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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

From Twinkle to My Guy, my life in women’s magazines

I hate women’s magazines. I did read them once, I used to love them, swear by them and subscribe to them, but not any more. There was a point when I was flicking through the latest Eve or Cosmo or Red or whatever it was and I faced up to the fact that nothing these mags could tell me was relevant to my life any more. I knew myself better than a mag-hag hack would ever do, so why let someone in an office dictate how I should feel, look and aspire to be? Besides, I figured there were better ways to spend a couple of quid than on pages of adverts. Am I cynical and frumpy in not liking women’s mags? No, I just happen to think they’re full of advice I don’t need or want and they focus on celebrities I have no interest in. I also fully believe the glossies are less truthful than the real-life women’s mags aimed at a different demographic, these I applaud wholeheartedly. You know the ones I mean, the supermarket mags – Take a Break, Real Life, Chat, Have a Fag.

Before I turned my back on women’s mags, I was a long-time devotee always keen for a fix of my favourite glossy or weekly. And so come with me now, if you will, on a stroll down memory lane for a look at my life through women’s magazines.

The very first mag I ever read was a comic and I can vividly remember my mum bringing in Twinkle from the shops, just for me. I must have been under ten years old. From Twinkle I graduated to reading, greedily, both Bunty and Mandy each week and absolutely loving and taking delight in the wickedly subversive Blind Bettina comic strip. There's a fab woman here called Mel Gibson (yes, really) who did her PhD on girls' comics.

Next, it must have been Jackie which became my bible for a few years, getting all the advice from Cathy and Claire that I never knew I needed. Oh, and then came the biggest leap of all. From Donny Osmond and David Cassidy pinups in Jackie I stepped up to My Guy, the magazine I had to hide from my mother because she didn’t approve. It was racy, was My Guy, it had snogging and girls on the pill. I learned a lot from My Guy, believe me I did. And then through my late teen years and early twenties I was heavily into music magazines so women’s mags went by the wayside as Smash Hits, Sounds and NME became my reading material of choice.

And then something exciting happened, Company magazine was launched as a magazine for the younger sister readers of Cosmo. Company magazine fired up my imagination, I copied the clothes, the make-up, I even knitted up some of their patterns in the ‘80s. I especially remember a fantastic black mohair jumper with batwing sleeves and buttons up the back. It went a treat with black knickerbockers, back-combed black hair and pixie boots. Company magazine even published an article of mine back in 1987, my first ever piece of published writing since getting a poem in my parents’ local Sunday paper.

The logical step up from Company was Cosmo which I’d only ever read – in pop-eyed shock at what women could and did do - in the hairdresser’s while waiting for my mum who was under the dryer with curlers in her hair. I invited Cosmo into my life for a few years although not in the way I had enjoyed Company earlier. Cosmo was glossier, more self-aware, more self-promoting and it carried more advertising. I think I knew then that my love-affair with women’s magazines was coming to an end but when I lived overseas I still had the English Cosmo sent to me on subscription each month, preferring it to any of the no-brainer women’s magazines aimed at the Southern California market. Back in England, Cosmo and I parted company. Part of this was wanting something real, down to earth again after living in the candy floss of La-La land. Cosmo was too candy floss. New women’s magazines had sprung up while I’d been away and Real, Red and Eve became my reading of choice until they too stayed on the shelf in the shop after I realised that I was of an age and opinion now that nothing these mags could ever say to me would be something I’d want to read.

Becoming a mature student on a journalism course involved spending time analysing print media where women’s magazines came under the academic microscope. The more I studied their appeal to the masses of misses, the more they repelled me. I don’t touch them any more, I just said no. Well, ok, that’s not entirely true.

There’s one women’s mag that I do still read. I’ve subscribed to it since Issue 1 and was lucky enough to interview its original editor as part of my degree a few years ago. It’s Mslexia magazine, a specialist journal that comes with a tagline of “for women who write”.

Now, if only there was a mass market magazine “for women who think”.
[Originally written by me for Dollymix]

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