MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 12-Feb-14 16:01:18

Guest Post: Gossip magazines and body shaming - "we got it wrong"

Back in December, Mumsnet blogger Pauline Vance-Riggens wrote an open letter to Now magazine, condemning their 'Shocking Bodies' issue.

Her post galvanised a huge amount of support, with many taking to Twitter to rally against body shaming and its effects on women and girls. As a result of Pauline's words resonating with so many, the Editor of Now magazine Sally Eyden invited her to their office to discuss how the media portrays women's bodies.

In this guest post, Pauline explains what she learnt at the meeting, and argues that 'everybody else does it' is not a good enough excuse. Do read the post and let us know what you think.

Pauline Vance-Riggens

Does My Blog Look Big In This?

Posted on: Wed 12-Feb-14 16:01:18


Lead photo

"Shocking Bodies - that will make you feel normal". The infamous Now magazine cover

"We got it wrong..."

Those were the words of Sally Eyden, editor of Now magazine, as she opened Monday’s panel discussion on body image and the media. "We got the tone of the message wrong; we wouldn't use the same language again." HURRAH!

Those words are a resounding victory for each and every person who emailed, tweeted and blogged about *that* cover over Christmas and New Year. There was nothing right or good about calling other women's bodies "shocking", and the whole "normal" phrase came across as pretty flipping snide too. We all knew it was wrong, and we made enough noise to make Now sit up and take notice.

Monday's meeting was bursting with brilliant, witty, smart women, including several members of Now's editorial team. What struck me was how ingrained in our media this body shaming culture must be for these people to have plastered those words across their cover without realising how awful it was. It just wasn't okay, but they know that now.

But after this admission, I felt the barriers really go up. Body covers sell - that's a fact. Another fact: the horrible body shaming cover in question sold far more issues than the "Screw The Diet" issue, which was published the following week. Sally made it absolutely clear that Now are in the business of profit, first and foremost. In a multi-million pound industry, it's all about circulation and profile, regardless of whom or what you're selling to get there. Everything - even social responsibility - comes second and that's not something an individual editor or journalist can change. That's just how the media is.

Although Sally said she wanted to find a happy medium between those two covers; to find a way to continue with the body covers without the shaming that created such a furore, she also argued that this culture of body shaming is widespread across media and that some magazines are much worse. So, everyone else does it. That makes it okay, right? Wrong. The target audience of Now might love those body shaming articles, but that message is presented to millions more who don't even buy the magazine: on shop shelves, on newsagent racks, in dentists' waiting rooms. When the media creates a message, there's no stopping its reach. It saddened me to hear women justify criticising and demeaning other women by telling us 'that's just how the media is'.

Body covers sell. Now are in the business of profit, first and foremost. In a multi-million pound industry, it's all about circulation and profile, regardless of whom or what you're selling to get there. Everything - even social responsibility - comes second. That's just how the media is.

What is this masochism about? Why do those covers sell so well? Because women love to bitch about women, apparently. Why - when most of us have nursed our own body insecurities - do we love to compare themselves? It's a product of a cycle of body-consciousness, perpetuated everywhere by magazines and TV. It's a guilty pleasure for a lot of us, and while this stuff sells, it'll continue to be produced.

Of course it's not just magazines – it's everywhere, and Sally was keen to make this point. We were played a video of Emmerdale actress Gemma Oaten talking candidly about her battle with anorexia. Gemma argued that it is ridiculous to assert that anorexia is caused by magazines, and insulting to those who have battled eating disorders.

The actress was brilliant, but I found using Gemma in this context pretty distasteful. It felt like the Now team were smugly absolving themselves of all responsibility.

Eating disorders are complex, psychological issues. Lauren Benton – founder and CEO of BODY - spoke brilliantly at this point, explaining that whilst magazines and the media were not causes of eating disorders, they are without doubt triggers. We subconsciously store these images and compare ourselves, often without realising. The impact on self-worth that reducing women's value to their physical characteristics seemed really lost on the Now team, and that was really, really disheartening. This was a low point for me. It really felt that the Now team were only willing to pay lip service to addressing this.

Fortunately, things began to look up. Sally asked how they could change Now for the better. They are interested in our ideas. There was a consensus that features should move away from differentiation of women based on size, or even any mention of size at all. My fellow blogger Kate Taylor suggested featuring women and their achievements; a focus on what we can do rather than how we look.

