Show Hide image

Body image limited

A “vagenda” is a woman with an agenda or, specifically, a vagina with an agenda. Today’s media are full of them. Unfortunately, more often than not, these vagendas are not your friend, particularly in the context of women’s fashion and lifestyle magazines. Vogue has a vagenda; Cosmo has a vagenda; even the US teen mag Seventeen has a vagenda – and the atmosphere there is not friendly.

On 2 May, there was a meeting of two very different worlds: those of the Seventeen editor-in-chief (and America’s Next Top Model judge), Ann Shoket, and a 14-year-old body image campaigner, Julia Bluhm. What was Julia’s beef with Seventeen? It was that a publication targeted at teenage girls – who, by their very nature, are going through all the insecurities that come with puberty – is touting an airbrushed version of physically impossible “perfection”. Her petition against digitally enhanced images garnered an encouraging 30,000 signatures. The same week,
Vogue editors across the world agreed not to hire models with an unhealthy BMI (body mass index). That’s progress, right?

Pride and prejudice

Unfortunately, Seventeen’s response was the equivalent of a nursery school teacher patting a problem child on the head.
“We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue – it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers,”the magazine simpered. “They [Shoket and Bluhm] had a great discussion and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves and that’s how we present them.”

Women’s magazines are a minefield of body fascism. When you flick through one, you always risk an explosion of insecurity. Whether it’s Rihanna’s 25-minute underwear workout (yes, that’s a real thing) or snake-venom-infused lip gloss, the underlying message is that you are your body and your body isn’t good enough.

There has been scant analysis of the effects of women’s magazines outside of the fashion arena. While the “size zero” debate caught people’s attention, the written content of the magazines has attracted less scrutiny.

Women inhabit a different world from men a lot of the time and that’s not because you’re from Mars and we’re from Venus. It is a world largely foisted on us by aggressive media tactics and not one that will be transformed by token gestures such as Cosmo’s “F-word” campaign, coming as it does wrapped in a fluffy, pink bunny tail and whose central question is: “Can you vajazzleand be a feminist?”

The time we spend worrying about the latest seaweed diet or the newest chemical injection for crow’s feet is time lost.
So, although Julia’s campaign and Vogue’s declarations are welcome, we need a movement that will tackle these magazines’ vagendas. By buying in to their ideals, we may well be selling ourselves short.

Rhiannon and Holly are editors of the Vagenda website
Read their new blog, the V Spot, at:

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

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, European crisis

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.