Monday, November 16, 2009

And another empowering message from your Sisters!

For the first time in my life I feel like I'm getting older. No wonder I feel that men just look through me....
Opening "hook" from a commercial for a moisturizing product called Hydroxatone. As seen on Lifetime: Television for Women.

Ahh yes, girlfriends, even in t
his, the era of "real women" and "love the skin you're in," America's $500 billion beauty industry (of which about $60 billion goes towards so-called "luxury cosmetics") continues its relentless assault on women's peace of mindand your media are only too happy to facilitate that assault by taking the beauty industry's bountiful ad dollars.

Here are some further empowering messages from the latest crop of women's magazines.

"When He's Turned Off By Your Body in Bed." From the cover of the October 2009 Elle.

"SHED ONE SIZE!" (In caps as shown.) From the cover of the November Women's Health.

"7 Things that Age Skin Most." From the cover of the October Allure. (And by the way, what is that in the "before" above? A mug shot?)

"Bad Girl Issue: For Sexy Bitches Only." From the cover of the November Cosmo. (OK, maybe it is, in a sense, "empowering." But come on. That's how we celebrate womanhood??)

Now, we gotta give some props to Glamour, which chips in with "Relax! 7 Reasons Guys Love You Just the Way You Are." But am I being too cynical in proposing that Glamour's editors gave that story play because the magazine has the rather ordinary Michelle Obama on its cover? (And come to think of it, why are we encouraging women to define themselves and rate their level of contentment based on whether a man "loves them just they way they are"?) Similarly, a recent cover treatment on Harper's Bazaar, "Fabulous at Every Age," sounds like a terrific theme, and could even be read with a straight face if the magazine didn't splash the headline over the face and form of model Gisele Bundchen, who next summer will attain the ripe old age of 30.

And while I'm on the subject, if these publications are committed to empowering women...then why are there no articles like "7 Steps to Greater Brainpower"* or, at the very least, "How to Bowl Him Over With Your Grasp of Politics." (You can stop laughing any time now.) Point being, again and again these magazines focus on two elements: surface characteristics (the whole beauty thing) and emotional health. You get very little sense that women are fully capable, thinking human beings who just might crave intellectual stimulation as well.

Almost needless to say, all of these magazines, in their interior pages, feature models with figures that are either (a) impossibly perfect or (b) border on outright caricature. Check out, for example, Kim Kardashian on the Cosmo cover aforementioned.

Love the skin you're in,
huh? Yeah, right. As long as your skin resembles Kim's.


By the way, do you remember what was one of my first points about SHAMland and its gurus? That in order to "build you up," they first have to break you down and make you feel like crap? It applies here. It's much harder to sell beauty products to a woman who already feels beautiful and at peace.

* and no, I am not implying that women are dumb and need remediation in that area.


Dimension Skipper said...

Steve Salerno, every woman's gallant prince...


It just so happens that's today's goComics classic Bloom County strip.

Steve Salerno said...

Hey, DS, look, I don't buy the so-called campaign for real beauty. Not everybody's beautiful--I've covered this specifically on the blog--just like not everybody's an NBA star or Ken Jennings (or a top-selling author, for that matter). We live in a competitive world, and that world has standards that can't always be flexed to accommodate self-esteem-building programs.

But at least I don't pretend to be what I'm not, in the process ingratiating myself with a particular demographic, passing myself off as having their best interests at heart, so that I can then sell them billions of dollars' worth of products they didn't need in the first place.

Dimension Skipper said...

I agree. And I meant no offense or disrespect. My apologies for not foreseeing that it might be taken that way (although I did use the little winky guy to try to underscore the noninflammatory intention behind posting the strip).

I just thought the comic was...

A, and 95% most important) funny,

B) coincidentally themed and timed in its (re-)appearance this morning,

C) interesting in that it originally appeared sometime in the 80s thus pointing out the timelessness (no doubt going back much further than the 80s) of beauty self-help issues,

D) perhaps a little revealing (of low self-esteem, or of the reality of which you speak, Steve?) in that the woman does not accept Opus' "gallant" line as being in any way even a little bit truthful, but merely an attempt to soothe her feelings and nothing more.

