Here's what the perfect women's magazine would look like

Let's have less Photoshopping, less of the "circle of shame" and less of the ridiculous sex tips, and more of what women might actually want to read about: practical life advice, clothes a human-shaped person can wear and - heaven forbid - <em>books</em>.

In this world of "Celebrity breakdowns gone wild: side-boob edition", "Make-up tips for the birth of the royal baby", and "Is guacamole making you fat and infertile?", it’s not hard to have gripes with the institution that is The Women’s Magazine. You only have to lazily scan a news stand in any local supermarket to see that the content in publications in the "Women’s Lifestyle" section is lacking. This celeb is too fat; this one has a diet you can follow; this one’s biological clock is ticking; this one is doing an interview on how motherhood and the workplace are incompatible. As we currently make a living from slagging off the most insidious examples from these Conde Nasties and National Magazine meanies, attempting to defend ourselves and womankind from guacamole-induced anxiety and side-boob panic with a semblance of satire. Which is all very well, our critics cry, but what would our ideal magazine look like? Well, here are our recommendations:

  • Every model would have her own limbs. Nary a tacked on, Photoshopped leg nor a slimmed down waist would marr the pages.
     
  • The diversity of the models’ ethnicities and body types would directly reflect that of the general population. Being a size 14 would not be treated as some kind of freaky health condition whose only possible treatment is a wrap-dress, and the fashion spreads would cease to look like a brochure for a summer camp for Aryan teenagers. Healthy BMIs only. No under sixteens.
     
  • No cosmetic surgery advertorial. Especially not positioned next to features on "body confidence".
     
  • Cover interviews with interesting women who have done fabulous things, none of whom employ the terms "down to earth", "normal", or "just like you". No picking over of their diets and exercise regimes. No PR puff. Instead, questions would cover a wide range of topics, ranging from "what’s your horrible terrible?" and "how do you think Obama’s doing?" to "if you could live inside a painting like the little girl in Roald Dahl’s The Witches does, which painting would it be?"
     
  • Since many of us do have a secret interest in why Kanye called his baby North West or whether or not Boris Johnson and Eminem share a hairdresser, the celebrity section would remain. Only this time, there aren’t any sneaky photographs taken by photographers hiding in the bushes and judging women’s baby weight or headlines proclaiming their imminent breakdowns - "Rihanna looks painfully thin and probably broken inside as she wanders desolately along the Hollywood Boulevard with a heartbreak-flavoured ice cream, thinking of Chris" - will be absent. Tired gender stereotyping will be done away with entirely.
     
  • In place of where the latest woman would be held up as a tragic spinster or hysterical diva, editors will be encouraged to be far more creative. "Megan Fox emerges from a local bar, looking for all the world like she’s had an exhaustive argument about the Israel-Palestine conflict and eventually ducked out because she was getting shouted over by some bigot who didn’t even know anything about West Bank settlements", as an example. "50 Cent is spotted hand-in-hand with a twentysomething woman: could this be the handshake marking a new technological business deal in nearby Silicon Valley? More news on her possible profession inside", as another.
     
  • The Fashion Section. Wheeling out the same old Topshop jeans to illustrate "What To Wear" would be replaced with something a little more inspiring, such as artistic fashion photography and an encouragement to experiment with style. If you like those embroidered knee warmers, then you should go ahead and wear them without judgement.
     
  • There would be a moratorium on using "the circle of shame" to point out where celebrities went wrong with their red carpet dresses. The perfect fashion section would be a nurturing environment from which the readership could emerge, bright-eyed and unafraid, to toddle out onto the high street and buy whatever the hell they want. No more tears in the changing room because Cosmo said you couldn’t do disco knickers.
     
  • Why not show us what women across the world are wearing? We’re a nosy bunch, but most of us know that the women in current so-called "street style" sections in magazines are not only school friends of the features ed but are also styled and preened to within an inch of their lives. What we’d really like to see is Anna from Norway’s amazing hangover grocery shopping outfit, and how she has successfully merged the steam punk aesthetic with silky pyjama bottoms and a beanie. Also: no fascinators.
     
