However, the March 2008 issue of Glamour differentiated itself a little, in a good way. Several pages in it caught my eye, over the shoulder of the girl (JMU alum, class of 03) sitting next to me on the plane ride back from Portugal in mid-March. By that time stores were selling the April issue already, and it’s taken me until now to track down a copy, courtesy of my local library.
Let’s start with the cover. Mostly, it looks like any other ‘checkout aisle’ mag – obligatory female celebratory in mildly suggestive pose, titles like ’99 Juicy New Secrets of Hollywood’ (I didn’t read that article, but I bet they’re not new, and how could they possibly be secret if they’re published?) and ‘Sexy Hair in 10 Minutes or Less’ (‘Believe it! Achieve it!’), but the article that caught my eye was titled thusly:
‘Why Guys Love Your Body Exactly As Is’
Unbelievable. A magazine that gleans most of its income from advertising that works by creating or playing on personal insecurities is carrying an article about how women don’t need to change themselves in order to be attractive? Now that’s noteworthy.
The article – written by actor Gabriel Olds – is about plastic surgery. Within the magazine itself, it’s titled ‘Why Men Crave Real (Not Perfect) Bodies’ and contains some really worthwhile quotes. Gabriel describes dating in LA, “a town that seems overrun with silicone” and his discomfort with discovering – at various points in his relationships – that the women in his life were “surgically enhanced.” After a few such encounters, he figured out why he was uncomfortable: “Almost all of the women I’d met who had changed their bodies through surgery had either done it to bandage some adolescent body issue or to make themselves more attractive to men. I didn’t like that – it didn’t seem like a celebration of beauty…”
I couldn’t agree more. While I think that cosmetic surgery isn’t all bad, and while I agree with Gabriel’s later assertion, “choosing to have surgery doesn’t [necessarily] make you a dishonest person,” the motive and type of work done is critical to how that surgery is perceived by others. And that’s not just because people are slow to accept change – it’s because every fantasy we entertain is merely a disguised yearning for the genuinely real.
In the article ‘The Glamour of Being Yourself’, which appeared earlier in this same issue, Poppy King wrote: “Lots of beauty icons no longer have the features they were born with… I recently heard that the vast majority of women don’t get plastic surgery to fix something… they do it so they’ll appear ‘more normal.’ The shame of it is women feel like freaks for looking at all different.”
Does that thought scare you as deeply as it scares me? I hope it’s not true – because this, Gabriel’s closing line and most poignant statement, is true: “This is the part I think women don’t understand. When a guy falls in love, his lover’s body parts become bewitching… When we fall for you – really, really fall for you – you hijack our sense of beautiful. What’s sexy to us? You – in the ‘before’ picture.”
Shockingly, Gabriel’s article wasn’t the only worthy mentionable between Glamour’s oh-so-mockable covers. The aforementioned ‘Glamour of Being Yourself’ by Poppy King (whose book Lessons of a Lipstick Queen came out in May) is subtitled “Too many women – even famous ones – are caving in to a cookie-cutter standard of beauty” and wonders, “whatever happened to playing up what you’ve got?”
Poppy continues, “Celebs themselves are looking like they were churned out from the same Hollywood factory… they’re so generic it’s almost alien!”
I’ve said to friends on more than one occasion that knowing how to wear (and not wear) makeup is a great skill to have. Women look best when they use makeup to show off their faces (rather than the other way around). By the same token, a girl who is most readily pointed out of a crowd by the words “the girl who looks like ___ [insert celebrity name here]” should be alarmed. Imitation is not the sincerest form of self-flattery.
Unsurprisingly, my favorite piece in the issue turned out to be ‘Your Race, Your Looks’, a six-page roundtable on women’s struggles to overcome preconceptions about what is beautiful. The opinions and experiences shared on those pages are unutterably valuable. I’ve chosen not to quote it here, but if you can get your hands on the article I highly recommend reading it. Its main theme is the discovery of beauty and style as expressions of the self. This may seem obvious, but our culture describes beauty as pressure, the pursuit of an image of someone or something outside of the self, some distant ideal or standard, deceptively couched in the language of self-discovery. “Become your best self” is the copy text, but the actual message often conveyed is that your best self looks like someone other than you. Breaking out of that often-harmful influence is the journey shared by women contributing to ‘Your Race, Your Looks’ and as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s well worth the read (even if you’re a guy. If I was unashamed to check the magazine out of the library, you should be willing to go read it there for yourself).
Finally, several other articles featured similar positive themes:
· The fashion section includes a couple of ok pages for the ‘pear-shaped’ and the ‘plus-sized’ featuring models of those descriptors.
· ‘Hollywood Sex Myths’ advised against letting ‘silly ideas’ like ‘instant orgasms’ and ‘perfect bodies’ into your bedroom (“the real thing can be a whole lot more satisfying”).
· One article exposed dangerous diet techniques “no sane woman should try.” Useful, quality-of-life-preserving information for the size-conscious.
· The exercise and fitness section featured body-shaping techniques for a “higher, rounder” or “tighter” butt – rather than the sadly typical proclamation to “banish your butt” (along with your belly & thighs, as if the female form would somehow look better if it lacked this triad).
Granted, these aren’t great. But they are important steps towards championing genuineness and diversity in beauty and, as such, I found them laudable.
I wish I were able to speak such praise of the magazine as a whole. Regrettably, the remainder of this issue’s 366 pages not taken up by those articles I mentioned were typical checkout-aisle-mag fare, replete with problematic advertising (see Killing Us Softly) and shallow articles building into an already bad system. It may be worth the reminder, as a closing thought, that one of the original meanings of the word glamour was a bedazzling enchantment cast by fairies and witches to trick mortals into seeing gold coins, sumptuous feasts, and unearthly beauty where there was truly nothing more than acorn caps, wild mushrooms, and ugly stepsisters. However, I do commend Glamour for running these stories, and sincerely hope to see more like them in it and similar magazines in the months and years to come.