On a recent vacation, I stocked my beach bag with two of my favorite indulgences: lady mags and mini-Bud Lite Limearitas (#noshame). Sprawled out in front of the ocean, I sipped and flipped through Marie Claire, Elle and Glamour, soaking up the advertorials, fashion spreads and beauty tips before me. Inside, I was pleased to find an Elle profile of women in tech (which notably did not include Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer) and a Marie Claire feature on the startling links between social media and stalking. But most of the pages between those more serious features were marketing-heavy instructions on how to look appropriately pretty this season. In many ways, one could easily argue, mainstream women's magazines are like the mini-Bud Lite Limaritas of the publishing world: fetchingly packaged, surprisingly satisfying and packed with stuff that's not-so-great for me. Yet I love them both.
Personally, I like to think of women's magazines in the optimistic terms outlined by former White House deputy chief of staff-turned-Marie-Claire-guest-editor Alyssa Mastromonaco:
Mastromonaco was defending the role of women's magazines in response to a not-so-optimistic Politico piece about how Vogue and the like (although I would argue that Vogue and the like are fashion magazines that cater to a female audience, not women's magazines, strictly speaking) chip away at female politicians' power by repeatedly dressing them up in designer dresses and gowns and quizzing them on workout routines, wardrobe preferences and dietary habits. And certainly, Sarah Kendzior makes some spot-on observations about society's often-uncomfortable relationship with powerful women, and how the media have a terrible tendency to evaluate women at the top through a rigid lens of normative femininity: Is she attractive? Is she a good mother? Does her work/life balancing act appear effortless?