  • Oh, and stop telling us "this dress will change your life".
     
  • There would be no further attempt to correlate the female body type with that of a fruit or root vegetable. We are not an apple, a pear, or a butternut squash, and, being adult women, most of us know how to dress ourselves.
     
  • Oh, and we couldn’t give a shit what’s in your beach bag.
     
  • There would be a ban the phrases "OMG", "totes", and "amazeballs", and a shift towards the use of plain English. Hashtags would remain the preserve of Twitter, and portmanteau phrases such as "babymoon", "momtrepreneur" and "yestergay" would be consigned to the dustbin.
     
  • The female columnists would write hilarious, clever pieces on a wide range of issues. We’ve got to a point now where there’s nothing to be said about multi-dating, and referring to your partner as "the boy" when you’re in your mid-thirties and peppering your copy with "lolz" just begins to look as though you’re desperately trying to be down with the kids. Can we get some new blood please? Preferably someone with an interesting life.
     
  • Make-up. Yeah, we like it, but it doesn’t merit the 60 or so pages that are currently given over to it, especially as we’re onto you fuckers and we know that much of it is much of a muchness. Why not replace it with usefull stuff, a la Rookie Mag, such as how to buy a used car or make your own lipbalm, or a story about losing your virginity? Or even, y’know, women’s issues or politics?
     
  • Please, stop reminding us about our ovaries having a sell-by-date. Believe us, we know.
     
  • Accept that we are never going to be as obsessed with scatter cushions as you are. Bear in mind that the "fuck it" generation are only just coming of age. Home decoration tips for the impoverished, please.
     
  • Tell us not that mayonnaise is "sinful". It is a condiment made almost entirely from egg yolks, we never assumed it was healthy. We’d like to see fridge raiders features, in which dieticians berate B-list celebrities for the food they eat, replaced by a "Woman v Food" challenge. Holly Willoughby has a god-awful hangover- can she rustle up a cure from the contents of her cupboard? And will it all fit in her mouth at once?
     
  • Health. At present, magazines are failing to cover the full spectrum of all the things that can go wrong with your vagina. They have the twin pillars of cystitis and thrush pretty much down, but we’re talking rarer shit, like vestibulitis and syphilis. It’s good to share, and it’s good to be aware.
     
  • The sex tips would immediately become more female-focused - no more "Slap on a PVC G-string and gyrate around a £200 pole until your boyfriend feels up to it", and no more pretending that getting your boyfriend to test spaghetti sauce by licking it off your breasts is conducive to good sex or good cooking. The "U-spot", "T-spot", "VV-spot", and all the other imaginary "spots" that have been made up by desperate editors will be replaced by a more sensible and fruitful focus on the clitoris. Oh, and no more orgasm-shaming. Reading another feature called "The 45 orgasms you must totally have NOW otherwise you’re a loser" will pretty much kill our will to live.
     
  • Books. We read them. And not just books by women with names like Felicity Meadows and that tell the tale of a small-town girl who moves to the big city only to discover that her boyfriend is a tool.
     
  • If you could mention a woman in print without putting her height and weight next to her name in brackets, then that would be awesome, ta.
     

Got more ideas for the perfect women's magazine? Let us know in the comments, or tell us on Twitter via @VagendaMagazine or @NewStatesman

Down with this sort of thing. Photograph: Jessica Mullen on Flickr via Creative Commons

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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This is the new front in the battle to control women’s bodies

By defining all of us as “pre-pregnant”, women are afforded all the blame – but none of the control.

For several weeks, YouTube has been reminding me to hurry up and have a baby. In a moment of guilt over all the newspapers I read online for free, I turned off my ad-blocking software and now I can’t play a simple death metal album without having to sit through 30 seconds of sensible women with long, soft hair trying to sell me pregnancy tests. I half expect one of them to tap her watch and remind me that I shouldn’t be wasting my best fertile years writing about socialism on the internet.

