23.2.11

Womens' magazines - the last taboo

A post appeared in my Twitter feed a few days ago from Lorraine Candy, Elle UK's editor, telling us tantalisingly of a shocking piece in the upcoming issue about the secret sexism that we take for granted. We, she assures us, need to read it.
Once again, a high-end magazine has tapped into the psyche's love of the tantalising headline, something lesser publications are fond of and lambasted for doing by more esteemed blogs than this on a daily basis. The allure of a headline that just cries out for a furtive glance and whispered exchange while expecting to be read by women sitting side by side on the Tube (you can tell I'm a Londoner) is just too much for most of us.
My esteemed colleagues at Wannabe Hacks have just finished a series of articles for Magazine Week, featuring, among other things, a debate between two magazine journalists on the merits and pitfalls of the sphere. While the 'for' article safely asserts the addictive nature of the magazines, their quick fix of lite content and fresh celebrity gossip (often gleaned from a gossip blog several days earlier) and their glossy, glossy fashion spreads, the 'against' article highlighted the way that said magazines are training women up to have massively conflicting views about how to treat eachother, suggesting we celebrate our beauty in the same breath as feverishly telling us how Kate Bosworth lost all that weight, as well as making the vapid seem like a viable path through life. My Twitterfeed was, today, awash with comments and retweets about the crisis in Libya, except for my old friend Grazia, who took the opportunity to tell us that Jennifer Aniston has had a haircut.
Repetitive headlines are commonplace, but the most alluring of all the features in today's common or garden womens' magazine is one that includes the phrase 'the last taboo'. Over the last year, there have been more of these last taboos than you can shake a stick at. Possibly the best one was from Vogue's March 2010 edition, a fascinating piece on poo. Of course, the topic of this piece was kept off the front cover, leaving merely the compelling headline 'The last taboo: we need to talk' next to an artfully posing Alexa Chung. But cast your eyes around and you'll find that our world is littered with less-than-just last taboos, from the retro (abortion) to the obvious (larger women in fashion). The end result is that, given the right spin, anything we could possibly talk about is taboo.
I'm currently rewatching a fantastic US drama called Angels in America, a multi-award-winning miniseries that, in it, encapsulates many everyday taboos set against the backdrop of the insurgance of AIDS in the 1980s. Among the taboos discussed are, of course, sex and sexuality, but also identity, ethics, religion and politics, to name but a few. Hence the need for a rewatch. Because although all these things are massively commonplace, their popularity in the popular sphere fluctuates, meaning that, at any time, there is the potential for them to become taboo. All that it would take is for someone to declare it taboo, and the rabid hunger surrounding it would start.
There are two types of awkward topic - the one that you would rather not think about, and the one that is too complicated to answer. Vogue's piece on poo falls into the former category, which is what made it so excellent, but the majority of other issues declared taboo over the years will remain largely taboo for the second reason, in the same way that one does not discuss politics, religion or ethics. Therefore, I have to declare that the only taboo that will truly always remain, is ignorance. Cast out into the cold by these hostile fashionista sisters, be we ignorant of the taboo of abortion, the size zero debate, motherhood, class, race, or whatever else has been daubed 'downbeat cause of the month', we are at a total loss. Clue up, or bow out.
I didn't buy this month's Elle. I haven't actually bought a magazine yet this year, as part of my mission to save money and to stop getting wound up by some of the idiotic thought that is permitted to enter the public sphere (and here, I know Ms Candy will disagree, having made a snide comment via Twitter earlier about how much 'twaddle' there is on blogs and how they need editing as much as magazines do). But, yes, I am intrigued to see the secret sexism that has the Twittersphere so hooked. I'd hate to remain ignorant of that. But, of course, like all the other tabooed topics, I imagine I already know what's going to be said.

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