What is the perfect women’s magazine? The merger of thought and glossy spreads of girls in streaming, DIY couture. Aqua fabric that eddies around Christian Louboutin heels, or Converses, and articles upwards of 5,000 words — on anything but ourselves.
Any given month Elle, say, might get it right. From this January’s issue: a profile of Hilary Clinton by Katha Pollit (whose byline appears in the Nation, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper’s, and Ms.), and a black and white pictorial of Miss Universe in a Marabou feather coat. What’s irksome in the January issue? Neither Clinton, nor Miss Universe are on the cover. Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) is.
Add Beckham to the corseted rotation of Jennifers (Aniston, Garner, Lopez, Love-Hewitt) and the like, who reinvent themselves as cover girl multiple times a year. And then: where are the articles — not blurbs — on art, music, culture, philanthropy, anything besides: acting and looking young, like a dodo heiress? Magazines like Bitch and Bust might feature more of these sorts of pieces; but they’re blameworthy of other things — how many articles on Beth Ditto can I read? That there are racks of women’s mags, none worth reading or revisiting monthly, befuddles. Such is the redundancy of role models, moppet-like, and topics (fashion, fame, plastic surgery), and the decline of magazines like Ms. — now a quarterly — hatching rampant ho hum when it comes to mags that, supposedly, cherchez la femme.
No matter cluttered covers — what to eat and wear and surgically alter — the insides of the glossy girls’ girl mags (Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Vogue, etc.) remain more hackneyed than their indie counterparts (Bitch, Bust, Venus Zine). Popular is: short editorial, short fashion spreads, short on mind-catching content. Cosmo remains chauvinistically steeped in sex with a section of the Web site devoted to “Sex Tips from Guys” and a blog called “Joe Hottie.” Models wear stretch bustiers from Bebe. Even the knits misbehave: “You’re about to learn how to ooze sex appeal even if you can only show a sliver of skin.”
Cosmo’s good-girl real-girl counterpart Glamour has at least got guest-entries on the “Glamocracy” blog by presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and John McCain and interviews with the late Benazir Bhutto and Michelle Obama. But the everybudget fashion and lifestyle mag sometimes reads like an Oprah-script: “I chased down my identity thief! Read one woman’s amazing story.” Or “Cleavage: Should you flaunt it if you’ve got it?”
Then there’s Vogue, the fashion/heiress-wannabe bible, a little too My Super Sweet 16 for adults. The bible is utterly good-looking, marrying models in gingham, zebra, and green lipstick. But even in the age of Anna Wintour, Vogue always seems on the brink: of aging, thinning — a crumpled dress of a cultural icon — and more often than not, offering only haute-couture sound bites: artist Ellen Berkenblit in 200 words or less. Curious readers reading Vogue risk feeling hungry, with little but features on anorexic teenage athletes and Kate Hudson (the opening line of the Hudson profile being,“Your body is sick!”)