My partner, meanwhile, gets shown advertisements for useful software; my male housemate is offered tomato sauce, which forms 90 per cent of his diet. At first, I wondered if the gods of Google knew something I didn’t. But I suspect that the algorithm is less imaginative than I have been giving it credit for – indeed, I suspect that what Google thinks it knows about me is that I’m a woman in my late twenties, so, whatever my other interests might be, I ought to be getting myself knocked up some time soon.

The technology is new but the assumptions are ancient. Women are meant to make babies, regardless of the alternative plans we might have. In the 21st century, governments and world health authorities are similarly unimaginative about women’s lives and choices. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published guidelines suggesting that any woman who “could get pregnant” should refrain from drinking alcohol. The phrase implies that this includes any woman who menstruates and is not on the Pill – which is, in effect, everyone, as the Pill is not a foolproof method of contraception. So all females capable of conceiving should treat themselves and be treated by the health system as “pre-pregnant” – regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant any time soon, or whether they have sex with men in the first place. Boys will be boys, after all, so women ought to take precautions: think of it as rape insurance.

The medical evidence for moderate drinking as a clear threat to pregnancy is not solidly proven, but the CDC claims that it just wants to provide the best information for women “and their partners”. That’s a chilling little addition. Shouldn’t it be enough for women to decide whether they have that second gin? Are their partners supposed to exercise control over what they do and do not drink? How? By ordering them not to go to the pub? By confiscating their money and keeping tabs on where they go?

This is the logic of domestic abuse. With more than 18,000 women murdered by their intimate partners since 2003, domestic violence is a greater threat to life and health in the US than foetal alcohol poisoning – but that appears not to matter to the CDC.

Most people with a working uterus can get pregnant and some of them don’t self-define as women. But the advice being delivered at the highest levels is clearly aimed at women and that, in itself, tells us a great deal about the reasoning behind this sort of social control. It’s all about controlling women’s bodies before, during and after pregnancy. Almost every ideological facet of our societies is geared towards that end – from product placement and public health advice to explicit laws forcing women to carry pregnancies to term and jailing them if they fail to deliver the healthy babies the state requires of them.

Men’s sexual and reproductive health is never subject to this sort of policing. In South America, where the zika virus is suspected of having caused thousands of birth defects, women are being advised not to “get pregnant”. This is couched in language that gives women all of the blame and none of the control. Just like in the US, reproductive warnings are not aimed at men – even though Brazil, El Salvador and the US are extremely religious countries, so you would think that the number of miraculous virgin births would surely have been noticed.

Men are not being advised to avoid impregnating women, because the idea of a state placing restrictions on men’s sexual behaviour, however violent or reckless, is simply outside the framework of political possibility. It is supposed to be women’s responsibility to control whether they get pregnant – but in Brazil and El Salvador, which are among the countries where zika is most rampant, women often don’t get to make any serious choice in that most intimate of matters. Because of endemic rape and sexual violence, combined with some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, women are routinely forced to give birth against their will.

El Salvador is not the only country that locks up women for having miscarriages. The spread of regressive “personhood” laws across the United States has led to many women being threatened with jail for manslaughter when they miscarry – even as attacks on abortion rights make it harder than ever for American women to choose when and how they become pregnant, especially if they are poor.

Imagine that you have a friend in her early twenties whose partner gave her a helpful list of what she should and should not eat, drink and otherwise insert into various highly personal orifices, just in case she happened to get pregnant. Imagine that this partner backed his suggestions up with the threat of physical force. Imagine that he routinely reminded your friend that her potential to create life was more important than the life she was living, denied her access to medical care and threatened to lock her up if she miscarried. You would be telling your friend to get the hell out of that abusive relationship. You would be calling around the local shelters to find her an emergency refuge. But there is no refuge for a woman when the basic apparatus of power in her country is abusive. When society puts social control above women’s autonomy, there is nowhere for them to escape.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle