself, not to mention her fab shoes!

Wolf said she loved Australia because we’re so candid and unselfconscious in our responses to the issues she raises, and that nowhere else do “visiting feminists get treated like rock stars.”

Speaking of rock stars, an certain icon in history has been not only a rock star, but a gymnast, teacher, astronaut and mother, amongst many other occupations. This icon is Barbie, and she was a hot topic on the night.

Barbie represents the “universal ideal” of “transcendental beauty”, in the Western world in particular and, according to Wolf, she is a valuable media tool in the cosmetics, dieting and plastic surgery industries.

Wolf asked why we never see women who are not under 40, thin, tanned, blonde, blue-eyed and Caucasian (ie. Barbie) in the media (which I personally disagree with; Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Ellen DeGeneres, Christina Hendricks, Kim Kardashian, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey and the Grey’s Anatomy women are a few examples that counter this theory). Here is the one word answer: advertisers. They are the reason the Barbie-stereotype is on the cover of magazines every month.

Sure, magazines get most of their revenue from the advertisers, and if they think their brand ideal will be jeopardised by running an ad in Glamour magazine, which has been running a lot of plus-sized photo shoots recently and garnering a lot of attention for it, for example, they will not give their ad money to that magazine. So therefore, Glamour has a lower budget to promote itself to readers every month. Then its loyal readers receive less of the content they keep coming back for, ie. women who look like them, and will stop buying that magazine.

On the other hand, as Mia Freedman talks about in her memoir, Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood, and editor of Shop Til You Drop magazine Justine Cullen writes in this month’s issue, women don’t buy the Ellens, Meryls and Kims, they buy the Jennifers and Kates. So, Wolf said last night, “it’s something you’re doing” as media consumers.

So it’s a double-edged sword. We complain that we want to see more “real women” in magazines, however we’re not willing to shell out for them, therefore sales go down, advertisers move elsewhere, and “we don’t know what we’re missing” because “women doing interesting things are omitted” from the mainstream media, and instead we get another story on Jennifer Aniston’s desperation over Brad and Angelina’s marriage, or some crap. I think Wolf is right in saying that we need to consciously refuse to buy into those kinds of stories and look towards other instances of women in the media.

However, I don’t agree—and this seems to be the consensus, especially amongst those who don’t actually consume women’s magazines on a regular basis—with the belief that all women’s magazines try to sell us are diets, $350 beauty products that don’t actually work, and low self-esteem. To people with this view, I say, try picking up a copy of Cosmopolitan, Frankie or Girlfriend magazines. These are all publications that are geared towards different demographics of females—sexually active and assertive women in their late teens to mid-to-late twenties; alternative, crafty women, most likely studying design or politics; and the teenage set, respectively—that DO NOT run diets, do recommend fashion and beauty products at the affordable end of the spectrum, and present women of all shapes and sizes in a positive light. Not all women’s magazines are at the crux of this “beauty myth”.

Another major point in Wolf’s theory is the abundance of pornography in today’s society, which she also talks a lot about in this past weekend’s Sunday Life supplement in Melbourne’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. She argues that this lowers the sexual confidence of both men and women, but young women, in particular, feel they have to offer an array of sexual activities they’re not necessarily comfortable with in order to “feel competitive in the sexual marketplace”. Because men, in particular, have such “strong, Pavlovian responses” to porn, excessive consumption can lead to desensitisation to the real thing, which is why there is such a surge in impotence in young men.

Where once it were supermodels who determined the sexual ideal of women, it is now female porn stars, with their svelte, childlike torsos, fake breasts and meticulously trimmed pubic region, society uses as the benchmark. Bodies that share similarities with— who else?!— Barbie.

One could argue that Brazilian and XXX waxing is a way for the male-geared porn industry to beat women into submission, so that they become childlike and are able to be dominated. Another intriguing point Wolf puts forward can be traced back to the dieting industry, in that striving to look the way of the porn star, with a super-slim body and low body mass index actually diminishes the libido. Is this really what society wants whilst pushing such a sexual culture? Or is it in tune with the subservient nature of females in porn?

Wolf also addressed the perception that women with eating disorders and negative body image are “crazy”. As an anorexic in her teens, Wolf debunked this, saying that “physiologically, low calorie count causes mental impairment,” and is a “form of control” by the dieting industry, the media, and society to control and suppress women’s ambitions. Because when you’re thinking about food and exercising and the way you look, you’re not thinking about education and work and your future.

She added that a way to counteract this is to form “active critical thought” about images of beauty, which apparently 33% of women do. Another 18% become obsessed by these images, which in turn leads to eating disorders and body dysmorphia. The rest of us hover somewhere in between.

During question time, one audience member asked why she—who comes from an educated, loving and supportive background; is surrounded by encouraging and non-judgemental friends and family; who does form critical opinions about the media’s portrayal of women—feels ugly, fat, not good enough and constantly compares herself to other women, in the media or no, and how “active critical thought” can really alter this.

I thought this was a very brave and fascinating question put to Wolf, however her response was more disheartening. In a nutshell, she basically said that at the end of the day, if being open to different images of beauty, both from the mainstream and non-mainstream media worlds, and being able to confidently and objectively realise that not everyone looks like that and that is not the real-life ideal, still makes you feel like crap, there may be some underlying issues that only a therapist can fix.

Which poses another question: how far have we really come? From the 1920s “flapper body style” that emerged when women first won the vote and somehow felt they had to look more masculine to adapt to this, to an auditorium full of beautiful, successful, smart and “critically thinking” independent women in 2010, does this notion of the “beauty myth” really exist? Is there a beauty myth that we have to expose?