I told Now that body shaming reduces a woman's worth to the sum of her physical parts; you only had to look at the achievements of the women in that one room to see how this diminishes us and all that we have to offer. Women should be celebrated, not judged. We should be empowered, not belittled. I also told them that this media obsession with weight and shape started somewhere and grew; change can do the very same thing. Did they listen? Time will tell.

But at least our voice has been heard. If no one had spoken up about that cover, nothing would have changed. If you hadn't all tweeted, emailed and commented on blogs, the editor of Now wouldn't have assured the women sat around that table that they wouldn't use that language again. The meeting may be over, but the conversation about body image and the media is only just beginning. Rome wasn't built in a day, but we've definitely laid the foundations.

By Pauline Vance-Riggens

Twitter: @Pols80

Oblomov Thu 13-Feb-14 12:32:35

I have tried to find link to now dec 13 cover, but can not.

skyninja Thu 13-Feb-14 13:27:26

I think it was NOW that published pics of Louise Redknapp heavily pregnant and when she confronted the (female) editor in a TV interview the editor was all very 'Yeah, well, you were huge and it sells magazines'. Shocking attitude and really sad. I won't buy magazines like that now, but ironically it was when I was younger and more insecure that I did buy them. Now, I am a 40-year old mum of three and my body was so much better 10 years ago of course, but back then, I did have a morbid curiousity about celebs' figures. I should be more insecure now, but truthfully, I have more important things to worry about.
I can't believe how anti-women society is, there is so much pressure to be something, whatever it is. Perfect I guess. But then those perceived as perfect are gleefully dragged down off the pedestal if they so much as look a tiny bit spotty, thin, fat, old, sad. Why should women in the public eye be under so much scrutiny. There are those who crave attention but surely this hideous, cruel, appearance-assassination isn't an acceptable part of being famous?
I had an eating disorder when I was younger, but luckily for me, it was before the gossip/tabloid magazines were popular. Mine wasn't driven by a desire for perfection, but I am glad I was under less pressure than girls today.

Paintyfingers Thu 13-Feb-14 14:23:45

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ClaraMaugham Thu 13-Feb-14 16:25:09

These covers feed our insecurities but they also feed off them. Women like to know that 'celebrities' also have imperfections. This is the flip side of airbrushing and the images of perfection we are inundated with. It's all disgusting, but I really don't know what the solution is - this reduction of our selves to our appearance is so ingrained in our culture.

wigwam33 Thu 13-Feb-14 16:54:09

I saw the cover of this magazine whilst in a supermarket queue and was so disgusted with it then it made me want to scream! Nice to hear that someone did something about it, unlike me who just moved on and said to myself 'that's the way the media are'. I stopped buying ALL women's magazines after an epiphany at the age of 21 that reading them made me feel worthless. Don't buy them = they don't have a business! If I ever have a daughter I will be telling her the same thing. They appeal to the worst side of human nature and I, for one, would rather read something that uplifts and inspires.

JuicyJ Thu 13-Feb-14 21:11:48

I refuse to buy these magazines on principal - that they publish absolute rubbish. Reading this article only confirms my belief. If I choose to read, watch or listen to anything it has to stimulate my intelligence, these merely pick on the insecure and negative aspects of human behaviour and nature and should be banished to the bin forever - please ditch these magazines ladies and let our daughters grow up with a positive self image and not some media controlled one that underpins any insecurities they have.


joanofarchitrave Thu 13-Feb-14 23:24:33

Sorry, I think this is lots more free publicity for them. The magazine industry is dying and is becoming more extreme in the fight for ratings. I agree that this kind of thing being in every newsagent is a particularly poisonous element of the culture though.

Darkesteyes Fri 14-Feb-14 00:09:59

You may find this thread an interesting read.

Darkesteyes Fri 14-Feb-14 00:11:58

An interesting post from linked thread.

ephemeralfairyWed 12-Feb-14 00:09:00

The golden days of magazines are over. Folding all over the place. A friend of mine has worked in print design for 20-odd years on many magazine titles and she says there is a constant sense of suppressed panic throughout the industry.
Apologies if this has been mentioned already (can't see full thread as I'm on my phone) but does anyone remember Minx magazine in the mid-late 90s??
Best magazine ever. Fashion and beauty yes, but also fiction, political stories, stuff like legal advice I think, practical stuff like telling you how to wire a plug and bleed a radiator....
Brilliant journalism. There was just something unique about it....

