I did something awful

Yesterday I did something awful, and I did it for you.

I bought a copy of NW.

I had to buy it at a place I don’t normally shop, so they wouldn’t recognise me.

And I had to hide it inside the newspaper in my bag in case anyone happened to peek inside and see it.

And when the lovely M came over for dinner last night, I had to hide it under Spectrum and The King’s Tribune, in the bedroom, in case she had quietly developed x-ray vision and saw it from the living room.

That’s how much of a snob I am.

Why did I buy this? Well, I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s very excellent How to be a woman and her chapter on role models clarified my unease about ignoring these tabloid magazines. Moran writes:

Tabloids, magazines and the Daily Mail work by means of turning the lives and careers of a few dozen women into a combination of living soap and daily morality lesson – on the good side, responding to the gigantic desire to examine the modern female condition, but on the bad side, leaving the subjects ostensibly powerless to write their own narrative, or express their own analysis of the matter. This is why any modern feminist worth her salt has an interest in the business of A-list gossip: it is the main place where our perception of women is currently being formed. (p. 247).

So, let’s look at the cover of NW:

Cover of NW, November 28, 2011

Cover of NW, November 28, 2011

Surgery shockers, or simply four photos of women who were photographed while speaking, half-smiling or generally doing something that required their face to move?

Inside, someone has helpfully written “Giant lips” on the picture of Kim Kardashian’s clearly un-giant lips, along with an arrow pointing to her lips for all those people who struggle to identify lips on a face. Phew, thanks NW.

Almost all of the photos of these “surgery shockers” are simply bad photos, or photos of faces in motion. I don’t know about you, but when I’m photographed while talking, my face looks like it’s melting. Sure, a few of these faces look a bit odd (again, could just be a bad photo), but instead of the “HELLO, DUCK FACE” headline, why not have at least one line about an industry that pressures beautiful women to inject shit into their faces because that’s somehow more beautiful? You know, explain why it’s bad, rather than starting and ending with “we don’t like how it looks”, which means the whole public conversation about cosmetic surgery revolves around what other people think of your face. Hell, the caption under the photo of Sophie Monk was your lead-in: “I should have said no, but I trusted the doctor”. But instead of having anything constructive to add, magazines like NW just point and say “let’s all laugh at them because they don’t know where the invisible line is between a good amount of shit-injecting and a bad amount of shit-injecting”.

I’m not suggesting that NW become The Bulletin (although the defunct bit is appealing). But this is a weekly magazine about famous women that has nothing positive to say about women. If they’re not stealing each other’s boyfriends/husbands – thereby ignoring the fact that these men chose to cheat on their partners and are the ones who should be copping the blame – then they’re not eating enough or they are eating too much, which is really just an excuse for someone to say that these famous women look ugly. The nameless journos who work for these mags are policing the bodies of women they don’t know and will never meet.

These magazines make their money from photos of famous women that, for the most part, those women did not agree to. They also make shit up about these photos, knowing that American celebrities on the other side of the world aren’t able to monitor everything that is written about them and sue or demand a public apology. Like “humiliated” Demi Moore:

Demi Moore in NW

Demi Moore in NW

To me, this looks less “humiliated and heartbroken” and more “get the fuck out of my face with your camera. Can’t you see I’m just trying to walk somewhere? Seriously, you parasite photographer who makes money from my image without my permission, just fuck off”.

And apparently Kristen Stewart is “obsessed” with Angelina Jolie and to “prove” it, there’s a photo of Stewart in a brown leather dress and Jolie in a black leather dress. I don’t know much about fashion but even I know leather is in.

And, there’s this:

Kristin Stewart in NW

Kristin Stewart in NW

Oh my god, NW, you’re so right! Two actresses who have both been on magazine covers and both worn a fashionable outfit and both hooked up with someone they met on a movie set and so one must be copying the other!

The whole story is about what Stewart’s boyfriend apparently thinks of this apparent obsession. The message to readers: the most important thing about yourself is what your boyfriend thinks.

One of the MSM’s favourite topics is telling Madonna what to do. (I’ve blogged about this before, here and here.) In NW, yet another nameless journo is yet another un-famous person telling one of the Western world’s most famous pop stars – one who is still topping the charts at 53, in an industry obsessed with youth – to “put it away”. And this sniping about Madonna’s appearance is masked as concern (trolling) for her daughter. The headline: “Stop it, mum! Madge can’t help showing up her daughter”.

