Womens representation in magazines – looking at Glamour and Cosmopolitan
‘The women’s magazines industry is understood as a monolithic meaning-producer, circulating magazines that contain ‘messages’ and ‘signs’ about the nature of femininity that serve to promote and legitimate dominant interests. ’ ‘Understanding Women’s Magazines –Publishing, Marketing and Readerships’ by Anna Gough-Yates, 2003, P. 7 For my MS3 media investigation piece, I have decided to research into the representations of women in fashion and lifestyle magazines, Glamour and Cosmopolitan.
I am interested to uncover why these magazines appeal so highly to their target audience and whether these representations can be viewed as negative – that such magazines ‘produce a narrow and limited notion of what it means to be a woman’ or whether they empower and inspire women in the contemporary UK. An introduction to the world of women’s magazines began in 1963 with the first edition of The Ladies’ Mercury, which ‘promised to answer any questions relating to ‘Love etc. ’ with ‘the Zeal and Softness becoming to the Sex’.  The magazine was, ironically, made by a man.
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John Delton, the editor of The Ladies’ Mercury stated that his magazine will ‘respond to the most charming and entertaining issues related to love, marriage, behaviors, fashion and women’s humor. ’ It was this edition that first featured the famous column of questions and answers where the readers would send a letter to the editor and discuss their everyday and love problems. ’ This is a clear reflection of the many aspects covered in women’s magazines today and can be seen as the foundation which many successful and prosperous magazines have built upon.
It provided a print industry specifically aimed at women, ‘a paper room, of their very own. ’  Glamour is a women’s magazine published by Conde Nast Publications. It was founded in 1939 in the United States, it was originally called Glamour of Hollywood, concentrating on stories of the stars. It expanded over the years and now covers a range of features including fashion and beauty, contemporary articles and celebrity interviews and gossip. In the UK Glamour magazine’s media packet it states, ‘GLAMOUR magazine is the fastest selling women’s magazine in the UK.
Launched in 2001 it was hailed as a 21st century magazine and within six months was selling more copies at UK news stand than any other monthly magazine in its sector. ’ Upon researching further into the press pack I found that the magazine targets women aged 18-49 (a broad market allows the magazine to feature something for everyone) 65% of the readers were from the ABC1 demographic and 428,514 copies of the magazine were actively purchased each month. 7] GLAMOURaS unique selling point is that it is a high quality fashion, beauty, celebrity and lifestyle magazine published in a ‘compact format, at an accessible price’ The magazine does indeed follow the generic conventions of the previous description. It features page after page of predominantly designer fashion, in style guides, adverts, promotions and articles.
However this does bring to question of why it contains such luxury content at such an ‘accessible price’ (?2) If Glamour’s readers could afford the ?1,700 handbag with a double page review, then why does Conde Nast not price the publication higher, such as their other high fashion magazine, Vogue. This highlights the ideology behind the editors, and the magazine itself – although the audience may not be able to afford the expensive products, they still have an interest in them and perhaps reading the magazine brings a piece of this luxury to their lives.
These women probably fit into the psychographic of ‘Aspirers’ who are materialistic and seek status, orientated to image and appearance.  This can be supported further when looking at the models used to advertise the brands. They are represented as slim, striking and with perfectly styled hair and makeup, bang on trend every month. Looking again into Glamour’s press packet this is made clear as, GLAMOUR readers collectively spend ?1. billion beauty products per year, 82% of GLAMOUR readers agree that beauty is an essential part of the whole fashion look and 88% of GLAMOUR readers agree that wearing make-up boosts their confidence.  In ‘Understanding Women’s Magazines’ by Anna Gough-Yates, she addresses this problem as a negative product of consumption of magazines such as Glamour. ‘Early feminist accounts of women’s magazines and their interpretation of the relationship between the texts and their readers’ self-perception were concerned with the ways that magazines offered ‘unreal ‘ ‘untruthful’ or ‘distorted’ images of women’.
This can be seen in Glamour as the representation of women as airbrushed and perfect is quite different from the everyday student, mother or working woman that picks up the magazine. Anna Gough-Yates almost asserts this as a crisis, that ’Women’s magazines were a key site for the development of a self-identity that undermined women’s essential, real feminine identities. ’ This suggests that due to the magazines women essentially an obsession with aspiring to be as flawless as the women shown in the magazines.
However focusing on the fashion and beauty promotion of Glamour provides a narrow perspective of the magazine. It does represent other dimensions that are relevant in the everyday woman’s life. It has promoted and supported many campaigns that address issues such as domestic violence, recreational drug use and its dangers, breast cancer awareness and other such topics.  Most recently, The Saturday’s singer Frankie Sandford, in conjunction with Glamour magazine has promoted issues on depression and mental health, and how women should feel more open about the subject in order to gain help and support.
Mental Health website, ‘Mind’ has recognised this achievement, ‘The Saturdays singer Frankie Sandford has today spoken publicly for the first time about having depression to launch Glamour magazines new ‘Hey, It’s OK’ campaign in conjunction with Mind. ’ This type of content contrasts greatly to the perfect models seen in the fashion and beauty pages, and allows for upbeat features that can relate to women nationally, not to aspire to but to hold personal identity with, following Bulmer and Katz Uses and Gratifications theory.