Darkesteyes Fri 14-Feb-14 00:14:28

DarkesteyesWed 12-Feb-14 20:50:45

I had a flick through this weeks Woman today while out shopping. There was an article in there.....The Public Shame Diet where women are encouraged to post pictures of themselves online to "shame" them into losing weight.
No wonder there is suppressed panic in the industry when they print stuff like this.
Women arent buying into this shit anymore and more of us are starting to question it. So they try to up the ante. Its pretty disgusting really.

maggiemight Fri 14-Feb-14 04:28:39

I don't think magazine sales are dropping because women are losing interest in celebs but because everything you used to find in magazines is now on the internet.
There are fab make up blogs, youtube advice, parts of mumsnet which are like online problem pages, celeb pics on DMail website, who needs mags.

IamMrsElf Fri 14-Feb-14 08:29:41

I don't buy celeb based magazines. I don't need for anyone to be belittled for me to feel better about myself. I bought these magazines as a teenager and quickly found that I didn't like how I felt when I read them.

I do like to read about fashion etc and find that information on line very easily.

I do feel women are their own worst enemy. We have created this situation and we are perpetuating it, because of the insecurity it breeds. Although, some people genuinely are that shallow and mean and want to point and laugh at others - you can't change them - but the rest of us can stop buying these magazines, which clearly many women are all ready doing.

merrymouse Fri 14-Feb-14 10:45:47

I told Now that body shaming reduces a woman's worth to the sum of her physical parts

Absolutely. These magazines are as bad as page 3 and lads' mags. It's not just about eating disorders which I agree are complex. It's the whole idea that a woman's value rises and falls on the basis of how she looks, not what she says or does.

ovaryandout Fri 14-Feb-14 11:10:03

'featuring women and their achievements; a focus on what we can do rather than how we look.'

I could not agree more I have always believed judging by looks is lazy and shallow, there is always a story behind the face. Trading on looks alone is short lived, a quick fix. You are far more likely to create a positive lasting impression being intelligent, witty, caring, thoughtful and inspiring.

If you are in the 'attractive' category, great, but to have 'form and function', beauty with meaning would surely be a step forward for the media, if not harder to attain.

For the media to represent woman as thin or fat, beautiful or ugly is not an accurate representation of our world. Apparently we are only interested in the best or the worst, but the increase is 'blog' culture and twitter proves we also have opinions, something to say. It is not just about looks.

For my life right now I look nice and average, after my dramas with Breast Cancer and a Brain Tumour returning to looking normal feels great. Everything in my world has more meaning and does not have to be the best, the biggest, the greatest, the newest or most expensive.

To the editors of Now magazine, please lets see more 'form and function'. Not just the picture but an interesting story behind it...

Well done Pauline for starting the debate.

MummyInDaHouse Fri 14-Feb-14 13:09:37

I never buy those crappy magazines because they make me feel crap. When I'm back in the UK and one of those magazines is sitting by someone's loo, I'll pick it up because for some unknown reason I suddenly think I'm interested in seeing what so-and-so looks like after their pregnancy. Half of the time I don't even know who the person is. But my interest diminishes fast. I feel like an utter idiot for looking at the photos and reading those cliché captions. I feel like they are sapping my brain cells, dumbing me down. I feel totally and utterly patronised. I'm very sad that our society welcomes such a destructive, distorted wave of hatred against women and our bodies.

juliacharles2013 Fri 14-Feb-14 17:00:25

This is the same magazine who published picture days after Kate Middleton gave birth suggesting what type of diet she should use to get back her post baby body. It's bloody awful, if I remember Katy Hill (of blue Peter fame) took them to town on it too. Sadly not much is changing. I say boycott the shit!!! If they lose circulation numbers they'll have to change

juliacharles2013 Fri 14-Feb-14 17:03:15

The only magazines I read are Crazy About Cross Stitch & Crossstitcher. They never feature slebs, any women are in there for their achievements in design & textiles over their looks x

HelenaDove Thu 29-Mar-18 01:09:54

Oh my how things have changed.

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