Brain gloss

By ELLEE DEAN  |  January 15, 2008

Where to, then? The bitchblog on Bitch magazine’s Web site — the magazine that calls itself the “Feminist Response to Pop Culture” —  hasn’t been updated since 2006. In the magazine, articles on getting kicked out of the fat club for getting thin feel as gratuitous as articles on just getting thin. In Bust (Bitch with pictures and DIY): DIY candles, cocktails, and cuffs, and some mention of Iran in the form of writer/filmmaker Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis). But Gossip vocalist, British columnist, and big girl/lesbian, On-Our-Backs sex symbol Beth Ditto is everywhere in her jet black bob. Which leaves Ms. But in its 35th year, Gloria Steinem’s feminist mag reads like the Economist for women: brief stories on abortion, polygamy, and female foreign politicians. It’s not as blasé as weight loss; but not as fun either, like an encyclopedic entry of everything enlightening, but somehow wrong: like feminist polygamy.

Then there’s Lola and Skirt, two new women’s mags recently launched in Boston. Boston Globe launched Lola January 1 with a graphic of a headless girl in a red, plaid coat on the cover. Buttoned and cinched, she drags a Yorkie behind her through the snow. “Hello, You!” It reads beneath her.  Inside, Lola reminds Metro readers that middle-age women exist, with sequin-cardigan clippings and a three-paragraph-long review of a film that came out circa World War II. 

Up front, the editor’s note discusses pilates, insight from a Peace Corps volunteer, and a woman who fails the bar three times, “one of the most ‘successful’ people I know.” Perhaps not total fluff. But detectable in Lola is the familiar women’s-mag-fluffy-and-parenthetically-cute tone. Otherwise, the free magazine tries to be a local dear, profiling Boston eateries and Lowell. The articles in the issue are mainly lifestyle features about debt and life coaches, unfocused self-help stuff, like strategies for taming shaggy boyfriends. So, “Boston’s new best friend” — to quote the cover — is not so Boston-centric.

Publisher Nikki Hardin’s Skirt, on oversized paper, is less cute. The layout is enigmatic; diary-esque details come in the form of random quotes — “I’m bigger than Celine Dion in Vegas, baby. And my contract’s never up.” — and they end up looking like ads. Skirt dallies in whiny daydreams about luck, potluck, and superstition, like Chicken Soup for the Boring Woman’s Soul — incensed with inspiration in the form of stories to nod off to. Most of the content looks like freelance work from moms across the country. And where there is an interview with Michelle Obama, it’s four quotes long.

So, why not a women’s magazine, part Elle, part New Yorker, part articles upwards of 5,000 words, designed to dress and think well — sans too much whine? Can a W-worthy fashion spread feature half-offs and haute couture? (Nylon does this already, see their “Internal Affairs” intern photoshoot.) Will Beth Ditto meet Hillary Clinton? Will Clinton meet Joe Hottie? Does intellect, art, music, culture, high fashion, low fashion, DIY, and celebrity mix, at all? Ever? Is asking for the perfect women’s mag asking for the perfect woman?

Perhaps I’m just asking for a little more attention to content and tone, a little less concern with what’s cute. Less redundancy. Less fluff. And less of the eye-strained excitement when an article that seems meant for some other publication (Harpers, the New Yorker, even Vanity Fair), catches my attention, before redirecting me to the fine print, in the back of the big, pretty, glossy book, where most of the stuff worth reading remains perpetually hidden.

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