Vanity of Vanities and Vanity Fair

m197808290013Overlooking the tarmac of the Atlanta International airport the Queen and I were enjoying lunch perusing the most recent issue of 3rd Grade Today USA Today. As the daily usually does, in the bottom left corner on page one is their USA Today Snapshot. This day’s cartoon diagram depicted a woman looking into a hand-held mirror with the reflection of a pie chart indicating that 49% of American women don’t like what the see staring back at them. After reading, my first response was “it might be more realistic with a Cosmopolitan in her other hand”

Screen Shot 2011-11-13 at 9.21.56 AMA 2004 government report showed that more than 10% of women 18 and over were on some form of anti-depressant, while only 20% sought medical attention for what would clinically be diagnosed as depression (and they say men hate doctors). Not being gender biased, the same report showed 4% of men take the happy pill. It went on to suggest that women are five times more likely than their male counterparts to experience bouts depression in their lifetime with girls in their late teens and early 20’s being some of the most at-risk for struggling with depression.

Reading Cosmopolitan or Vogue makes about as much sense as a homeless man reading the Robb Report.

Even when taking into account fluctuating hormones, menopause, and PMS the evidence remains overwhelming that women are sadder than men. Which begs the question – why?

There is certainly evidence to support hormone change as an important factor yet this varies greatly between women. And as a plausible consequence of the feminist movement more women are now filling the role of homemaker and breadwinner and being stretched to the limit as a result. But is the preponderance of female depression forced upon by hormones and gender progress, or do afflicted women have a more significant role to play?

My daughter will be 10 years old next summer and I’ve began paying greater attention to those shiny objects that will soon vie for her attention. While today she remains enthralled with princesses and furry kittens I notice ever so slight inklings that her awareness is changing. She has gained a new fondness for tween television shows and her fashion sense is taking on a life of its own. People tell me I have nothing to worry about, but anytime I go to buy a gallon of milk my fears are two-fold reinforced.

Why is it that grocery stores, Target, Wal-Mart, and others merchants feel the necessity to display a cornucopia of weekly smut at her eye level? While the clerk scans my blueberries and toilet paper we are waylaid with images of airbrushed provocatively dressed women surrounded with tagline pledges of flatter tummies, brilliant hair, and more brilliant sex. Though the cover may be different, each publication sends the same message

“you’re not hot enough or laid enough, but we can help.”

Just last week, the latest issues of two popular women’s health magazines both guaranteed to have the secret for firmer shapely arms. One asserted it could be done in “three easy moves” while other was even more confident pledging to have “the only 5 arm moves you’ll ever need!” I now understand why so many women walk into the gym with a deer-in-headlights look in their eyes thoroughly confused and exceedingly frustrated at their lack of results – when it’s been peddled to them as being so easy.

Then there are my personal favorites, those lovely monthlies called the ‘women’s magazine’.  If there has ever been a more perfect illustration for ‘over promise, under deliver’ I haven’t found it. The government has entire buildings filled with people combating these types of marketing tactics. Just have a read at some of this snake oil.

“How to outsmart a Bitch”

“The sexy confidence men can’t resist”

“Badass moves that involve a naughty you’ll both love”

“Look leaner naked in 14 moves”

“Eat pasta, lose weight”

 “Drop 10 pounds in 30 days”

“Ditch the guilt, eat that cake and still lose weight”

“Should you be pregnant by now?”

“Naughty answers to your most private questions”

“His 6 secret sex spots”

“Naughty thoughts he has at work”

Hustler has less sex talk than this trash does and did I mention this is in the grocery store checkout line?

Here’s where I need help to understanding, what is it about these magazines that is so appealing to women? Where does the draw come from for photo-shopped bodies, mind-numbing ads, and perfume samples strong enough to singe nasal hairs? In my humble opinion, reading Cosmopolitan or Vogue makes about as much sense for women as it does a homeless man looking at the Robb Report.

I’m convinced the effects of these types magazines on women are little different than the way pornography affects men. There is no escapism in Glamour or Vanity Fair only frustration, confusion, and dissatisfaction with at every turn of the page. Looking at the images of enhanced bodies and suddenly you question your own or reading featured stories of multi-million dollar weddings and yours becomes less than stellar. And as a side bar, I think it’s absolutely hysterical that People magazine spent $1.5 million for the exclusive rights to she-who-can-not-be-name’s wedding and the marriage ended in 72 days.

Which segues to arguably the worst publication of all – celebrity magazines. There are only two kids of people who care whatsoever if Brad want’s Jen back – women and gay men. These magazines are societally acceptable voyeurism that my entertainment threshold simply doesn’t allow, but it does make for excellent blog fodder. Why so many intensley follow the lives of celebrities who, given the opportunity, wouldn’t spit on me if I was on fire is astonishing. The cultural obsession with celebertism always reminds me of an interview with Bill Cosby in the height of his television career in the 80’s.

Wrapping up the interview, the reporter asks,

Bill, what is your favorite television show?

I don’t watch TV! Cosby shoots back, almost put off by the question.

“What do you mean Mr. Cosby?” The reporter replies. “You’re the biggest TV star in the world and you don’t watch TV? How is that?”

And in his Bill Cosby Jell-O pudding eating way, he responds.

“Why would I want to watch someone else living their dream?”