Magazine Review: Cleo, September 2010.

Cleo’s September issue is an issue of mourning, as it marks the last under the editorship of Sarah Oakes, who’ll be heading to Sunday Life magazine (at least we’ll be able to get our Oakes fix for free [okay, $2] every week, instead of $7.40 once a month).

Under Oakes’ tutelage, Cleo has grown into one of my favourite magazines, and it employs the aesthetics and ideology of fellow favourites Nylon and Frankie.

As a send-off, this issue falls a bit flat, claiming to be an “It” issue, with the likes of “It girls” Alexa Chung, Rosie Huntington Whiteley et al, but add a “Sh-” to the word and that’s the feeling I get from all this “It girl” nonsense.

I feel Cleo is a bit behind the eight-ball in featuring the “It girls”, most of whom were touted as such some two years ago. But in a cheeky, poking-fun-at-themselves move, Cleo runs a feature entitled “Why We Love an ‘It’”, about our culture’s short-lived obsession with all things “it”. This is why I love you, Cleo.

Elsewhere in the mag, destiny is questioned and somewhat proved by Alex and Donna Voutsinas story of looking through old photos to share at their wedding, when one picture of Donna with her family at Disneyland when she was five piqued Alex’s interest, BECAUSE HIS FATHER AND HIS 3-YEAR-OLD SELF ARE IN THE BACKGROUND (p. 92)! How serendipitous!

Cleo is clearly on Lady Gaga’s side in “Lady Gaga. Discuss: Musical genius or marketing ploy?” (p. 98). And regular readers of this blog will know which side I’m on, too.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Forgiveness” (p. 102) is a case-in-point article as to Cleo’s substance over some other monthlies. Forgiveness is something I struggle with, and The Forgiveness Project founder, Marina Cantacuzino says that “… forgiveness is a journey, not a destination. I wanted to show that some people don’t get there.” And Cleo says that’s okay. They also say that men love your body just the way you are and hate it when you put yourself down, in “What He Thinks About Your Body Issues” (p. 150); reassurance and warm fuzzies for all!

I would be mortified about revisiting my past diaries, let alone sharing them with the world. That’s what Oakes, art director Liz and photo editor Jess have done in “Dear Diary…” (p. 104).

Cleo seem to have taken a leaf out of contributor Rachel Hills’ book in profiling “A Brief History of the Girl-on-Girl Publicity Kiss” (p. 108), and have also taken inspiration from Sex & the City 2 and Big and Carrie’s “Part-Time Lovers” arrangement (p. 152).

In terms of eye-candy goodness, there’s a spread with Gossip Girl boy Ed Westwick (p. 112), jewel tones and painterly prints (p. 124), and beauty across the ages (p. 142).

All in all, not the best issue of Cleo ever.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Frock & Roll asks “What Makes a Compelling Website?” Frequent updates, a unique writing style, an interesting story to tell and expertise (on things like “how to make a pillowcase from a DVD player”). Also, the final instalment of “The Blogger’s Guide to Hustling” is now online.

Darling of the magazine world, Frankie, is profiled on Pedestrian.TV.

A pro-hunting friend of mine put me on to this article featured in The Age, entitled “Men Who Kill”. The provocative title certainly reflects what a lot of animal-loving, vegetarian Greenies think about hunters (I, myself, have conflicting feelings about being a meat-eating, leather-wearing, zoo-goer versus being staunchly against animal cruelty, puppy mills/pet shops, fur, whaling etc.), but one quote from the article is particularly thought-provoking: “It’s [the rabbit] out and about and ‘bang’, the next thing it knows is nothing. It’s not tormented by a slaughter yard or fed hormones.”

In other Barbie news, Chloë Browne, guest blogging at Em & Lo, asserts that you can be a feminine feminist… and a Barbie connoisseur. Amen.

To celebrate season two of Jersey Shore, The Atlantic thinks that “We Are All Snooki”, the undisputed breakout star of the show, in terms of “crafting public selves”. Only Snooki’s public self is a whole lot more outrageous and famous than most of ours.

Bret Easton Ellis does The Babysitters Club? WTF? But he does it oh so well. For example, Kristy says, “Like, sorry that you have diabetes Stacey, but do we have to spend half the afternoon discussing it? And yeah, it really bums me out to watch Claudia snort up half those Pixie Stix when she is so blatantly trying to get attention to her sugar problem…” Speaking of Claudia, her chapter is far better; very passive aggressive, in the vein of BEE: 

“We were going 30 in a 25 mph Stoneybrook crossing lane, my dad’s hands clenched white against the wheel while I could practically hear him grinding his teeth all the way in the backseat. I was sitting next to my older sister Janine, who had spent the last three days on some sort of cleanse diet because she was, in her words, ‘packing on the pounds like I was the one eating all the junk food.’ Or because someone had switched out her carefully hidden birth control pills with orange Tic Tacs last month. Either one.”

Sometimes it seems my sister and I are the only ones on the face of the earth who have seen/remember/love the ’80s teen movie, Teen Witch. Until Jezebel profiled it! Above, a choice rap clip from the film!

Erica Bartle has a discusses the perils of committing to a comprehensive review of all the September issues and promotes blog loving on Girl with a Satchel.

An oldie but a goodie: “The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox” at The New York Times.

We can’t have “On the (Rest of the) Net” without the requisite Mad Men link. This week it’s “Mad Men’s Very Modern Sexism Problem” at The Atlantic.