The teenage years can be tough. You’re growing all the time, there’s hair sprouting where there never used to be hair and your parents are, like, so embarrassing.

So imagine what 15-year-old Lourdes Leon went through when her 53-year-old mum Madonna cavorted around a stage in fishnet tights and a pair of bondage boots.

Ok, I’ll imagine. She probably thought her mum was doing what she normally does.

While Lourdes should be used to Madge playing the raunchy card at the drop of a hat, insiders tell NW – hahahahahaha, yeah, right – she’s reached breaking point over mum’s sexy shenanigans.

“She thinks it’s high time her mum started to grow old gracefully,” says a source.

No doubt that “source” is the anonymous journo making this shit up. Why should anyone “grow old gracefully”, when we all know that simply means to disappear from public view so young people don’t have to look at icky older people.

…seeing Madge make a spectacle of herself… She feels like she’s making a fool of herself.

There are three themes here: 1) it is embarrassing when women over the age of 40 are seen having fun in public; 2) the relationship between mother and daughter is nothing more than some kind of Electra complex for the men in the nightclub; and 3) Madonna is a bad mother.

Three other mothers – Dina Lohan, Christina Aguilera and Kendra Wilkinson – are also criticised for daring to leave the house and have fun. Possibly with alcohol. So I’ll add a fourth theme: mothers should be selflessly devoted to their children at all times and not do anything that involves getting a babysitter.

People will always be interested in celebrities. There’s fantasy involved, and everyone likes looking at images of people they think are beautiful. But why do the narratives these journalists make up always have to put women down? Because fuck knows we have enough of that in our daily lives.

31 responses to “I did something awful

  1. Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a woman’ is a must-read for every feminist. I love her view point on so many issues.

  2. FAT CELEBRITIES!

    Oh no! ANOREXIC CELEBRITIES!

    NOW THEY ARE FAT AGAIN!

    Hahaha, celebrities, you may be richer and more influential than us, but we can still MESS WITH YOOOOOOOOOOOU!

  3. It’s good see some down to earth language. Words like ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ are powerful words that send a distinct message of your disgust. Please continue to post in this manner – it makes me feel normal – I often tone down my posts and bloggs because I’m afraid to offend the little darlings – I have a great capacity to offend people. But I say : “If you don’t like the heat, don’t start a fire.”

  4. My particular favourite was a while back when NW must have coppped some flak for promoting negative body image stereotypes so they briefly tried to half-cover their arses, whereby they would still show hideously unflattering and deliberately humilitating pics of female celebrities but the comment underneath it would be something like, “we applaud for bravely revealing her new curves on a public beach, it clearly shows she’s been having lots of indulgent dinners with her new man and not afraid to let the world know”. The entire publication was one big backhanded compliment. It was sickening.

    • Gawd, I know. Those “celebrating her curves” pieces are nasty. How, exactly, does one celebrate curves? Do you smash a bottle of champagne against your arse? Make a toast to your thighs whenever a photographer is nearby?

      • Even more rage-worthy (for me) than “celebrating her curves” are the articles where ‘curvacious’ women are referred to as “real women” or having womanly curves or something similar. FUCK OFF. I’m a largish-busted size 14, my sister is a teeny-busted size 8. As far as I am aware we both have the XX chromosome thing happening, which makes us both real women. Size is irrelevant to my status as a woman, and it’s equally insulting to ‘curvacious’ me and my ‘waif-like’ sister.

  5. I didn’t know leather was in. I really am out of the loop.

    • Luckily for me, the black leather pencil skirt and blue leather pencil skirt in the back of my cupboard are now in fashion. Unluckily for me, I don’t fit into either anymore.

      • Disclaimer: as people who know me in real life will attest, fashion isn’t something I give a shit about. I find it funny when suddenly something becomes “on trend” and young people ask me where I got my handbag/coat/shoes from. Those crazy kids!

  6. The very reason why I don’t buy this dross masquerading as stuff you cannot live without. I’m so old that I do remember when “women’s magazines” certainly reported on the lives of the glitterati, but in a benign fashion that probably enthused those who read the stuff as a fantasy. Now it all seems to be a vicious cycle of one-up-manship but without any redeeming features and a fair dose of nastiness thrown in. But I do wonder why anyone takes this stuff seriously, it really is just another version of commercial media buWe should all just ignore this tripe, and go out of our way to encourage every other woman we know to do the same.

