The reason I got to thinking about this was from a chat I had with my deputy editor a few weeks ago as I sat composing cover lines for the latest issue of Top Santé. You see, in the magazine world, especially that of women's magazines, there is a tendency to play on fears or desires when enticing customers to make a purchase of your product. By this I mean you will see lots of cover lines that either use scare tactics such as 'stop eating this ONE food right now to avoid getting ill! Or 'blitz cellulite tonight!' Which on the surface both probably sound okay but beneath them are the implications that there is some miraculous new way to eat that will prevent you from ever getting ill, or that your body is far from perfect but by following this advice you'll transform into a supermodel (by the way, even models don't look like models in real life. They too have spots, cellulite, broken veins and bits of flesh in places they'd rather they didn't. And I don't say this out of trying to denigrate models, but just to point out that away from the studio lights, the hair and make up artists work and a dose of Photoshopping, they look like normal people). But I digress, as is so often the case with me!
Playing in to our fears?
Back to the subject at hand. My previous experience editing magazines led me to create the types of cover lines that make huge promises and play on fear to entice you into believing that the information inside could really change your life. But if you look at the world in general this is how marketing and advertising usually work anyway. Most advertising, whatever the format and whatever the product, will play on one of about 16 human drivers, such as acquisition power, status and bonding. Deep down we're driven by fear, or rather the drive to avoid fearful situations (if you don't get this product something bad will happen), the need to reproduce (this product will make you more attractive to the opposite sex), and the need to belong and feel part of a tribe (everyone else has or does this and look how popular they are, so you should do it or have it too).
Magazines, to an extent, use these fears and desires to sell themselves. They promise miracle diets, whole body transformations, advice on getting the perfect job or husband, and make want to be the woman on the cover (well, not always, it depends who it is!).
Part of the reason it feels easier to write 'negative' fear/desire-based cover lines as opposed to more realistic, less 'miraculous' ones, is because this is the way I've been trained to think and it reflects our culture as a whole. It comes easily and more naturally to write something that taps into our fears or longings, because we're all so used to feeling bad about ourselves and believing we need something or need to change.
Two of my close friends, one in her late 30s and the other in her early 40s, told me they stopped buying women's magazines years ago because they realised that despite the happy, empowering positivity these magazines supposedly represent, they as readers still ended up feeling worse about themselves and their lives by the end of consuming them. Is this because women's mags are really wolves in sheep's clothing? I could write a lot more about this topic as there's much to debate, but to save writing an entire book in one blog post I'll stick to my own mag for now.
Turning it around from negative to positive
When I first joined Top Santé I was writing the type of things that have usually been acceptable for a cover, along the lines of 'lose 5 pounds in a week!' 'Banish cellulite for ever!' 'Get a bikini body today!' 'Avoid this ONE food and never get fat!' (NOTE: for any journalists/editors reading this, those weren't actual cover lines I used, just exaggerated examples). It felt easy and natural to write them and didn't take long.
So, it was a real culture change, but a welcomed one at that, to be instructed that ALL cover lines now had to be positive and make women feel good or optimistic about themselves and their health, and not play into what I call the 'Peter Kay 14 stone in a day!' fear-based tactics that have become so prevalent. (If you've not seen his comedy sketch take on a slimming club, do look it up on YouTube).
The whole ethos of the magazine now is to celebrate living a naturally healthy life, not one that involves fad diets or impossible fitness routines, and to feel uplifted, inspired and motivated to make small baby steps towards improved health, rather than feeling by the end of reading it that your thighs are too big, you're getting old and wrinkly and you're definitely not part of the hip young fitness crowd.
The women we've featured so far in the real life articles have all been inspirational, often overcoming physical limitations or inner beliefs about not being good enough, to prove to the world they are fantastic as they are and can follow their passions no matter what their body shape, whether that's through running, dancing, or ditching junk food.
I'm excited to be part of this mini magazine revolution, as it were, to promote positive body image among women and talk about health, particularly getting older, in a positive way instead of playing to women's fears about ageing. But it does make my job hard when it comes to writing on the cover! Sadly, negativity is what people buy in to. It's what fuels the evening news and sells certain daily newspapers (I'm sure you can guess which ones).
But I'm glad to be part of something new and with such positive intentions. The changes may only be small and at times a 'negative' word like 'avoid' may creep onto the cover – well, sometimes we just damn well DO need to avoid certain things, trans fats being a good example – but perhaps it's a small part of a larger revolution taking place, one in which women learn to love and appreciate their bodies and instead of focusing on what is wrong, celebrate what is right. Perhaps instead of buying into the whole culture of fear, worrying about losing our looks and dreading the future, we can embrace what we have been blessed with, and focus on maintaining health on the inside - for that ultimately a far more valuable and positive pursuit.