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