Good riddance to Now magazine. Future generations of girls will escape its cruel body shaming

In November 2009, Now’s front page screamed “CLAIRE’S DIET DESPAIR”, “Steps Star Gains 3st in 5 months”. Claire was eight months pregnant.

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In August last year, TV presenter and singer Stacey Solomon tweeted “That’s the meanest thing I’ve ever seen”, alongside a picture of that week’s issue of Now magazine. The front cover was filled with a large photo of her face, and another of her in a bikini, emblazoned with the words “Stacey: ‘Boring’. ‘Desperate’. ‘Cheap’. Why fans are SICK of her”.

The backlash from Solomon’s 1.4 million followers was instant. “I think you’re wonderful,” replied Stephen Fry. “You’re famously lovely, funny and priceless. Genuinely fuck those maggots,” added Aisling Bea. “What a vile mag that is. You are lovely. @celebsnow is a nasty thing with a whiff of misogyny hanging in the air around it,” said Jennifer Saunders.


An issue of Now from August 2018

Today, seven months later, Now announced it is ceasing publication of its print edition; its last issue will run this Wednesday. Founded in 1996, Now found its niche in reporting on celebrity gossip. The relationships of couples including David and Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt provided ample material – along with beauty, health and style tips.

It may have once boasted of being “The UK’s best-loved celebrity magazine”, but Now’s sales have been plummeting. From a circulation of almost 200,000 in 2013, Now had just over 50,000 readers as of August last year. There was a 42 per cent drop in readership in the first six months of 2018 alone – almost double the loss suffered by any other UK women’s weekly over the same period. 

After Solomon’s tweet, Now issued a statement apologising, in which it claimed the front cover was not its own opinion, but based on comments from social media, and that the magazine does not encourage or condone bullying in any form.

And yet it could be accused of having spent the last 23 years bullying female celebrities.

It is rare to find an issue of Now that doesn’t feature at least one story about a woman’s weight on its front page. Occasionally these have promoted messages that appear to condone body positivity, like one from January 2018, which featured a range of female celebrities with the headline “We’ve put weight on, who cares?” Yet while all the women on the page may have been considered “plus size” by Hollywood’s standards, none were above the average weight for a woman in the UK.


An issue of Now from November 2009

More often than not, though, the magazine’s covers shame women for their weight. In November 2009, its front page was dedicated to a blown-up picture of Claire Richards, a singer in Nineties band Steps, midway through biting into a Starbucks muffin. The article was headlined: “CLAIRE’S DIET DESPAIR”, “Steps Star Gains 3st in 5 months”, and promised “SHOCK PICS INSIDE”. Richards was eight months pregnant at the time.

Six years later, Now brazenly ran a story about Richard’s infertility, which doctors reportedly said could have been caused by extreme dieting. It was headlined “Heartbroken Claire Richards admits her yo-yoing weight might have affected her chances of having another baby”.

But Now didn’t just shame women it considered to be overweight. In April last year it ran a front page comparing a photo of presenter Davina McCall taken in 2002, five months after the birth of her first child, with a current one of her in a bikini. “’SKINNY’, ‘BONY’, HAGGARD’”, it read.


An issue of Now from April 2008

Two months later, its front page featured three female celebrities – actresses Michelle Keegan and Jen Metcalfe, and reality TV star Olivia Attwood – who it branded “SKIN & BONES” thanks to their apparent “Shock new scarily skeletal frames”.

Whether they were fat or thin, Now had an issue with how women looked. It profited from making women feel terrible about themselves, from promoting insecurities. Sometimes it started on these insecurities early: a front page declaring “Kids SHOULD be in the gym!” Sometimes it went off-grid, scraping the barrel of body issues: “VAGINAL TIGHTENING worked for Danielle and me!”

Over the past year it seems Now's readership has grown bored of its hateful messages. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the magazine's demise occurred as the body positivity movement began to trend on social media.

Body positivity stresses that all humans should have a positive body image, regardless of their weight, height, shape or dress size. The movement unites around Instagram accounts such as “I_Weigh”, which was set up by the actress Jameela Jamil last March as part of what she called “revolution against shame and self hatred over our looks, perpetuated by the media.” 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This post of mine started a mad wave of amazing women posting their own back to me in our revolution against shame and self hatred over our looks, perpetuated by the media. I have received thousands and they are too beautiful to not celebrate. I have started an account called @i_weigh to post them all. SEND ME YOURS to that account! I’m fucking tired of seeing women just ignore what’s amazing about them and their lives and their achievements, just because they don’t have a bloody thigh gap. The link is in my bio but please follow the account so we can start this revolution properly and make the fashion and media industry see how many of us are DONE with this shit. ❤️

A post shared by Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial) on

I_Weigh promotes inspirational quotes and features selfies that followers send in, on which they’ve written all the ways they define themselves that are more important than their weight. As Now's influence has fallen, Jamil’s has soared. Attitudes towards women are changing, even if this sometimes appears to be happening at a glacial pace.

A magazine or newspaper forced to close is usually a cause for sadness, sparking concern for the future of the print industry. But it is hard to mourn the death of Now. The magazine will continue online, it says, with the BBC reporting ongoing consultations with its staff. It will be sad if staffers lose their jobs. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased that another generation of girls won’t have to grow up under the pressure of its headlines, manically screaming from the shelves of newsagents across the UK that women should be ashamed of their bodies.

Indra is the New Statesman’s digital sub-editor.