First of all, I'm going to come out and say that I do not buy mainstream 'women's lifestyle' magazines. Read: magazines pertaining to an approximation of all of women-kind's collective interests, which apparently does not stray from the confines of fashion, beauty, dieting, and dating (men only). I am very aware of the content and the problems with these kinds of magazines, which is one of the many reasons I choose not to buy them. Instead I find myself jostling for elbow room among many astonished men at the other sections of magazines at the newsagent's, such as computing and technology, music, leisure/interests, and sadly sometimes men's interests, which have in my experience been home to magazines catering to all the genres above. I'm not sure how or why we've let ourselves be caged into such a teeny, tiny, and very shallow little corner of the magazine world, but we have, and I'm kinda tired of the double-takes...
I bought The Vagenda gleefully anticipating that it may well be a longer, more media-focused, yet still witty version of The Noughtie Girl's Guide To Feminism by Ellie Levenson, which I'd read a few years previous. I was in luck! The Vagenda examines the content and issues with the media's current worrying vision of womanhood and femininity, including advice on fashion, health, beauty and relationships. The book also gives credit where it's due, praising the more promising, sexually liberated publications of the 60s and 70s, to the perplexing and frankly confusing attitude to sex undertaken by popular magazines today, who seem to make a profit from posing as a life-line for our problems, offering useless solutions, and then introducing some new things to worry about before the end of the issue – now you've taken the quiz to see if your boyfriend is cheating on you, you better figure out how to win him back: here are ten sex tips to please your man in the bedroom!' The Vagenda examines the trite subjects that appear and reappear in each issue of popular women's magazines, including body image woes, the ever-changing and sometimes baffling world of fashion (Vajazzling? Really?), relationship 'advice', diets, and the disturbing world of Lad Culture, and reminds you that you're not the only one feeling slightly weird about it all..
The great thing about this book is that it finds an easy balance between being informative, being hilarious, and reminding the reader that she really doesn't need to stand for this crap. The Vagenda does a great job of making the reader take a critical look at the way the media markets to and treats women, and what these magazines suggest our priorities should be. I know many people who, when asked about their opinion on the shameless woman-bashing and body-shaming that is packed into every tabloid or cheap gossip rag, would shrug passively and claim that it is no big deal – but why do we turn a blind eye to it? And more importantly, how is this shaping the generation of young girls who will be bombarded with this kind of trashy media wherever they turn? It's easy to claim that it's a form of cheap entertainment, but The Vagenda insists that we all sit up and take some responsibility for the media that we purchase as consumers and as women. Just because no real brain power went into the publishing of your magazine, doesn't mean that you shouldn't use your brain before you dig absentmindedly into the supposed latest sexual exploits of whichever b-list celebrity is the current flavour of the month.
When we examine the media, we examine our culture and our society as a whole. Because we are so surrounded by culture, we rarely step back and review the messages that we're receiving on a daily basis, and what it says about those who buy into it. It's easy to join a pack mentality and buy what is laid out in front of us, under a nice, bold sign that says 'women's lifestyle', and be satisfied that that is what we're meant to be consuming, but by never questioning our value of that media, we're essentially reading the magazines with our eyes closed. An interesting study cited in the book states that a 2012 study found that after just three minutes spent looking at a fashion magazine, 70% of women reported that they felt 'guilty, depressed and shameful'. When this is how our media makes us feel about ourselves, isn't it time to do as The Vagenda suggests we do and 'call bullshit?'
I wholeheartedly recommend The Vagenda to any woman and especially anyone who feels baffled and angry about the questionable ethics and ideals of media we are spoon-fed. This book gives some real incite into the toxicity of women's magazines and will get you chuckling as you read- if we didn't laugh, we'd probably just spontaneously combust.
I also have some intelligent, thought-provoking and self-image-positive media to suggest to readers who like their mags without all the vapid nonsense:
Lionheartmagazine “Lionheart Magazine is a magazine for those looking for something that reflects their personalities and preferences. Editorial that’s smart, funny, friendly and a little irreverent, together with beautiful design, illustrations and photography. You’ll find craft, fashion, art, interviews and features that are interesting, inspiring and hearty.”