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5 Things you don't know about women's magazines

Jennifer Nelson is a full-time freelancer who's published hundreds of service articles and essays in many of the major women's magazines. Her work appears in Woman's Day, More, Fitness, Health, Shape, Self, Parenting, The Washington Post...

We live in an airbrushed nation

Many of us page through a favorite glossy magazine every month. Harmless enough, right? Maybe not.
pile of magazines

Women can have self-worth issues or body image problems after viewing all the airbrushed images, subliminal messaging and the youthful ideal in the pages of women’s magazines. Here are some other things you may not know about your favorite chick slick.

Your self-esteem can take a hit

Exposure to images of too-thin, too-perfect air-brushed female bodies in the women’s magazines are linked to depression, loss of self-esteem and the development of unhealthy eating habits in women and girls. Research also finds that after just one to three minutes of exposure to the types of images routinely found in women’s magazines, young women feel worse about themselves than they already did. That's a lot of negativity for simply paging through a "harmless" chick slick, yet women may not even realize women's magazines affect them this way. Ask yourself if you feel better or worse about your body image after reading a women’s glossy.

Takeaway: Consider a magazine sabbatical if you notice a negative effect or choose magazines carefully, avoiding those that run blatantly altered images.

Magazines aren’t about inner beauty

Women’s magazines approach their reader as though they’re in need of improvement. "Resize your Bum," "Erase Wrinkles" and "Improve Your Relationship" are regular cover lines, and the articles that follow offer advice and tips for just how you, dear reader, can fix yourself no matter the topic. Worse, more than three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change your body or appearance — by diet, exercise, beauty products or cosmetic surgery. Seems that despite the inspiring stories, the incredible health information or the trendy décor advice, women’s magazines want to change you. Their mission isn’t to affirm your inner beauty and let you know you’re OK as is, but rather sell copies by claiming to help you renovate and repair the endless array of things that are wrong with you.

Takeaway: Nothing’s wrong with you.

stack of magazinesBeware subliminal advertising

Most women are wise to the ad game that assures us this product will make our floors shine or our face spot-free. However, we may not always get the subliminal message in the glossy pages of the chick slick (the ad) or we may think we’re immune to it. However, the ad for moisturizer following an article on treating skin conditions or the ad for a diet drink across the page from a weight loss story is a sneaky subliminal advertising tactic that is supposed to entice lady readers to buy products. Are you buying in?

Takeaway: Analyze the subliminal advertising in your favorite magazine.

Full fashion disclosure

Many of us ogle the pricey clothes and accessories in the women’s glossies. Readers come away thinking that this is the “it” bag, shoes or jeans we must have this season, and often those trends are set by these very pieces. However, before you rail that you simply can’t spend $400 on boots or $250 on jeans, remember these items might not really be the be-all and end-all the magazine makes them out to be; instead, the editors and fashion designers have a symbiotic relationship. In other words, designers pay for ad space in the glossies and editors reward them by showcasing their designs in their pages.

Takeaway: Check it out. See how many ad pages a designer has in any given glossy, then look at how many of that designer’s offerings are showcased in the fashion spreads.

Aging is the elephant on the page

Airbrushed nation
Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women's Magazines (Amazon.com, $12)

Month after month, anti-aging stories appear in every woman’s magazine. Even magazines aimed at the over-40 set continually tell women how to drink from the fountain of youth. Today’s cosmetics industry is a $150 billion entity and chick slicks have become the vehicle to sell those products. Ditto for plastic surgery. Where once surgical and in-office cosmetic procedures were the exception, today they are covered in every chick slick. One British survey found 72 percent of women 18 to 30 “want to have something done.” More than half said it was because they were unhappy with how they look. Sadly, women are comparing themselves to the airbrushed ideal in the pages of the glossy, where no one can measure up to. Even though data shows women become wiser, more creative and independent with age, women’s magazines continue to focus on their appearance and how to look younger.

Takeaway: Analyze the message underlying stories about dieting, beauty and body image. Communicate with magazines that get it right — or wrong. They listen to reader’s emails, Facebook messages, tweets and blog comments.

More on self-esteem and body image

Secrets to having a positive body image
30 Days to your best body ever
8 Ways to feel good about Y-O-U

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