She's lamenting that she's not really ever going to be beautiful like those celebs and Opus is saying "That's OK." She's just feeling low at the moment and therefore not examining his statement to see if there's any truth to IT. I think she sees her situation (now) exactly as you do, Steve, but still feels bad about it nonetheless (at least at that moment).

And I guess that was my point all along (although honestly I can't really be sure now as I didn't really think about it as such then). I think both men and women can accept what you're saying, but at the same time women can still feel bad about and lament that "reality." The question is how much of that feeling is due to self-help beauty gurus and media blitzing of the "beauty is everything" concept? And how much of it is due to their own experiences in life? I can't answer that.

For me the biggest question that comes directly out of the strip is that issue of what Opus said... Was he merely being baloneyiously gallant or was there some truth there in his eyes?

Ah, the hidden layers and depths of Bloom County. Though of course we should always keep in mind that old adage that sometimes a neurotic, compassionate penguin with a big beak is just a neurotic, compassionate penguin with a big beak.

BTW, there's even a good chance the woman is just completely blotto. I mean, come on, a talking penguin in a bar?!...


Footnote: I probably still haven't expressed some ideas as well as I'd like. It's a tricky subject, one where it can be too easy to venture into unintended or misinterpreted offensiveness. There were several times I started along one tack, only to say to myself "better not go there" and I backed off.

So I'm leaving things as they are now and I'll let the discussion of others follow and they can pile on as they see fit.

Anonymous said...

What a saving grace DimSkip's cartoon selections are. Thank you, kind sir.

Any honest woman over 35 will tell you, Steve, that the proportion of men of any age who are turned on by anything other than youth and a pretty face and figure is miniscule.
Sad but true.

Elizabeth said...

then why are there no articles like "7 Steps to Greater Brainpower"* or, at the very least, "How to Bowl Him Over With Your Grasp of Politics."

Really, where are those articles, I wonder? ;)

Steve, they would be written ASAP if men paid attention to women with brainpower and/or superb grasp of politics ONLY.

I was browsing articles about Palin's upcoming book last night and came upon the following comment from this astute (male) reader on some (ABC?) forum (I'm paraphrasing):

We would not be having this discussion if Palin was 250 lbs, had acne and hair loss. Her politics would be laughed out of the GOP.

How true, I thought.

Speaking of Hydroxatone or some other miracle cream, there is this one commercial where men are speaking out:

My wife looks 10 years younger! Wow, I cannot believe how smooth and young her skin is!

or something like that.

It makes me cringe -- and then LMAO.


DimSkip, that cartoon is priceless. Right on.

Steve Salerno said...

DS: You worry too much. It's all good. You've always been a great addition to the blog, and clearly I'm not the only one who feels that way. Keep on keepin' on!

Dimension Skipper said...

Thanks. I probably just misunderstood something or misread your tone somewhat. See, I thought that you thought that I thought... uh, well, wait a minute, now I'm confused. Too much thinking always has that effect on me...

Don't mind me. Keepin' on...


Elizabeth said...

BTW, there's even a good chance the woman is just completely blotto. I mean, come on, a talking penguin in a bar?!...

DimSkip, gasp! Your language, dear lord...


And a potentially, but ever so vaguely (and delicately) disparaging remark...

I'm shocked, shocked. ;)

(And teasing, too.)

Duff said...

Right on. The hypocrisy is amazing in these women's magazines.

On a similar note is how Oprah made Tolle famous with his message of dropping the ego. Oprah's show is called Oprah, and her magazine is "O" and features a picture of her on every cover. She represents the very problem she is so enthusiastic about getting rid of. Tolle's message of dropping the ego in this context becomes a justification for continuing to be a celebrity, because now she is apparently egoless in her egocentricity.

Steve Salerno said...

Duff: What a great point about Oprah!

It's a little bit like Donald Trump launching a magazine called "Embracing Poverty."

Martha said...

The proposed headline "How to Bowl Him Over With Your Grasp of Politics" did make me giggle. Especially in light of my personal history vis a vis "How to Close Down a Date Really Fast -- Just Open Your Mouth."

It's always about landing the guy like he's a big, dumb tuna, isn't it? One of these days I'd love to see a headline that reading, "Think He's Good Enough For You? Think Again."

Steve Salerno said...

Martha: Exactly. I think the Cosmo headline ("sexy bitch") is in that vein (i.e. "he's not good enough for you"). But if it's all about empowering women, then why do so many of the headlines in "your" magazines make it seem like a woman is nothing without a man, and exists to satisfy his every whim? The respective audiences of the various magazines will result in some differences in their particular slant on man-pleasing: Good Housekeeping may be more about cooking and general domesticity, while Cosmo is about "six moves that will absolutely turn him into a drooling, quivering man-mass in bed." But the goal is ever the same: HOW TO KEEP YOUR FELLA HAPPY ENOUGH SO THAT HE MIGHT ACTUALLY STICK AROUND.

roger o'keefe said...

I think Eliz's answer is very telling. She says there would be more headlines like that if men paid attention to smart women, but that really just restates the point that women's magazines still see a woman's primary goal as hooking a man. That suggests to me that women probably see that as their primary goal, too. After all if the point was to empower women in their own right, where do men even figure into the equation? Just teach women to be more powerful and assertive in their own lives, and if men don't like it, tough. I'm saying that from a feminist perspective, which I'm probably not very good at, not from a man's perspective. My point holds though, doesn't it?

Elizabeth said...

Roger (et al), I think the so-called women's magazines (and TV, etc.) are somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to their messages.

Yes, they have the empowering bend, but also how to snatch a man in a variety of ways one.

In a way, they have embraced the Yes, You Can Have It All! mantra -- family, work, a satisfying career, friendship, great good looks, a fashionable lifestyle, mind-blowing sex and astounding cooking skills (have I missed anything?)

But the relationship -- with men -- aspect of their content is of primary importance, I'd say. And it is an important part of women's lives. For many (probably a great majority), the most important one.

Anonymous said...

Yes Roger, your point holds.
And many women of my generation gave that point considerable thought. Unfortunately, the point of life for most women is children and family, and you need a man for that unless you go the turkey baster/Octomum route.

Most women compromise, some of us didn't. Either way its not a bed of roses and I wouldn't question any woman's personal solution to this choice, apart perhaps from that of Octomum+6, who is clearly off her head.

LizaJane said...

Hang on a minute, everybody.

I agree that those creepy "O"-type magazines are just monthly doses of SHAM. I stay far away from them.

But the traditional women's magazines, especially "fashion" magazines, are about fashion -- clothes, makeup, hair, and everything that goes with it. It's about current styles and trends. If you have an interest in fashion, they're fun to browse through. And why would they tell you you look terrific as is, in what you've got on? That doesn't offer much incentive for keeping up with the trends and staying stylish. And it's not how fashion works.

These publications are about the exterior stuff. We know that. I know that. And my picking up an issue of "Style" every 6 months doesn't negate my weekly New Yorker. And just because they tell me I'd look better in jeans if my butt were a bit slimmer doesn't mean I'm worthless OR that they're wrong.

Fact is, most Americans are fat slobs. The "Campaign for Real Beauty" is a SHAM and a farce -- not because they're airbrushing the models, but because if they actually showed what the typical American woman and said, "This is fine. This is good enough. Be happy like this. You are beautiful," they'd be condoning an incredibly unhealthy and dangerous lifestyle.

No, I don't think that rail-thin models provide a realistic image. But they're not SUPPOSED to be a realistic image. They are "uber people" (not better, just genetically bizarre). They're supposed to be an ideal -- and ideals are not necessarily attainable. Very few of us are 5'10" and 110 pounds, with long limbs and even features. But those who are tend to look a lot better in clothes than I do (and as a size 4, I'm hardly bursting at the seams myself).

You can read a women's magazine and take their advice as saying you're "hideous as you are and thus unworthy of love" or you can read it merely as hints on maximizing your own, individual (exterior) potential.

And Steve, looks do count. It's silly to say they aren't important, or even critical, in some areas. You didn't marry your wife DESPITE her looks, did you? he wasn't SO brilliant and charming that you overlooked her physical repulsiveness, right? You found her attractive (and I'm guessing she felt the same about you. Women and men aren't SO vastly different in that sense). And very few men actually have looks as their sole criterion for a mate. I'd say there are probably as many men who demand a certain beauty ideal as their are women who demand extreme wealth. It runs both ways. They playboys and the gold-diggers. As gramma said, "A lid for every pot!"

MARTHA (et al.): Regarding your suggestion for the headline "Think He's Good Enough for You? Think Again," here's something you might appreciate. About 20 years ago, maybe more, I was thumbing through my Glamour Magazine, and found a little blurb that said something to the effect of, "Size Up Your Relationship in 5 Minutes. Ask Yourself These 4 Questions. If you answer 'No' to even one, you might want to reconsider this potential mate and ask yourself "why?" I kept those questions in the back of my mind, and I swear, when I met my husband, I answered 'Yes' to all 4 from the get-go and I KNEW we were a good match. Anyway, here it is:

1. Would I like to have a child with this person?
2. Would I like to have a child just like this person?
3. Would I like to become more like this person?
4. Would I like this person to stay exactly as s/he is today, without changing at all?

So... even Glamour can dish up some pretty good advice! Simple on the surface, but actually quite smart. I still have that blurb.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, have you changed the order of your last two posts, or am I that confused (somehow I dread hearing your answer already)?

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: No. Why do you ask?

(Seriously--yes, I did. I guess I wanted more emphasis on the women's issues than on me and my capybara.)

RevRon's Rants said...

Liza Jane - When the fashion rags start saying things like, "You'll probably never look like Kate Moss, but these exercises/diets/programs/herbs/clothes/procedures/accessories will help you make the best of what you've got," they'll have more credibility. Unfortunately, the implicit but clear statements they make are that the "uber" is obtainable if..." Even more unfortunate is the fact that a significant portion of their readership swallows it. They might never act upon the advice offered, but they do take its message to heart, adding a level of guilt to an already shaky self-image.

I don't think anyone is judging "all women" in general (or you in particular) for reading the mags, so the defensiveness is probably misplaced. Back when I was younger and bought copies of Playboy or Penthouse, I read at least some of the articles, but I was honest (with myself, anyway!) that my primary motivation for the purchase wasn't the expansion of my social or literary consciousness. And I doubt that such motivation is unique to me or my gender. :-)

Anonymous said...

LizaJane, I don't read American fashion mags because I do not look like those tall skinny women and I can't identify with them. I'm a Eurasian and petite and frankly, the models in those magazines are far from what I would consider "ideal" and I do not believe they portray anything close to healthy. I do on occasion look at fashion mags - but only Japanese ones where the models have not been airbrushed and the fashions are really gorgeous and far more practical. The models are also not Amazonian in size but have normal, Asian figures so I can emulate their style. Western style fashion mags just have it so wrong.

As for questions to ask when you consider someone for marriage - my motto is - if something befell this person after we married (G-d forbid), would I want to look after them forever. If I can't answer that in my heart, then he's not the man for me.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, you give the magazines far too much credit. Fear sells, and what they're selling women is fear, the fear of not measuring up, of never being quite good enough etc. Look at your own answer. You talk about keeping up with trends and make other statements that imply that you have bought the exact message they're selling, that is that you have to "keep up". Who says we have to spend so much time, energy and money on keeping up? Where is it written? Except in the magazines.

Also your notion of what is an "ideal" in women is a little close-minded or even judgmental, don't you think? I can't help feeling that it's rooted in your own self-image, since you're a size 4. The rest of your comments about Americans being "fat slobs" only confirms this. You're a size 4 and you want your butt to be slimmer? I think a lot of women would find that insulting. And I think that's exactly the kind of "never quite good enough" message that this post talks about. I'm not trying to be mean here, but you may be a living example of the problem, at least based on your own statements.

Jenny said...

