When I was younger, I used to read Seventeen. It was a guilty pleasure that I kept going for about a year.
When I got older and went to college, I realized that magazines didn’t have a lot of material I found relevant to me. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean that they didn’t impact me.
I had a baby mid-way through college. I wasn’t ready for it and my body wasn’t, either. I ended up with a lot of extra weight and a lot of angry-red stretch marks. I had grown up thinking I was fat, due in large part because I had older, skinny brothers who thought it was harmless or funny to tease me. After my baby, I was fat. I was unhealthy and I felt like I looked horrible.
As I got healthier and lost weight, I didn’t lose the vision of myself as “too big.” I was curvy before. When I say “curvy” I don’t mean it as a self-edifying euphemism for “fat,” I mean curvy: I had wider hips and a full bust (like all women in my mother’s family). I was always aware that I wasn’t “thin.” Still, I liked being curvy. (I still do.) It was who I was and it wasn’t as harsh as skinniness, which I associated with my brothers and their angles and women who were emaciated-looking.
Still, it wasn’t fun having people at school and in my family associate curvy with simply fat. There wasn’t any room for curvy to be normal. Looking back at photos, I wasn’t fat. It took years to realize that what everyone assumed was fat was just not very thin. I’ve been fat. I’ve never been skinny. The later means that most people (at least in the teen/young adult years) just say “not skinny,” which can be (and often was) read as “fat.” And fat is a pejorative. It’s not ok. But it’s not really a size: it’s the opposite of the norm, which is what you see in magazines, on TV, in movies, on billboards. That isn’t really normal, but it’s what is seen as normal.
Part of the feeling of being too big came from magazines. After high school, I didn’t read them or buy them, but I still saw them. They never had people like me in them or on the covers. Women were called “bombshells” and the new “curvy” set, but they weren’t anything like me. They were still very long, very thin, and very angular. Their “curves” were created with push-up bras and strategic poses. Their “bombshell” status was announced more through pure-red lipstick and wavy hairstyles than through actual physique. I would get angry and then sad—was I just fat? Again? Or, was it that they were lying?
Turns out, they were lying. They were using photo manipulation to add curves, to remove curves, and to eliminate the curves (rolls, folds, etc.) that go along with having curves. It became clear to me that to be beautiful to a magazine you had to look one certain way. However, they would call that one way many things. This creates all manner of confusion.
For me, trying to lose extra, unhealthy weight after my pregnancy, I had to stop looking at magazine. I avoided them wherever I went. I had to tell myself that they weren’t real. I would get pictures and put them in my journal, marked up to show the unreality. Still, I felt that I was “too much.” One day, after losing all the excess weight, I walked by a mirrored window. I had been watching people in it all day (I was waiting for a class) and I didn’t register myself as myself when I passed by. I looked just like everyone else. We were all normal. Not “too big,” not “too small,” but just normal. A normal range, from thin to curvy to thick. I realized that I was normal. I looked normal.
I don’t think I’m beautiful. I would like to be. I would like to be beautiful and sexy and all those things that magazines promise can be had with this product or that process. You know what, though? Fuck that. I don’t wear make-up. I don’t buy beauty products. I’m not worried about possible wrinkles (I’m now 32). I do pluck my eyebrows. I do wax the (to me) unsightly hair off my chin. I have a way that I want to look and a way that I think looks good on me, given my coloring, my size, and what I want to be able to do in the world.
The pregnancy that ended with me being fat also ended with me having a daughter. She’s 12 now. Unlike my family, who develop young and curvy, she’s tall and thin, like her father. She has longer limbs for her height than I do. She isn’t busty; she looks like a 12-year-old. At 12, people routinely thought, and said, I looked much older.
As far as I know, my daughter isn’t part of the statistics mentioned by this campaign: she doesn’t spend anywhere near as much time with media (an average of 10hr 45m a DAY); she isn’t unhappy about her body (53% of 13-year-olds); she’s never dieted. As far as I know. She tells me a lot: about her crushes, her period, her weird new novel. What doesn’t she tell me? What does MY fear of being fat and “too much” do to her?
Because I am normal, I want magazines to keep it real.
Because I want to feel that my ‘look’ and size is acceptable, even beautiful, even if for a moment, I want magazines to keep it real.
Because I have a daughter who is growing up with only one vision of beauty and normality, I want magazines to keep it real. This is especially important because she is close to this norm—but she needs to see other beauty; we all do. Beauty that isn’t tall, thin, blond, and white.
If you want to have new readers, talk to us. Show us. Listen to us. Beautiful can be short. It can be fat. It can be non-white. It can be non-blonde. It can be non-smiling.
Also, finally, beauty shouldn’t be the only message you see when you look at a magazine cover. Yes, I may want to be beautiful. But I am already smart, talented, and engaged. I don’t need to be beautiful, sexy, desirable, and pleasant (as suggested by giant, glassy-eyed smiles) all the time. People are beautiful in their intelligence, in their talent, in their ability, in their inability, in their anger, in their indignation, in their sadness, in their joy, in their consternation. Let women be beautiful in their own ways. REFLECT this in your magazines. Keep it real.