The Linda.meiden (The girls’ version of famous Dutch blonde Linda de Mol) is now not only for her, but for him and them as well. Or more succinctly, as becomes clear from the newest issue, the girls and the gays. I feel like I’ve just come across confidential information about area 51. How is this pivotal political document just casually displayed here, under the bleak fluorescent supermarket lightning on a casual Tuesday morning? I look around. Is anyone else seeing this? This is so, so major. It is a slay. Linda is mothering. Yet, no one is paying attention. Looking at the brightly coloured pages full of deliciously vapid goss ‘n gloss, people from Amsterdam with first world issues I dream about having, and a healthy dose of advertisements that tell what mascara I’ve been missing out on, queasiness starts to overtake my initial glee. The progressive sweet talk has a desperate ring to it. In fact, for the fashion magazine, it is too little too late.
This is what dreams are made of
To my surprise, I find myself grieving. Though I’ve always loyally read the intellectually challenging novels my father wanted me to read to assure himself that he indeed was a sensible parent, my mom made sure to remind me that it’s okay to rejoice in stupid fun. Call her a bad feminist, but I liked her agenda. We would spend what seemed like hours in the magazine aisle. Sometimes the girlies just want to lie stomach-down on their bed, feet swinging in the air, Taylor Swift on full blast, and tear through the newest issue of Cosmo Girl while painting their nails hot pink. No thoughts, head empty. See it as a form of meditation, ego death even. Every year, a big stash would come with us on summer holiday. After a long day of visiting every single church on a Greek island so tiny that no one my age was even there, I would plop down on my towel at the pool and pretend I was a background character in Mamma Mia. When I was done with my own stash, I would go through my mom’s magazines, and we’d discuss all the tea over dinner. While at times the writing style was even too cringy for my taste, the superficiality of it was a great way to keep my thoughts from becoming navel-gazy; the medicine for overthinking. Sometimes I didn’t even really need to read them to relax. Instead, I would cut out my favourite parts and make collages out of them in a scrapbook. Over the years this has developed into more of a serious hobby, but it started with my love for magazines.
I’m addicted to you, don’t you know that you’re toxic
My love of the glossy did not equal false consciousness. Not me bringing Marx into all this drama, but I really want to stress that the enjoyment of a thing does not render one unable to criticise it. And I probably don’t have to tell you about all the toxic parts of fashion magazines. Many have pointed out the role magazines have played in prescribing femininity. Once women became consumers at the turn of the century (believe it or not- ‘women be shopping’ would once have been a statement of rebellion), they needed to be marketed to. The strategy is so insidiously clever it is straight up evil – create an insecurity in your magazines, and then market your product with a promise to resolve that insecurity. As fashion became faster, and models thinner (what twisted mind came up with heroin chic?), magazines were there to guide women through it all – while secretly being in cahoots with the devil himself. Speaking of the devil, the evergreen y2k chick-flick The Devil wears Prada perfectly embodies the vibe I’m trying to describe here. But hey, the iconic scene where Miranda Priestly scowls Andy for her cerulean sweater passes the Bechdel test, so feminist equality has been achieved in my opinion.
There is something so sweet about the escape into the insidious toxicity of the fashion magazine. For a while there I wondered if I had developed a false sense of nostalgia like I had been gaslit by the girlbosses into gatekeeping. But then, I had an epiphany that this intoxicating toxicity is almost exactly mirrored in today’s internet. The way people scroll for hours on tiktok or instagram or youtube or pinterest for beauty and fashion inspiration, listen to the latest drama on the Call her Daddy podcast, and generally turn off their brains until they are overstimulated enough to dissociate from their own problems – they are the same picture.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
While the internet functions as the Wild West, fashion magazines have been doing their best to address criticisms in recent years. This was both to my delight and surprise, because when I was still seeing heteronormative quizzes and stories about dates in 2018, I truly believed magazines would just stay like that forever. I remember having to debate plus-size model Tess Holiday being on the cover of Cosmopolitan for my first year sociology of consumerism class, and everyone being up in arms about it. At that time, all I could think about was how much of a breath of fresh air the controversy was. After years of photoshop and detoxes, the discourse of the magazines was finally becoming a bit less stale and a bit more dynamic.
Now magazines cover social issues as well, such as the annual spread in every summer edition about the risk of skin cancer with excessive tanning, or the need for body positivity. Milou Deelen is this generations’ IT journalist, and after she protested Vindicat for slutshaming her in 2017, I have been keen to keep an eye on her. These new articles address contemporary issues with the same ease of reading an interview with Emma Chamberlain on the perils of being an ‘influencer’. These magazines are here to entertain, after all. And even though on paper (see what I did there) I agree this development is a good thing, in practice it has made me disconnected from the medium. It ruins the escapism for me. Instead, I’m feeling even more overwhelmed, like there are always problems everywhere. I get catcalled regularly in the street, and I don’t want to be reminded of that harsh reality in what is supposed to be my safe space. And since the topics that they cover are usually carefully analysed by media experts to be politically correct and not too controversial, I’ve usually been aware of them for years by the time they reach my magazine. At the same time, the shallowness usually means I don’t learn anything new. Oftentimes I find myself even having to correct blatant mistakes.
