Not Just Cosmo: Ladymags for Olds

I grew up reading my mom’s stack of ladymags: Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Woman’s Day and Ladies’ Home Journal.  Like the magazines aimed at younger women, they keep their audience enraptured with a combination of fear and shame, which is supposed to inspire us to support their advertisers and sponsors.

There are a lot of pixels spilled on the racket run by mags aimed at young adult women, so I thought we’d spend a few posts looking at the message the magazines for Olds are spreading.  Let’s all don our eye-roll related injury preventing goggles and feminazi bonerkiller foam fingers and have a look, shall we?

The Accused: Woman’s Day, one of America’s oldest magazines aimed at 30+ women.

The Charges: Convincing women that they’ll be happy once they’re thin, wrinkle-free, contributing to a Roth IRA and able to distinguish between “good” eating and “bad” eating.

Advertisers: Prescription drugs, pet products, beauty products, questionable supplements, coffee, processed food, feminine hygiene products, the TV Land show Hot in Cleveland, Diamondesk jewelry and my favorite, a soy powder fasting diet. I’d estimate advertising to make up at least 60% of the total content.

Models: None, WD doesn’t have a fashion section.

Fear and (self) Loathing in the Features

Diet: It’s not a ladymag unless there’s a dieting article, I think it must be some sort of law.  This issue doesn’t promote a particular diet plan, but it has a “Cheat Sheet” of food it’s okay to eat on vacation or when eating out. While the tips themselves are sensible, they’re interspersed with reminders that as women, we must be constantly vigilant about what we allow ourselves to indulge in. One glass of wine on vacation is fine, as long as subsequent drinks are light beer or vodka and soda water.  If we behave ourselves all day, we can enjoy a small serving of French toast (no butter, no syrup, no sugary toppings) or have dessert.  Thanks Woman’s Day, for reminding us all that what we eat decides if we’re good or bad people. Grade: C+.  Decent effort overall, but fails to exercise critical thinking skills.

Exercise: Again, it’s not about health, it’s about “Slim(ming) Your Hips, Belly, Butt and Thighs.”  The exercises themselves are fine, it’s a set of six stretching and strengthening exercises with a kitchen towel for resistance. Aside from realizing Denise Austin has been grinning her way through these features for nearly thirty years without aging, at all, it’s a sensible and easy-to-follow routine.  I just wish one of these features focused on exercising to feel better, or increase energy, or to help your brain work better, other than reminding us that the worst thing that can befall a middle aged woman is fat thighs. Grade: B-.  Good content, terrible title.

Diet and Exercise: An inspirational story about a town that lost three quarters of a million pounds between them.   Grade: B, Good for the town, but yet another reminder that thin = good person and fat = bad person.

Main features: The theme of this month’s issue is “Woman’s Day [heart] America” (see image) or as I’ve been calling it, America, Fuck Yeah!  The main feature highlights a bunch of products made in America by smaller American companies.  I actually found the piece pretty interesting, and they featured many companies owned by women and/or minorities.  Grade: A-.

Food: As with nearly every other ladymag ever printed, the recipe section is right behind the diet section, and using the calorie/fat grams/carb count rubric established by the fast food article, exactly none of the recipes would be “good” choices.  Additionally, there’s a feature on a garden party where the only food served is candy.  Grade: D-.  If you tell us mayo is a sin on page 108, and then tell us to cook with it on 139, are we to imply we shouldn’t actually eat any of the recipes you provide?  Who is this food for, then?

Money: Two articles, one on taking a budget vacation, one on getting out of debt.  I’ve read both of these articles at least 1000 times in other ladymags.  Grade: D, for excessive redundancy.

Profiles: This was another enjoyable piece, focusing on several women who love America and overcame challenges.  The America, Fuck Yeah! dial is turned to eleven, but the individual women’s stories are interesting and engaging.   Grade: A-, good effort, a little heavy on hyperbole in some of the reporting.

Tidbits: There are several, including an infogram on how to properly fold the U.S. flag, example questions for the U.S. citizenship test, page of facts about America, faux column from a character on Hot in Cleveland, and a cute DIY checkerboard project. Additionally, there’s a column from someone called a “Marketing Correspondent” which I think might be the equivalent of a sponsored blog post. Grade: B, some fluff, but mostly entertaining.

OverallWoman’s Day isn’t the worst of the magazines for we ladies who are a bit longer in the tooth than the typical Cosmo reader, but it falls into many of the same traps, and has done so for years.  Grade: C-, not reaching full potential, lackluster effort.

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

7 thoughts on “Not Just Cosmo: Ladymags for Olds”

  1. Love this: “If you tell us mayo is a sin on page 108, and then tell us to cook with it on 139, are we to imply we shouldn’t actually eat any of the recipes you provide? Who is this food for, then?”

    There is such a strong theme in media for women, especially for mothers, that we ought to be doing these things for other people, not for ourselves. We cook to feed and impress our husbands, our kids, guests, for other women and moms. But never for ourselves and our own enjoyment.

  2. Women’s Way and Bella (UK publications) were my main form of sex ed. when I was ten. Can’t buy magazines anymore (for the youngs or the olds) as they’re not telling me anything I don’t know about sex – plus they are just full of shite.
    Between having to read Cosmo in the hairdresser’s yesterday and this article today, good to know I’m not missing anything:)

  3. You hit the nail smack on the head with “they keep their audience enraptured with a combination of fear and shame”! Kudos! I have come to pretty much hate magazines because of this very sentiment. I also think it’s absurd that this magazine Has a cover photo of cupcakes (ooooohh, cupcakes) and a hugely titled feature article about BBQ, but also a smaller titled feature article about eating healthy.

    1. Cupcakes with buttercream frosting and a handful of jelly beans, from a brand which is a predominant advertiser.

      I understand the need for businesses to make money, but there’s a limit to how much advertising they can expect a paying reader to take in one sitting. Bleeding the advertising into the copy is kind of underhanded, and ethically sketchy, especially when nearly every page has large ads. Linda Ellerbee taught me that entertainment is the pretty paper flute around the advertising cupcake, long ago on Saturday morning teevee, but this is ridiculous.

  4. Great feature! I love lady mags for the olds. My mom subscribes to Canadian Living and Chatelaine (the Canadian versions of Woman’s Day and Redbook, I guess) and passes them on to me when she’s done. I happily read them cover to cover, though I agree with you, in many ways they’re every bit as problematic as the younger gal mags.

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