I recently saw a video on Facebook called The Ugly Truth Behind Beauty Magazines. I was intrigued; having interned at a couple in the past, I was interested in what it had to say.
My feelings towards beauty and fashion magazines are mixed. Working at them has been such a valuable experience; I can now write publishable-quality articles with confidence, liaise with PR companies with ease and prep clothes for fashion shoots like a pro – and for that I am extremely grateful. But the most important lesson I took from it? Take magazines much less seriously. The reason is simple: the standards portrayed in magazines are unrealistic, and I’m a happier person when not constantly trying to measure up. I’m not vetoing them full stop – they’re a bit of fun escapism and I do enjoy a good flick through. But now, I do so with a sizable degree of separation. And when I look down at perfect girls on glossy pages and pangs of inadequacy start creeping in, I remind myself of the important lessons I’ve learned:
1) IT’S ALL ADVERTISING
When Oskar Brand (of said Facebook video) removed the adverts from a recent issue of Elle, he found they made up a whopping 85% of the page space. I’m not surprised – magazines are essentially product catalogues. During my time curating a weekly ‘Beauty Must Haves’ column, it was genuinely my job to write the sales pitches for these products – which BTW, I never actually got to try. I just had to come up with a snappy 25 words as to why each one will make you prettier/hotter/skinnier and add a few pictures of some models (because if you use XYZ, RRP £44.99, you can look like this too!)
Now I’m certainly not sneering at the process of beautifying yourself – I’m the first to admit that I love looking good and presenting the best version of myself to the world. But before I open a magazine, I mentally prepare myself for the fact that what I’m about to see is purely advertising. For these models, it’s their full time job to look gorgeous, and they have an entire team of people keeping them that way. If they had a hundred things to juggle before (single-handedly) getting ready that morning, there is no way their make up would look that on fleek.
2) PHOTOSHOP, PHOTOSHOP, PHOTOSHOP
It is everywhere. Seriously. They play with the lighting to change the mood of shoots. They elongate legs, nip in waists and blur out blemishes with the click of a button. I knew all this before, but only when you see it in action does it really hit home. The tipping point was when I overheard some colleagues moaning over how a model’s hips (too wide) were ruining the aesthetic of a shoot. Disclaimer: this was a ‘real life’ feature for a children’s wear issue, and said model had had a baby three months ago.
One more time for those at the back: PICTURES IN MAGAZINES ARE NOT REALITY. THIS IS NOT WHAT A HUMAN BODY LOOKS LIKE. So the next time you start feeling bad about yourself because you don’t look like X celebrity, I recommend a two step action plan:
Number 1: Put down magazine, go to mirror, say the following: ‘Hello chica, you are a badass, you look cute as hell and you’re doing great today. I’m rooting for you’. Blow yourself a kiss, do a twirl, go slay your day.
Number 2: Type “[celebrity name] no makeup” into Google. Search. Sorted.
3) THE IMAGES YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH INFLUENCE YOU MASSIVELY
One of my jobs was going though next season’s catwalk collections and making trend reports. I loved doing this – it was so cool seeing the designers’ artistic visions in all their glory. But staring at one picture of a 5’11, impossibly slender model after another, I naturally began to compare my body with theirs- and I lost every time. “Look how graceful and dainty these girls look” whispered the voice in my head. “Think how much better you’d look if your collarbones stuck out like that too.” After a couple of hours of this a day, my normally resolute belief in health was completely obliterated by my desire to be thin. It was only when I left the office and hit the gym that my clarity came back; surrounded by fit, dedicated people hustling for their fitness goals, it once again became obvious that striving for strength was so much cooler – and infinitely healthier.
So to wrap up: beauty and fashion magazines are absolutely fine for light-hearted enjoyment, and to all you budding writers out there, I absolutely recommend the experience of interning at one. But girls, please, please remember that the emphasis that these publications place on your hotness is so warped and entirely detached from what actually defines you. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make yourself beautiful, just a friendly reminder to those of us caused grief by the fact they don’t look like the girls in magazines that it’s the other stuff – your intelligence, your warmth, the way you make people smile when they’re feeling low – which makes you a truly attractive soul. Surround yourself with images, stories and people that challenge you, develop your character and remind you of the qualities you possess that make you such a radical human being. That, my friend, is something no magazine will ever be able to sell you.