In case you missed it, last month Roberta Myers, Editor-In-Chief of Elle magazine, sent a few tremors through the blog, beauty and fashion communities. Myers appeared on the Today show and described Elle McPherson as “not a skinny girl”. In the July issue of Elle, Myers takes issue with those who blame the beauty and fashion industry for negative body image issues amongst women. She asks if the media is setting or reflecting the cultural norms of this thing called beauty. I had an immediate reaction to that question. So here’s my take on it.
Fashion and beauty magazines play an ambiguous role in how we as women see ourselves. Magazines establish trends, but they do so while reflecting our beliefs, perceptions and definitions of beauty. We have these ideas, often negative, about beauty, weight, what it means to be sexy and we create such a narrow definition and an unrealistic standard. We subscribe to those thoughts and beliefs long before we subscribe to the magazines.
I’ve heard some of the harshest, and sometimes vicious, critiques of women around coffee tables, in break rooms, blogs and telephone chats than in any magazine. But because of its power and influence, the media amplifies, projects and exaggerates those comments. When we see them played out in fashion magazines or other forms of media, we don’t like the way it sounds. We hear the echo of our own thoughts and conversations and it’s not good. Those thoughts come back repeatedly, increasingly louder and often aimed directly at us.
Some of the attack on women’s magazines is out of frustration. The frustration of realizing that their unique beauty is omitted from the pages altogether. Knowing that your beauty, your reflection is not even acknowledged is more than disappointing. It’s like being erased. And it doesn’t just erase you, it erases the women who came before you and your daughters. An unfair call is one thing, not getting the chance to play is another.
Ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for how we feel about ourselves. Are there influences? Yes. But it’s not the media alone. Our culture, parents, teachers and peers have a huge influence on how we see ourselves, others and what we deem attractive. Not to mention that we alone are responsible for replaying that incident in 7th grade, where we got dumped for the pretty girl. After all, who decided she was prettier than we were, or pretty at all, for that matter? We are the gatekeepers of our minds and we decide what’s in and what’s not.
Yes, there have been times when images in magazines have caused me to question my reflection, especially when I was younger. I think that is natural when you are discovering who you are. However, it should dissipate with time. There have also been times when images in magazines have made me feel celebrated, inspired and intrigued. We are not going to stop caring about the latest trend, the hot new product, or what we believe will make us more beautiful. And why should we? Caring about your physical appearance only becomes unhealthy when a person becomes a physical or emotional caricature of themselves, when their inherent beauty becomes muddled, or when they refuse to work on their inner beauty.
I do believe that the media should become much more responsible with our conversations. Magnify the positive! I want a fashion and beauty magazine that does not limit itself to size, age or color. Beauty and style should be the key demographic. They are limitless!