Well, this is a good topic, as usual, Steve. You know how to keep a conversation going here, which is why I always come back, knowing there will be something to talk about. :)

Today I had lunch with three women friends and found myself feeling self-conscious over the fact that I was wearing no make-up. Now it would have been of no concern at all if it had been obvious that all the others had naked faces as well. But there I was, trying to determine whether the others were wearing make-up (at least one was; as for the other two, I couldn't tell - maybe, maybe not) and feeling sheepish for not at least taking the time to put on a little bit.

Typically, if I am working I wear just moisturizer and a tint on my face and occasionally a little lipstick. But for the most part, I am usually comfortable sans facial enhancement. Today was really no exception, but I did notice myself noticing the make-up (or lack of it) on my companions at lunch. By the way, they were on lunch break at work and I had the day off.

Thinking now about all these magazines, none of which I buy because ... well they do not interest me much, and all the products promoted and represented there, it bothers me that I should even think about it, that it matters at all. I stopped wearing make-up when my daughter was young and told me I look prettier without it. (Hey, why would she lie?) But then once I started working again, I added a little bit of make-up back into my wardrobe. The more I think about it, the more I realize it isn't necessary. For me, that is.

I guess my point here is that women ought not fuss about whether other women do or don't wear make-up. It is superficial on so many levels, and yet here I am talking about it. And it bothers me to think that women judge each other on such things.

I could go on, especially about how offended I have felt in the past about being criticized for not wearing make-up (by a particular man in my family), but then his perception just struck me as shallow. I thought so then and still find it so.

Interesting topic.

RevRon's Rants said...

Jenny - The next time some lout criticizes you for not wearing makeup, perhaps you could offer *him* some constructive criticism... like opting for a different after-shave (or using less of the one he has chosen), better deodorant, or even a bit of foundation himself, just to even out his skin tone, mind you. If you really want revenge, you might suggest that his image would be improved by the judicious placement of a rolled-up pair of socks. Just a thought... :-)

Anonymous said...

I think the point made about the fear being engendered in the magazine readers is valid. The magazines themselves are just vehicles for promoting and selling stuff so the whole drive of the magazine is stoking the fear of lacking in some way so that the now defective reader will buy stuff to address the perceived lack.
We won't ever get magazines that are realistic--where would the advertising revenue come from if the readers were encouraged to be content with themselves?

Elizabeth said...

OK, we've talked a lot on SHAMblog about that eternal mystery, women.

But... what do men want?

No, seriously?

Jenny said...

I will remember those suggestions, Ron. :)

I think what it all comes down to is this:

Whose opinion really matters?

I mean really. Who cares? ;)

I wink and yet am serious. In writing or speaking, we influence other people with words and actions. We dress up or dress down and people notice or they don't.

Sometimes we want that attention (for people to notice) and other times we hope they do not notice.

Why does that line in Bruce Springsteen's anthem "Born in the USA" come to mind, about spending half your life just covering up.

RevRon's Rants said...

"But... what do men want?"

As you know, Eliz, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Might as well ask what women look like. :-)

The things that turn me on might not make a dent in another man, and vice-versa. Doesn't make me - or anyone else - "right." My generalized and half-joking description of a perfect woman has long been one who is intelligent and profoundly nasty, but with class. While I'd like to think that my perfect woman would be as laid back about most things as I am, I also recognize that pairing with such a woman would result in the relationship equivalent of pudding, where little beyond basic anablism/catabolism was accomplished. So I compromise, gravitating toward the slightly anal-retentive partner, and becoming a bit more anal-retentive myself. Of course, I rail against the compromise, at least on the conscious level. At some deeper level, I truly feel the benefit... but I am loath to acknowledge it.

Wait... I just acknowledged it, and publicly. God, I must be one highly evolved soul. Or not... :-)

Ironically, the VW is "busti," which doesn't especially jive with my own criteria. :-)

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, Ron. Interesting.

Profoundly nasty, you say (LOL). So you've ended up with Connie, who is anything but. :)

RevRon's Rants said...

Eliz - If only you knew... :-)