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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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?