Women, the media and “lifestyle”

Have you ever noticed the stark similarity of the covers on women’s and men’s magazines? Wander through your local newsagent, in two separate sections you will notice the glare of human flesh and lipstick. At first consideration it might seem unusual that both men’s and women’s magazines overwhelmingly display heavily made-up women, not so heavily dressed, on their front covers. With a bit of thought, we can see that this is a reflection of society, or is it society that is the reflection?

Let us start with Men’s “lifestyle” magazines. I’ve turned to FHM (For Him Magazine), far and away the most popular magazine amongst my peers at school. Aside from unrealistic images of what a woman should look like, what other lifestyle tips can we expect to guide our relationships? How to get lucky on holiday enlightens us on how to “get noticed” by bantering with bar staff and the guy who sells boat trips, open communication with our target by offering an ice cream, asking where to buy a Frisbee, reading a book that makes you not look “intense”, an essential “three bed gap” when choosing sunlounger distance from your target and knowing the DJ and “several other groups”. Stick to talking about “fashion, shopping, celebrities and relationships” and you won’t turn her off. (Please, please pause for a moment to imagine a holidaying lad doing this really badly, he struts around the pool and bursts out laughing at an imagined shared joke with the barman before scanning the pool for a reaction, he owns 37 Frisbees and eats 20 ice creams a day, he reads Thomas the Tank Engine, nods seriously to the DJ who alerts the bouncer of his impending attack, idles gradually up to “other groups” who want to know why he is laughing at them and his opener with women is “so, how about the ol’ shopping eh?”). All of this you will be pleased to hear, will make you “non-predatory”, which is fine, except you clearly are a predator if you employ these tactics. When you get to the bits about needing to get her on her own, it starts to read like a rapist’s handbook.

So how about some solidarity in women’s literature? How will our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends deal with such”non-predatory” approaches?

“MEGAN’S SHOCK SLIMDOWN!” Shouts the magazine on the staff lunch room table. “Wow! Down 11kg. But has she gone too far?”. A pressing question indeed, one that I’m sorry to say I didn’t find the definitive answer to. I believe I have narrowed the correct response down to either a) who is Megan?, b) who cares? or c) I can’t believe I’m reading this utter drivel. If I knew the definitive answer to the 11kg conundrum, I would share it. Surely, if we can identify the optimum weight, you lucky, lucky women could be in line for an ice-cream, game of frisbee or at least some stimulating conversation about shopping.

The overwhelming content of the magazines scattered on the staffroom table obsessively monitor the bodies of celebrity women. Whether an appreciation of what is deemed a desirable body, or criticism of someone judged to be too thin, too fat or too extensively  operated upon, the result is a tightrope for anyone seeking a desirable physical image. The most laughable aspect of the pictures in these magazines is that the “acceptable” images of women are almost always posed-for, taken on a red carpet or in a studio. The “unacceptable” images showing skin and bones or cellulite are taken when the celebrity is on holiday with their family, on a beach, squinting into the sun and distinctly un-airbrushed. Is it any wonder one looks better than the other?

There are many influences on men’s attitudes to women, and women’s attitudes to themselves, but large sections of the media create an almost perfect storm of promoting men’s desire for slim, busty, made-up women while simultaneously guiding women to believe this is what they have to be. The attraction of the opposite gender and relationships is all-important, the key to men’s success is to appear confident and powerful, while women must project sex.

To varying degrees, we in society conform to these rules in our dealings with those we are attracted to. At the most sinister extremes, body obsession leads to eating disorders (mainly for women) and the objectification of women results in sexually aggressive behaviour (by men).  For the majority of the population however, our lifestyle expectations lead many women to obsess over their bodies, diet incessantly and engage in perpetual searches for the most flattering clothing. Men hunt the bars and nightclubs in packs, in pursuit of a night’s sexual gratification and a beautiful women to add to their badges of power and desirability. Surely there’s more to life than this?

The need to be attractive to those we desire goes back, I would presume, to the beginning of time. It is natural to want to feel desirable, but it is unhealthy to make this your ultimate goal. A healthy mind is more important than a beautiful body, a person has to be content with themselves first, to get the most out of a relationship.  Where is the promotion of strong, independent women without mention of their weight or relationship status? Where’s the advice on how to show genuine respect to women, rather than regard them as objects for pursuit? Where’s the suggestion to go on holiday to explore a foreign land rather than sun-lounge, drink and chase female attention? None of these have enough prominence in mainstream media and we have to ask ourselves what impact this is having on our young men and women as they develop and become adults.

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