Glamour magazine also holds an annual event ‘The Glamour Awards’ – a ceremony to honor extraordinary and inspirational women from a variety of fields, including entertainment, business, sports, music, science/medicine, education and politics, once again representing the ideology of Glamour magazines women as multi-dimensional and not simply focused on looking good. Successful and intelligent women such as JK Rowling Helen Mirren and Elizabeth Hurley have all gained awards.  I specifically looked at the November 2012 issue of Glamour (seen on the right) and analysed the cover and 3 articles as part of my primary research.
The cover star, Christina Hendricks is shown wit h a long shot camera angle, showing her full body. Her pose can be seen as a generic convention as to what a cover girl usually stands like, her hand on her hip with a sultry expression on her face. The cover also subtlety highlights a sexual impression, as the headlines are positioned around Christina’s curves, three of which mention the word ‘sex’ or ‘hot’. This is a direct representation that mirrors Christina’s reputation for being admired by women and attractive to men by her sexual confidence in her TV persona in hit US show Mad Men.
Cosmopolitan was initially printed as a family magazine ‘The Cosmopolitan’ in 1886 in the USA by Schlicht and Field. In the uproar of Women’s liberation and sexual freedom in the 1960’s the magazine was transformed into a woman’s lifestyle magazine by Hearst Corporation, formulate by Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the single girl, a feature that still runs in the magazine. I researched into the magazine’s ‘media kit’ to uncover the readership. The predominant age of readers of Cosmo was between 18-24, with 9,678 of these having graduated from university and the social demographic of BCE. 14]
The psychographics of the magazine readership are generally mainstreamers and aspirers. 70003 of Cosmo’s readers are single. This information represents the women reading these magazines as around middle class and with a degree of intelligence however the readership details does not highlight the content of the magazines: articles, letters, images and eye-catching headlines that are predominantly about sex and how to act, think and look a certain way to please or ‘land’ a man.
Cosmopolitan’s tagline, ‘For Fun Fearless Females’ certainly reflects the inner content of the magazine. Titles like “How to Heat Up Sex: Naughty (but Easy) Tricks to Try Tonight” (Cosmopolitan, June 2006), and retracting back to Glamour: “The Lazy Woman’s Guide to a Better Body” (Glamour, December 2006 are meant to captivate the reader into buying the magazine.  The graph shown to the right highlights the top 10 article title topics of the magazines in 2006. Out of 72 magazines articles about sex, weight loss, and hair were advertised on the cover the most.
Article titles that did not make the top 10 list were topics relating to current events (displayed 10 times), rape and domestic violence (displayed 5 times), and articles about work (displayed 5 times). Each month women’s focus of attention is placed on the similar cover stories which limits their scope of awareness because of the lack of disparity the issues cover.  This can be supported by Eva Wiseman in her article on the Guardian online ‘How Time Stands Still In Women’s Magazines’ Eva claims that ‘Women’s magazines are still offering us the same take on weddings, weight and work that they were a decade ago.
Is it time they evolved? ’ Here she highlights an important point. That the women being targeted by the magazine may have attended university and/or succeeded a good career as most women of the 21st century aspire, and yet still, in reading articles that constantly feed how women should always look their best and seek to please a male, it may be argued they are reverting back to a time when these were the two things women were seen as useful for.
This is supported by Anna Gough-Yates in ‘Understanding Women’s Magazines’ who claims, ‘Editorial content discussing sexual confidence and independence was simply a cynical camouflage for building circulation and a dumbing down [for women readers]. ’ This opinion shows that magazines know that sex sells and they are willing to recycle headlines about men because they know a lot of women will be drawn to it. In looking at Cosmopolitan and Glamour it also became apparent that models and celebrities are photographed to influence the consumer into buying the magazine.
Although the headlines are influential of the purchase, the reader is instantly given an image to compare herself too. Cover models are posed with their eyes, low cut dresses, and skinny bodies staring at the reader. This image gives women the ideal of what beauty should be defined as and compels them to buy it. This is agreed with by Joke Hermes in ‘Reading Women’s magazines’ who stated ‘Articles are mainly made up of pictures accompanied by little text and suggestive headlines. This I found to be true in my primary research of Cosmopolitan’s When look at Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women, documentary maker Jean Kilbourne critiques and evaluates mass media use images of women.
She discusses on how the constant devaluing sells more than just the product but ‘it sells values, it sells images, it sells concepts of love and sexuality, of romance, of success and perhaps most important of normalcy… telling us who we are and who we should be. By bringing together images of women from magazines and commercials, Kilbourne explains how these images reinforce the concept that “women are normal if they are ‘young, thin, white, beautiful, carefully groomed and polished. ’ When looking at Cosmopolitan and Glamour it was clear to see the representation of women who didn’t fit into this category Kilbourne defined, was limited and nearly non-existent. It could be argued that women’s magazines prey on women’s fears rather than their hopes and confidence.
Women don’t want to be “less than” the standard presented to them page after page in Cosmopolitan and Glamour. Further into my research I conducted a questionnaire on women’s magazines which I gave out to 30 people. The majority of these people (21 out of 30) selected that the cover star would be the main reason for them buying a magazine, another 14 of the women asked, chose that they found cover star/celebrity interviews to be the most interesting part of a magazine.
This shows that the cover star has a huge impact when looking at the readership and it is subsequently vital how the magazines represent these women. After conducting my research, I have come to the conclusion that I would like to produce my own women’s magazine – following the same codes, conventions, representations and layouts of Glamour and Cosmopolitan in order to address and reinforce my findings. I will compile articles that reflect a similar ideology and advertisements that are similar to those of a real women’s lifestyle magazine.