    • But I don’t think we should ignore it. We ignored Kyle Sandilands and Alan Jones and they haven’t gone away. And I don’t believe it’s right to tell people not to read/listen to something simply because some of us – the smart ones, of course! – don’t like it. We need to be very loud in pointing out why they are wrong. And I reckon it’s the same with tabloid magazines. Some people will always like celebrity “news”, but these magazines don’t need to be so nasty.

  7. So, (assuming the quotes have any authenticity, which I doubt) the Madonna story boils down to “15 year old thinks mum is embarrassing”, Hold the front page!

  8. I’m not disagreeing with her and I admit I’m not familiar with the work of Moran. But this issue is about men having the power to define women, to erase female voices, experiences, perspectives etc. and to replace all this with narratives that suit male hegemony. It should be pointed out that this observation can be linked back to the theories of radical feminists from years ago, centuries ago even.

    • Moran does write about this. This bit is in relation to Katie Price being called a feminist icon because she’s made a lot of money:

      Women who, in a sexist world, pander to sexism to make their fortune are Vichy France with tits. Are you 32GG, waxed to within an inch of your life and faking orgasms? Then you’re doing business with a decadent and corrupt regime. Calling that a feminist icon is like giving an arms dealer the Nobel Peace Prize. (p. 252)

      However, putting the blame at the feet of the patriarchy and saying “stop it” doesn’t get you very far because the patriarchy doesn’t give a shit about what women think. We can yell and scream and rage for decades and nothing will happen. Or we can just start fixing things to make them better for us. Women are the biggest buyers of tabloid magazines, so I think it’s up to women to change them. If enough women (readers and non-readers) start voicing their opposition to the snarky commentary that accompanies the pictures, then they’ll have to back off. Won’t they?

  9. “If enough women (readers and non-readers) start voicing their opposition to the snarky commentary that accompanies the pictures, then they’ll have to back off. Won’t they?”

    I prefer to hold out for enough women being prepared to yell and scream and rage – a much more rational and useful strategy than it gets credit for. The women of the past who risked their lives to do this were not just time-wasting loons. They rocked it and they got shit done.

    The reason I linked this back to earlier theory is to help prevent those early voices from being erased completely, which is exactly what’s going on with the taboids, as I said, women are silenced.

    • I see your point, and it’s a good one, but I reckon you’ll be holding out for a long time. Too long. You aren’t going to get enough women to yell about this because those of us who think these mags are rubbish, simply don’t buy them. I prefer an attack from all angles approach to getting shit done and making our world one in which we aren’t constantly judged on our appearance.

  10. Well on that we agree! It doesn’t have to be either or.

    The tabloid power thing is pretty fascinating for it’s ability to deliver the messages that the dominant culture wish us to hear.
    Britney Spears is my favourite example of this. The tabloid narrative is that she is a train wreck, mentally ill, a bad mother, a social pariah etc. That’s the one that people believe.

    In reality, anyone could be forgiven for not knowing that she is actually an extremely commercially successful artist who has set records and continues to rake in the bucks and the crowds. She is also literally owned by her father who controls her career and assets; is hounded by the press on a daily basis which is when she occassionally slips on the street or does something desperate like drive before stopping to strap a child into a restraint, in order to escape; and her family use her children as a kind of sword of damoclese just in case she decides she doesn’t want to perform anymore, because she is their cash cow. Any sign of resistance is reported as her being mentally unwell and thefore not a fit mother.This is why I say that the tabloids do more than just judge us, they steal our voices and experiences and replace them with bogus ones.

  11. Tabloid magazines, fashion, ‘beauty’ products all teach women that they can never be good enough. Stories about beautiful perfect women failing to be perfect are just the ticket for getting the message across. “Be like Britney who is thin/young/beautiful/diet/exercise/clothes/hair extensions/sexy/pure.” When Britney starts collapsing under the pressure, it’s essential that no-one have sympathy for her, because that would suggest the expectations placed on us all are unreasonable and dangerous, and we would stop buying shit.

    Society wants women to be in a constant state of anxiety about their social acceptability.

  12. Pingback: Elle of a way to write a ridiculous story | the news with nipples

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