Desperate for women’s media that could quench my thirst, I made a 180 degree turn and developed a strong love for personal essays by female writers. These essays usually address the same themes and issues of femininity, but feel much more raw. Books like The Bell Jar and My Year of Rest and Relaxation are also high on the feminine reading list, but they are more of an endeavour to get through. When I want something short and sweet, I grab any essay or short story collection by Vivianne Gornick, Niña Weijers, Emma Cline, or Zadie Smith. Joan Didion, the woman who arguably pioneered the writing style, actually used to write for Vogue after winning an essay contest. Did you know Sylvia Plath once ran a short story in Seventeen? I wouldn’t even think twice about buying that issue. Literature and film are both in their female rage/femcel [ed. female celibate, or single lady, if you will] era, but magazines seem to have missed the memo.
At one point, I had a fantasy vision of starting my own magazine and bringing back those personal essays. Be the change you want to see in the world, right? It would be feminist and at the same time unapologetically feminine. Tasteful tackiness. Then I discovered the (partially online) zine and podcast Polyester, run by Ione Gamble in the UK. This was everything I had envisioned. My magazine would be a Dutch version of Polyester, called Trui. Magazines are not over, they just need a facelift. But lately Polyester has been posting on Instagram about the disappearance of print, and the difficulties of running an independent zine. What I had taken for a gap in the market, was actually the signs of a sinking ship. Why would people buy the november issue when all the red carpets have been online since fashion week? It doesn’t matter how woke Linda.meiden is now, no one is going to buy a €10 glossy to read for two hours and then throw away. Especially now that you can buy a new top from Shein for the same price.
Bye Bye Bye
There are more signs that fashion magazines are due to close up shop. Over the years many issues have become less frequent, for example from monthly to quarterly. In 2017, the cult-icon of Japanese streetwear FRUiTS retired. In the same year, Teen Vogue and Seventeen went fully digital. And this year, Paper magazine, known for its artsy pop culture moments like Kim Kardashians ‘Break the Internet’ photoshoot, fired its entire editorial staff near the end of April. I.D. magazine is folding most of its international issues. For a while, Glamour and Vogue had lost their publisher in the Netherlands. Ew.
Print is losing the battle with the internet. Digitalization has led to an issue of journalistic integrity with not only click-bait, but a lack of fact-checking. In the rush to be the first with the most clicks, misinformation tends to slip through the cracks. But it is not just the physical print that is losing business. Even digital media outlets, like Buzzfeed and Vice, are struggling. Reportedly, the reason is the lack of advertisers. They have decided that the place for their budget is social media – Tiktok, Instagram, Facebook. For one, it is much easier to track their effectiveness with click-through rate, but it is also easier to integrate with sponsorships and the like. Consequently, traditional media is left to bite the dust. This can explain why magazines feel more capitalist to me now; instead of being the trendsetters and deciding the culture, they have to pander to the culture in order to keep up with costs. More and more, advertisements are hidden away in articles that otherwise feel like normal content. You can’t just skip through them anymore, it has taken over the whole thing like a parasite in high heels, sunglasses and this season’s trench coat.
When I told my dad I wanted to write this piece, he asked the same question he’s been asking me for years: “Why would you even care about all this nonsense?” To an outsider, fashion magazines may have had too little intrinsic value to be much of a loss. I could argue in favour of useless things in our overly productive capitalist hellscape. But even though I am never one to hold on to the past blinded by nostalgia, somewhere deep inside me, a little girl is screaming that it wasn’t all a waste of time. It was useful. There is a value to the gravitas that paper publications hold, something that the ultra-democratized internet tries but ultimately fails to replicate. The same way my dad keeps up with football in order to have something in common with the receptionist at work or his brother-in-law, I used to bring magazines to a sleepover to discuss the psycho-social dynamics of the latest celebrity break-up. Now we all live in our personalised algorithm bubbles. With the rise of aesthetics and microtrends, the overload of information actually makes it harder to get a picture of the zeitgeist.
If the magazine was only able to capture that authentic feel again, then maybe there is a sliver of hope for the culture. I might even be inclined to pick up Linda.meiden the next time I go grocery shopping, or in my local café on a slow Monday. I might find myself feeling inspired by a make-up look, or a new up and coming designer featured for their creativity. If you read my article ‘till the end (which you almost have!), you might – like me – enjoy a long-winded personal essay about nothing important. An in-depth interview that actually tells you something about that person. It’s a piece of art that everyone, of all classes and backgrounds, can see themselves in. Magazines used to provide us with uncomplicated pleasure and something to talk about. Now, we can only dream about a life like that.
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