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17 responses to Vanity of Vanities and Vanity Fair

  1. Anonymous

    I’be written about this before. It takes an extra 15 – 20 minutes to leave my house because my wife and three daughters are “getting ready”. They aren’t fixing themselves up for me, they’re doing it for other women.

    excellent post

  2. I worry for my daughters too, Papa. There are SO many images bombarding our kids, especially our girls – magazines, “reality” TV, and the internet. It’s all I can do to limit those influences in the house, and hope they can hold on to a sense of who they are when they’re in the “real” world.

  3. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to look our best and feel our best. I think it’s sad that 49% of women aren’t happy with what they see in the mirror. Magazines and airbrushed models and celebrities will always be around. Somehow we have to teach our daughters to be happy with themselves, to be the best they can be based on their own standards, and of course that if you have a beautiful brain, you’ll always be happy with what you see in the mirror.

    I sometimes feel bad for my daughter because we don’t have cable and she is behind her peers when it comes to pop culture and such. Then again, I’m trying to teach her the beauty of a brain, and I don’t want to compete with the Disney kids’ faces. The reality is, you are not Selena Gomez. There is only one Selena. You can only be a totally awesome you.

    I’m with you though. It isn’t easy at all.

  4. I do not understand why anyone would want to follow the lives of celebrities. Who gives a shit what someone, who pretends to be someone else for a living or can sing very well, or is too skinny , has to say? Why does their opinion matter?

  5. We’ve come a long way as women. Many things are open to us now that we’re in the past. That doesn’t change the fact that while we’ve been told we can have it all… we can’t all be Princesses. Most of us don’t end up with the job of our dreams, house of our dreams, man of our dreams, and the ability to fulfill that maternal urge without some tit for tat. 

    We know the job and house part comes from hard studying and hard work. That’s on us. The ideal love and family is sometimes out of our control. In order to increase our odds… we have to fit the mold of perfection. Even before I had access to magazines as a kid I noticed that the better looking girls had the most male admirers (and I’m old ya know). We don’t need a TV show or magazine to put that in our faces every day. While I do agree with Tlance below that often women are dressing for women, it’s about social acceptance. It might not be “right”, but that doesn’t change the feelings created by being ostracized because you look different. All of that being said… unless you want to isolate your child and look for a social utopia with none of these long held social norms, mores, values the only thing you can do is raise your child to have faith in themselves, confidence in their abilities, and understanding that no one is perfect, but they are a perfection in process. Teach them the importance of honesty tempered with kindness. That will likely take them further than many other things they learn. 

    I read magazines like Cosmo as a source of entertainment. There’s nothing like sex advice from an 18 y/o guy to really get a good belly laugh going. Sorry, I got a bit fired up. 

  6. You are absolutely right about how these magazines affect women. Its very damaging to self esteem – just Google “effects of viewing magazines on self esteem”. It would scare me if I had girls, and it scares me as I am raising boys. I don’t want them growing up believing that that is what women look like, or even could look like – because they can’t – its all art and photoshop. 

    I don’t have televison, and I know how all the photoshopping is done, and I still feel less pretty after reading magazines or watching TV. I can’t imagine how people who have a steady diet of it cope. 

    Why do we buy it?  Same reason you buy motorcycle magazines (I’m guessing you do!) – they’re selling you a dream.  You get to have part of that dream, but never the whole she-bang. But you keep wanting more, and when its a $50 bottle of eyecream, its a lot more affordable than a new bike, so you keep buying it.

    If you want a really good assessment of this, check out

    Your daughter will thank you.

  7. This is one of the reasons why I’m thankful I don’t have a girl. At the same time, it still effects boys. As parents, we have to teach our boys that these women on magazines are not the standard of beauty. Because CP, it’s not just the magazines making women feel this way, it’s men, too. Of course it’s not all men, just like not all women aren’t happy with themselves.

    And yeah, I do not understand the fascination with celebrities. It’s ridiculous! Why does anyone care what they do? I just think it’s a huge waste of time to follow the lives of celebrities.  

  8. She made a very valid point that everyone forgets….”physical beauty is always temporary” 

  9. Angie H, excellent feedback. I’m hoping to raise my daughter to understand those magazines are about one thing and one thing only. I want her to appreciate her for who she is and the only way that I can do that is to appreciate and love her for who she is. I hope that I’m not naive enough to imagine a perfect utopian society — and who would really want one. But I do believe that I can protect her from the most damaging stuff as long as possible. 

  10. O’Shea it’s good to hear from you sir! I hope all well and no, their opinion doesn’t matter. 

  11. CM..I agree completely there is nothing wrong with looking our best, BUT when that best is based upon someone else’s idea of beauty that’s where the trouble begins. I consider myself a top notch fashion dude. And I haven’t picked up or bought a men’s magazine of any kind in years…and no the Queen doesn’t dress me….LOL! 

  12. Dawn

    Not to worry about magazines impacting our daughters. It is the women in their life that will have the greatest impact and that is what they will come back to after temporary lapses of judgement. And… I like some of the magazines. I know I seem ridiculous admitting it and I won’t make it worse by trying to justify. 🙂

  13. Well it makes sense their audience would match up to those percentages, because why else would they buy their magazine in the first place? Other than to get those weight loss tips, youthful secrets and attract the man they want.

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