Love it! is a women's magazine. Along with Pick Me Up, Real People, Take a Break etc., it is a somewhat hilarious mixture of pages and pages of 'shocking' real life stories, pictures of cute kids and/or animals in funny sunglasses, beauty/household/consumer tips, photos of sexy fireman/window cleaners/garage mechanics sent in by readers ("We wouldn't mind these hot hunks giving us a full service") and the usual problem pages, horoscopes, puzzles etc. I think it is a quite brilliant piece of complete trash. But after buying it for a few weeks in a row, I started to notice the incredibly formulaic nature of all the 'real life' stories (not all that suprising), and also the slightly worrying content of these stories from a feminist point of view. When you scrutinise the content, a bizarre value system emerges. Love it! values two things about all others, and they are 1. Being 'normal' (specifically a normal, attractive, feminine woman, preferably validated by a man's love) and, almost more importantly, 2. Being a mother.
Let's start with 1. Being normal. Every week there is at least one story about (or involving) plastic surgery, and one other about (or involving) weight loss. These almost always take the form of "my weight/physical abnormality resulted in bullying, sexual alienation from men and hating myself, but now I have had surgery/lost weight I feel like a real woman, I have such good self esteem and I can love myself and I've found a great man who loves me. Yay!" Inspirational, no?
Here is an example:
'Half Woman, Half Man'
Accompanied by a close up picture of this woman's chest, we are told how Heidi had one D cup breast and one barely A cup breast. She says she was 'deformed' and 'a freak', because she looked like 'a man' from one side. She had a boyfriend but 'he had no idea what I looked like naked'. We are then told to 'turn the page for Heidi's fab new look'. Under the headline 'Look at my cleavage now!', and a photo of a smiling, made up woman in a low cut top, Heidi tells us that after an operation to augment her smaller breast she 'started buying pretty tops that showed off my cleavage... For the first time in ages, men actually noticed me'. The story finishes on a bizarre 'empowered' note, considering all that has come before: 'I've got a great boyfriend now... He says he loves my body the way it is... If someone doesn't like what they see, that's their problem. I'm too busy to worry about my life to worry about what they think'.
All these kind of physical transformation stories seem to end on this rebellious tone, as if the speaker has not already conformed to every paradigm of female sexuality in contemporary culture. Only when the men started noticing her could Heidi feel any kind of love for her own body, or any outlet for her sexuality. She was told by a culture that is afraid of anything different, especially when it comes to women's bodies, that she must be an abnormal 'freak', and she defined herself in these terms. Female sexuality is constructed as how men look at us, and these magazines 'for women' deeply enforce those values under the guise of stories about personal female journeys. The assertive rebellious voice at the end of the story is a cursory nod to feminism that is completely refuted by all that came before it. Being assimilated into normalised femininity (as a sex object) is seen as the only real key to unlocking one's female sexuality and 'self worth'.
So, on to 2. Being a mother. Motherhood is the most fulfilling role a Love it! woman can have. There are absolutely no stories about women's careers. Oh no sorry, perhaps I should mention 'Size 22, and a dirty dancer!'?? No, being a 'proud mum' (and often at a very young age) is the first and best life choice for the women in this magazine, and so too for their implied readership. One story included the deeply depressing quote: 'After seven months, I became pregnant. It was a suprise, but I was delighted... I'd dropped out of school with no qualifications, so I looked forward to becoming a full time mum'. This is from a woman who was 18 at the time.
This kind of thing has been depressing me for a long time. I just find it really fucking sad that so many girls feel like this is the most exciting thing they can do with their lives, the biggest acheivement they can have to their name. I'm not saying being a parent is easy by any means, it's just crap that they feel like it's all they can be. It kind of seems to give them a role and purpose that they maybe couldn't get from education or a career or being creative in other ways. It gives them an identity that is very specific to modern young women. And these magazines enforce and validate that identity in such subtle ways. It's there in so many of the stories. Babies appear to be an inevitability.
To give a more personal example, my cousin (who is now 20) left school with a few GCSEs at 16, drifted in and out of various waitress type jobs but was mainly unemployed, and is now preganant with a baby due next month. She has moved in with her boyfriend and is going to be a 'full time mum'. My Grandad was initially shocked by the news (because they are not married) but has now decided to support them by sending my cousin a cheque for £100. This really pissed me off. Not because of the money itself, but because he felt her choice to start a family worthy of a gesture of his support, and yet when I moved away to go to university four years ago I got no such gesture. Nor when I graduated. All my cousin did was have sex without a condom, and she gets £100 quid. Like I said, I don't care about the money, I care about the fact that he really believes she's acheived something. In his value system her having a baby is worthy of his money (and he's very tight with money normally so it is a big gesture). And you might think that is an outdated attitude, something from his generation, but then Love it! is aimed at people my age and being a mother is still seen as the best thing you can be. Why??
There are so many other shocking anti feminist sentiments in Love it! it is quite scary. Just a few examples: Domestic violence stories are terrifyingly prevalent. Usually something along the lines of 'I met Duwayne, 32, and fell for him straight away. He had a great smile and made me laugh. After two months I asked him to move in with me and little Kayleigh, 5. Then I started to notice some strange behaviour. He drank heavily and often became moody and snappy with me. Then one night he threatened me with violence. I threw him out but the next day he said it was just the drink and he promised to quit, so I gave him another chance. For a while things were great, we had a real laugh together. But then a few months later he beat me till I went to hospital/sexually abused my daughter and now he's in jail. I'm moving on with my life without him and I hate him for what he did. But I'm terrified of him getting realeased soon. I'm just glad me and little Kayleigh survived'. Depressing as fuck. I guess they could help women in abusive relationships see there is a way out, but I just hate how it's never questioned why these women gravitate towards these men in the first place, and why these men think they have the fucking right to beat their girlfriends. And how it's always justified and forgiven by the woman until it gets really extreme. The whole thing just makes me feel ill.
There are also the goddamn beauty pages that cover the same ground as all the other women's magazines. Fancy spending £59.50 on an anti ageing cream in order to get 'skin like Sharon Stone's'? No, I thought not.
Also, as a final note, whoever knew Cilla Black was such a servant of the patriarchy? She writes the answers to a problem page every week in Love it!, and her responses are often quite shocking. A woman writes in, upset because her boyfriend and best friend are always flirting. Cilla helpfully advises 'Try not to be paranoid. Not least because if he picks up on your fears, you'll come across as possesive'. Wow thanks Cilla, you really solved that one. Another woman is annoyed with her husbands computer obsession and feels neglected. Cilla saves the day with this gem: 'Flutter your eyelashes and ask him to explain how it all works. He'll be so busy showing off, he won't notice your glazed expression. He'll think you're interested in his hobby and will be more likely to listen when you ask him to leave it alone for a while'. Seriously, I'm not making this up. It's no wonder the readership have such fucked up relationships with men with amazing advice like that to guide them on their way. Jesus.
It just makes me so fucking angry how all the fucked up values about women's bodies and identities and relationships and sexualities aren't just shoved down our throats by advertising and tabloids and music and television and pornography but by magazines specifically aimed at women and read by thousands of women every week (and it's edited by a woman for god's sake). And it's all done so subtlely, and under the guise of 'empowerment', that half the time you don't even realise it's there.