The busy girl buys beauty

This month the Feminist Fashion Bloggers are considering women in the media and popular culture. Obviously, media and popular culture is a pretty wide field, but what immediately came to mind was magazines.

Now, I have a pretty ambivalent relationship with magazines, and have done ever since I graduated from the kind of comics which just had cartoon stories in to the ones which had articles on fashion and beauty and pictures of pop stars I was supposed to fancy; I just wasn’t interested in the kinds of things the magazines told me I should be interested in. Even at the age of ten or eleven I could dimly sense that my Girl and Jackie magazines were trying to push a lifestyle that I didn’t really want; eventually I ditched them in favour of a subscription to Doctor Who Magazine, and later the NME and Melody Maker. In my twenties I did occasionally buy Cosmopolitan and later Red and Marie Claire, if only to look at the pictures of clothes and read the career advice articles, although I haven’t done so for a few years; I was getting increasingly fed up with the magazines’ assumption that their readers would all have or want to have children, and the final straw was when my eye was caught by a column on the beuaty pages (which I never really read) suggesting that it was perfectly natural and understandable that men would find ‘ungroomed’ female pubic hair repulsive, at which point I threw the magazine across the room and decided I could do without spending rather a lot of money on something which was trying to tell me that my body was disgusting.

Since then, the only magazines I’ve bought have been craft magazines, but those aren’t perfect either. A lot of the knitting magazines are aimed at more traditional knitters, and are full of patterns for children’s clothes and stuffed toys. I do like some of the newer magazines, though; Knitting and The Knitter in particular generally concentrate on garment patterns in mainly adult sizes, and Yarn Forward (now Knit) has done in the past although recently there have been fewer patterns I’ve liked. I also find that The Knitter in particular has interesting articles about the history of knitting. On the other hand, I don’t buy them all that often as they aren’t cheap and I’ll only buy them if there’s at least one pattern I might want to make. And there is still a tendency to include patterns for children’s clothes and soft furnishings which makes me feel that as a child-free and not-particularly-domestic knitter I’m perhaps not quite the person they’re aimed at.

I feel this even more with a couple of new titles that have been launched recently, Mollie Makes and Handmade Living. Given my new interest in sewing I was initially attracted by the idea of magazines which weren’t limited to a single craft, but in reality the magazines seem to be buying in to the cosily-domestic vibe of Kirstie Allsopp and Cath Kidston which doesn’t really chime with my interests. I love crafting and being able to make things, but I want to make clothes, not soft furnishings or cosies for everything in sight (teapots excepted, but then again teacosies serve the useful purpose of keeping your tea warm). When it comes to interior design, I like minimalism. (In fact, I would say the same thing about clothes; I like simple, unfussy shapes in bright colours or bold patterns, rather than frills.) The domestic idyll just isn’t for me. More generally, I’m a little conflicted about these magazines. On the one hand, I don’t really agree with the way they relegate the mainly-female activity of crafting so firmly to the domestic sphere (what about laptop cosies, or colourful handmade accessories to brighten your office desk? Although of course, as both magazines are so new, those may well come), but on the other I am a great supporter of this modern version of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and want to see it spread, and I know people who get an enormous amount of pleasure from making beautiful things for their homes. But then again, it was mentioned in the comments to a post on this subject a few months ago that crafting is not necessarily a step away from consumer culture, and I think that perhaps one of the things that makes me a little uneasy about the proliferation of crafty lifestyle magazines is that it can be viewed as the publishers trying to cash in on the popularity of crafting and thrifting and to draw what started out as a reaction against consumer culture into the mainstream.

In the end, I suppose all I can really say is that none of the magazines I occasionally read has ever felt as though it was actually aimed at me; instead, they’ve mostly left me feeling like an outsider looking in on a world I don’t belong to. But then, I’m not sure that matters any more. Why do I need a monthly printed magazine when I have the Internet, and can assemble my own magazine from blogs and Twitter and Ravelry and news sites where content is updated hourly or daily and I can tailor what I read to my own preferences exactly?

17 responses to “The busy girl buys beauty

  1. Thanks for an interesting post. I don’t buy many magazines. I have no use for fashion or beauty magazines which are full of adverts and peddling product they’ve been paid to advertise. Like you, I’m uneasy about the new ‘lifestyle’ crafting magazines. I’ve stopped buying knitting magazines – I have so many patterns I haven’t knit already. The only magazine I buy (I’m a subscriber, actually) is Cross Stitcher. There are some nice designs and ideas about how to use cross stitch to make useful items, like cards, gift tags, etc. Yep, I’m a massive nerd.

    • Yes, I have loads of knitting books and magazines and pdf patterns I’ve bought online, and I really don’t need any more! I used to buy knitting magazines if I knew I was going to have to spend time waiting in a cafe or similar by myself – I can’t read a book if there’s background music and I haven’t yet worked out how to knit and eat simultaneously, but now I have a mobile wifi dongle to use with my iPod Touch so I just catch up with the internet instead.

      Cross stitch isn’t one of my hobbies, but if I ever take it up I will bear the recommendation in mind!

  2. I bought The Knitter when there was a p/hop feature and was somewhat shocked by how expensive it was. I liked it but I wouldn’t spend money on it every month. I could buy a novel for that price. Which is generally how I feel about most magazines – there are things I would rather buy with the money. I will be interested to see how long magazines continue to exist with the internet replacing so much of their content for free.

    • It is very expensive! I do buy it occasionally but only if there’s a pattern I really think I’ll knit.

      It’s interesting to compare print knitting magazines with the Twist Collective model – I’ve never bought a pattern from Twist but I’m sure I’m more likely to do so for being able to check the designs out for free and knowing that I don’t have to pay for seven patterns I don’t want just to get the one I do (although I have to admit to being a terrible skimmer-of-magazines-in-Smiths and wouldn’t buy a knitting magazine I hadn’t been able to check out properly first!).

      • Yes, I agree. I have several Twist patterns that I’d like to get round to making one day.

        I’d forgotten actually, that I did have a short-lived subscription to a magazine that is now online only. I used to buy it in the US and liked it so much I subscribed when I moved back to the UK and couldn’t buy it in the shops. It was such a good balance of interesting things to try and interviews and links and general fun stuff. I do still look at the website but I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the paper magazine.

        • No, there is something about having a paper magazine to flick through – and I do think the website of that magazine suffers from having too much on it, it just makes me feel overloaded!

  3. Very interesting post, Sadie! I had a bit of a grumble on pretty much this point at various people about lifestyle-craft magazines, particular after flipping through Mollie and and Homemade Living at Smiths.

    I have a subscription to Making (which is okay but suffers from requiring Too Much Stuff) that I won’t be renewing when it finishes soon and a subscription to Cross Stitcher (it was a £1 for x issues offer) which I probably will keep for a bit, as I quite enjoy their motifs and suggestions (also, I like that the subs still get the cover gift, which is often quite nice for a having a tiny project to work on). My flatmate has a subscription to the Knitter. I wouldn’t have one myself but I obviously benefit from having access. I am not sure that she will keep it going though and that would be fine because we’re already sitting on more patterns than we’ll ever knit.

    I’ve bought a couple online magazines before but the price is considerably smaller but I find reading them awkward so am unlikely to make a habit of them, when there are blogs and twitter and rav out there.

    • Yes, online magazines can be hard to read – my home computer is a 10″ netbook and I find that some online magazines are set to a higher resolution than I normally use, which makes reading them more of a chore than a pleasure.

      I will definitely have to try Cross Stitcher if I ever take up cross-stitch, that’s two recommendations now!

      • Yes, I mean, I have a large-ish screen (15′ widescreen) but I still have to zoom in and can only see half a page at a time and fumble about with proprietary readers. I can not be bothered!

        Heh! Cross Stitcher isn’t bad. I wouldn’t pay their cover price regularly (it’s ridic but it’s enough to make me go “…”) but they frequently have x for y offers. And while some of the stuff is Twee with a capital T, a lot of it is nice. I’m currently in the middle of stitching some bunting and there’s a sampler I’d like to do for my mom at some point etc.

  4. I only get Interweave Knits regularly (have a sub), and usually flip through someone else’s copy of the others at knitting group! I like IK’s articles and often love the patterns (although I haven’t actually ever made one!). But none seem to really fit with me either. And I kind of resent buying a magazine that then just encourages me to buy more and more and more stuff. Plus, they seem incredibly expensive.

    • I do like the IK patterns, but have never actually bought a copy (and they do seem to sell lots of them as pdfs, too, which makes me less likely to buy the whole magazine). I did think about subscribing at one point where the exchange rate was really good, but I wasn’t certain I’d get enough enjoyment out of it to justify the cost.

  5. I don’t read any crafting magazines, and as a crafter and seamstress, I tend to emphasize the individualist, creative, empowering side of making stuff myself rather than the domestic one – thanks for pointing me to a new angle to ponder these things!

  6. Okay, I just speant 10 minutes tracking down the source of your title: Billy Bragg! You clever woman! It’s interesting how so many magazines just don’t “fit” us. Maybe that’s the beauty of blogging. There’s a lot more variety – and if you still can’t find it, create it!

    • *g* I’m a big fan of Billy Bragg, and I do find his lyrics lend themselves very well to blog post titles! I think that particular song really does sum up a lot of what disturbs me about women’s magazines.

      I do wonder if the magazines really “fit” anyone, or if they just manage to persuade a lot of their readers that they want to fit.

  7. I’ve never been able to find a magazine that “fits” me either. I subscribe to Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, but I have so many interests outside of fashion… if I were to subscribe to every magazine that somehow represents me, I’d have like 50 magazine subscriptions! Then again, I’ve always seen most magazines as aspirational… as you said in the previous comment, the magazines make you want to fit.

  8. Pingback: Craft as an aspirational lifestyle: the problem with Mollie Makes - missbeliever | missbeliever

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