In Defense of Women's Magazines

For an entire year, I turned my life over to a slew of women's magazines and followed their advice to the letter. And guess what? It worked!
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Liz Jones, former editor of Marie Claire, avid collector of Vogue magazines, and frequent target of Jezebel's arch lambasting, wrote a column in the Daily Mail the other day documenting her long love affair with women's magazines. A relationship, she laments, that has since come to an end, her former flame now seen as "patronizing, fake and pointless."

Jones goes on to provide the reasons why she has "given up on the glossy. " After formerly living and breathing them and doing exactly what they told her to do (including, inexplicably, eating watermelon for a year), she has now decided that they offer resoundingly stupid advice. As evidence, she points to an article in British magazine Easy Living that offers straight-faced guidance to women who would like to explore beer drinking as an alternative to wine.

"This," she writes, "in a magazine with readers who are supposedly older professional, fairly well-heeled and, presumably, intelligent."

And don't get her started on fashion magazines. She calls a story in Vogue on "new ways" to carry a handbag "twaddle" and goes on to beseech, "Isn't it time they all tried a little bit harder to be on our side...?"

This will not make me popular, but I disagree with Jones and her manicured handwringing completely. For an entire year, I turned my life over to a slew of women's magazines and followed their advice to the letter. That's right, long before Robyn Okrant began "Living Oprah," I had already turned my life over to the big O's gospel--and 13 other women's glossies to fix my crappy life. And guess what? It worked! Thank you, Cosmo!

Yes, I know what you're thinking: Who would be idiotic enough to believe a bunch of lady mags would have to power to transform her life? Jones, as well as anyone who has ever taken Women's Studies 101, fingers these sorts of magazines as "making us feel dissatisfied with ourselves and what we own." When my memoir Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over was released, one of my writing students asked me if I considered myself a spiritual person. She, like many of my detractors, had trouble reconciling the idea that an intelligent and thoughtful woman could still enjoy the mood lifting properties of a perfect red lipstick or the thrill of finding his seven secret pleasure zones.

But the truth is, when I began my year of living by the women's book, I was dissatisfied. I was less than. I was a total twaddle. Recently divorced and acting out in ways that would either bankrupt me or turn me into a walking STD, I was desperate for the kind of life I saw on the pages of InStyle and Glamour. A life where I didn't date a cruel and uncaring jerk, didn't eat my lunch out of the office vending machine, didn't wake up with a mysterious black eye or breath still stinking of bourbon and cigarettes. I saw these women's magazines as being full of promise, not inadequacy. Sure, the content of women's magazines can be limiting. But it can also be illuminating (heck, Amy Bloom writes for them!) and yes, even life-changing.

And believe me, I do understand. It is so easy to poke fun at them. "5 Dating Shake-Ups For Singles," "Lies Your Sunscreen Tells You," "15 Minutes to a Better Bond." However, these July coverlines are not off of any women's magazine. They come from, respectively, Psychology Today, Mother Jones, and Modern Dog.


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