Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Monday, April 04, 2016

The magazines of my years


I thought I had written about my lifelong magazine habit but searching my blog revealed that while I devoted a post to the demise of She magazine, and have mentioned other mags in dispatches,  I haven't actually written a post about what magazines have meant to me over the years.

 And now I'm done with them.

Well, not quite.  I buy three gardening magazines each month plus sporadically House Beautiful and Ideal Home (depending if the Great Interior design Challenge is on). I used to buy a clutch of weeklies, Hello, Look and Grazia, mostly to see what was trendy and then buy little bits of it (accessories, a shirt, a coat, a necklace) to show I'm not completely over the hill. I hardly ever buy Vogue because it makes me audibly groan when I look at clothes and jewellery costing thousands of pounds which I can never buy.

My big passion was always women's magazines. And now there's nothing for me.  More of that in a minute.

My magazine passion started as a child with Teddy Bear comic followed by Princess Tina and then Pink (which had fabulous free gifts when it first launched). Pink had a "before its time" comic strip about a woman called Sugar Jones who was in her 40s but somehow defied time. At that time, women in their 40s wore crimplene and had shampoos and sets.

I was never a Bunty or Diana girl, and didn't like the Beano or the Dandy.  Zzzz!

Then came Jackie, which wasn't such a huge influence on me. I was too cool for school for the pin-ups of dorks like Donny Osmond and David Cassidy  (David Bowie for me), and I had a suspicion Cathy And Claire were living in cloud cuckoo land. But I did like the ads and I was constantly buying old tat like identity bracelets and "free stamps" from Goole in Yorkshire, and sending for samples of soaps and Sister Marion's little offerings.

Around age 12 I started reading my mum's magazines: Family Circle, Living and Woman's Realm. She also read, more interestingly, Slimming, which started my obsession with dieting and calories. Its guru was a Professor John Yudkin who was the first to discover that "low fat" was bad as it generally led to consumption of more sugar, but at the time he was derided.

After a couple of Jackie years there came a deluge: Fab 208; Hi! and OK! (a different OK to the one that exists nowadays); NME every week, Mirabelle, and then a real life-changing moment when I found Honey in a holiday camp shop in 1976. I remember the actual issue (I've tried to buy it on ebay but never seen it).  There was an article on how to make a real pizza, with olives and anchovies, and an article about the "smouldering beauty" of Maria Schneider, who was in Last Tango in Paris.


I loved Honey. It was aspirational, stylish and slightly edgy. I eagerly sought out the articles by Rose Shepherd. And it led to me a rich seam of other titles: 19, Over 21, Cosmopolitan, Glamour.
Throughout my 20s and 30s I was avidly consuming titles She, Eve, Red plus health & beauty magazines like Zest (all these closed down). She, when I first discovered it, had some wonderfully quirky and ground breaking articles. I still remember some of them:  one was about the Mandrake root. Another was about people who are intersex  (this was in the 70s when it was not much known about).
In my 40s I became obesssed with paper crafts so started buying some of these magazines.  I found that Woman and Home, despite its name, was surprisingly good;  I started to buy stylish homes magazines plus Easy Living, Hello and Grazia. It was only in my 40s that I stopped buying Cosmopolitan,  It suddenly became less modern and, like all the others, focused endlessly on how to attract men.

Now I find that women's magazines aimed at my age group do nothing for me. Woman & Home has become set in its ways, forever showcasing the same group of middle-aged women celebrities (Lorraine Kelly, Fern Britton, Helen Mirren, Emilia Fox) and forever talking about women starting up small businesses selling artisan soaps or cakes.  Women in the corporate world don't get a look in yet we have work challenges as well:  there are still very low numbers in the board room and what to wear at work can be a minefield. I get tired of the "change your life with 10 new habits" type of articles and anything to do with mindfulness.

Good Housekeeping could easily be Woman and Home if the covers were swapped, though it is a little more relentless in its targeting of the comfortably off, white middle-class woman with a lovely home and garden, cute grand children and a yen to show off with dinner parties and amazing cakes.

In both magazines the default is children and grandchildren. Child-free women are usually deemed to be those those for whom IVF didn't work rather than those who chose it, which will soon account for 20% of women.

Other magazines like Red seem to have dug themselves into a tighter niche of targeting younger women with kids and careers.

I'd love to see a magazine about health and fitness for the other 50s. There was one, briefly, a few years ago.  I read Women's Health and Women's Fitness occasionally but all the models and case studies featured are women in their 20s, and at my age you want to read about reducing your middle-aged tummy fat, your visceral fat, and eating to improve your energy.

It's rare to see new magazine launches these days. Although I buy virtually everything online and read a lot online, I still prefer to indulge in a print magazine.  So any publishers with deep pockets might want to consider launching a monthly that considers the over-50s woman as an older version of her 20-something self. Still curious, still independent, still seeking adventures. It should also:

  • Cncentrates on health, beauty and fashion for the over 50s, with less focus on what's given out in press releases but more befores and afters, and genuine results for skincare
  • Careers advice for the over 50s woman: breaking through the glass ceiling, dealing with ageism, having to "network" when every bone of your body cries out no; coping with redundancy; how to work effectively with millennials.
  • Have quirky or unexpected content like She had many years ago
  • Plus: planning for retirement - and not just about pensions and ISAs and setting up a small business. Ideas for what to do in retirement:  studying for a degree, travelling, adopting a new sport, working for a charity.....
  • Finally acknowledge there are women who are child-free. Articles on how we will live when we are older with no kids to look after us.









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