Uncovering American Beauty and Masculinity
How does the United States’ leading fashion magazine define beauty and/or masculinity? One way to explore this question is by critically analyzing the cover of contemporary consumer magazines. Pick a magazine geared toward a specific audience (i.e. men or women, teens or seniors, music lovers or fans of celebrity culture) and critique it using the 5-step process. Some good magazine options for this include GQ, Men’s Health, Glamour, Self, Teen Vogue, Us Weekly, People and Rolling Stone, among others.
Below is an example from textbook of how you can work through this week’s 5-step critique by looking at several covers of Cosmopolitan. (Please note that this example is shorter than the requirement for the Midterm. I expect your critique to be at least 1,000 words).
5-Step Critical Process
Description: If you review a number of Cosmopolitan covers, you’ll notice that they typically feature a body shot of a female model surrounded by blaring headlines often featuring the words Hot and Sex to usher a reader inside the magazine. The cover model is dressed provocatively and is positioned against a solid-color background. She looks confident. Everything about the cover is loud and brassy. In your description, what patterns do you notice that the covers uses to influence what they think is “beauty”? Are all the covers the same? What are the covers portraying?
Analysis: Looking at the covers over the last decade, and then the decade before it, what are some significant patterns? One thing you’ll notice is that all the models look incredibly alike, particularly when it comes to race: There is a disproportionate number of white cover models But you’ll notice that things are improving somewhat in this regard; Cosmo has used several Hispanic and African American cover models in recent years, but still they are few and far between. However, there is an even more consistent pattern regarding body type. Of cover model Hilary Duff, Cosmo said, “With long honey-colored locks, a smokin’ bod, and killer confidence, Hilary’s looking every bit the hot Hollywood starlet.” In Cosmo-speak, “smokin’ bod” means ultrathin (sometimes made even more so with digital modifications). What does this mean for our concept of “attractiveness and beauty”? Is there a pattern?
Interpretation: What does this mean? Although Cosmo doesn’t provide height and weight figures for its models, the magazine is probably selling an unhealthy body weight (in fact, photos can be digitally altered to make the models look even thinner). In its guidelines for the fashion industry, the Academy for Eating Disorders suggests “for women and men over the age of 18, adoption of a minimum body mass index threshold of 18.5 kg/m2 (e.g., a female model who is 5’9” [1.75m] must weigh more than 126 pounds [57 .3 kg]), which recognizes that weight below this is considered underweight by the World Health Organization.” So what do we do with this unrealistic expectation? How could the covers “look” different to reflect more the “average” woman?
Evaluation: Cosmopolitan uses thin cover models as aspirational objects for its readers—that is, as women, its readers would like to look like. Thus, these cover models become the image of what a “terrific” body is for its readers, who—by Cosmopolitan’s own account—are women age eighteen to twenty-four. Cosmo also notes that it’s been the best-selling women’s magazine in college bookstores for twenty-five years. But that target audience also happens to be the one most susceptible to body issues. As the Academy for Eating Disorders notes, “About one in 20 young women in the community has an eating disorder,” which can include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. How does society change this? Is this a cultural shift or just the documented changes in society over time of how we perceive what is “attractive” and the norm?
Engagement: Contact Cosmo’s editor in chief, Joanna Coles, and request representation of healthy body types on the magazine’s covers. You can contact her and the editorial department via email (email@example.com), telephone (212-649-3570), or U.S. mail: Joanna Coles, Editor, Cosmopolitan, 300 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Your voice can be effective: In 2012, a thirteen-year-old girl started a petition on change.org and successfully got Seventeen to respond to the way it Photoshops images of models. (Include your email/letter here).
Explanation & Answer:
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