As I began to seriously consider a career in writing this year, I started looking up undergrad opportunities for local or online papers. I wasn’t entirely happy covering news as the feedback I got was often along the lines of “you’re too positive” or “that’s not objective enough.” While straight-up reporting may be the purpose of typical news coverage, I found it extremely hard to take an unbiased approach when writing stories about body image or sex positivity, as these were issues very close to my heart. As a writer, my personal experience and emotions are the soul of my work. I couldn’t reconcile with leaving them aside because I felt that they were the best part of what I did. I wanted, above all, for my writing to help others, not just inform.
So I turned over to magazines, specifically young adult and women’s magazines where I was hoping to find a more emotion-friendly environment with an audience whom I could share my advice and experience with. This was where the cracks started showing. About 90% of the magazines I came across covered solely two topics: men and beauty. Considering that they preached about feminism and called themselves “women’s magazines,” this portrayal felt extremely degrading of the female experience. I was unsatisfied for many reasons.
First off, I was not okay with the number of exclamation marks in all these articles. The issues that young adults, especially women, face today, are anything but amusing. I write a lot about relationships because it’s a topic I find fascinating and familiar, however, I take a very different tone. Adding exclamation marks trivializes the matter. Issues such as self-doubt, mental health, sexual harassment, are unfortunately very real and prominent parts of our experience. They should be dealt with with the respect they deserve. For me, there is no use in writing if others gain nothing substantial from it, and others can only gain from writing if what’s important to them is addressed seriously, regardless of how depressing an article that may make.
Secondly, the majority of articles were extremely image/gif heavy. There was barely text between them. This is partially due to the fact that sites aim more for “viral content” (generated by clicks) now more than substantive, insightful, meaningful content. We are moving towards an increasingly visual age. However, why are “women’s magazines” choosing this format more than any other kind of media outlet? We’ve come to associate women with tabloids and sticking to that image is really not helping the feminist movement.
The issue that bothered me most was how, for all of these magazines, I had to have knowledge in five areas equally: love, life, health, fashion, and beauty. Are they really all equal, all crucial? The first four, I could live with, but I become extremely uncomfortable when beauty is addressed by the media, for obvious reasons. These articles, however well-meaning they may be, perpetuate a cultural norm of fixating on women’s appearances (“Are Your Pores Showing??”), judging (“Beyoncé’s 10 Worst Dresses!”), and adhering to a very standardized and unrealistic idea of beauty (“Get Your Eyebrows in the Perfect Shape!”). These were the articles that destroyed me as a child. It took me ten years and an unbelievable amount of support to un-do the harm they caused, and I know every teenage girl has felt similarly. Consequently, I feel uncomfortable even hinting to someone else what they should do their body.
When we fall into this judgmental type of writing, it continues the cycle of pitting women against each other. If women want men to treat us with respect, then we need to treat ourselves and each other with respect. We heal by being supportive, and succeed not by bringing our peers and superiors down, but by helping each other up. These articles are where these ideologies start and where they grow.
I truly believe that writing can have an enormous impact on people, in so many more ways than “10 ways to have clear skin!” I am content with the writing arrangements I’ve found for this year; I have fun writing what I do. However, I’m still most comfortable here on my blog. I have a stronger and more powerful voice here than anywhere else.
Just wish there were more outlets to show that.