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The Confidence R/evolution: Notes from the Office

'A Cultural Backlash': Claiming Injury

In the interviews, producers claimed that the sector is subjected to high levels of deeply unjust, ‘aggressive’, ‘focussed’ criticism: ‘Women’s magazine bashing is a thing ... which is unfair’. Furthermore, conjuring an idea of irrational attack, my research participants argued that this occurs ‘no matter what we do’. Critique was disavowed by describing publications a ‘best friend’, ‘loyal’, ‘honest’, ‘a source you can trust’. Evoking both the individualism and gender essentialism driving these media, many likewise drew on the notion of ‘a girl’s YOUniverse’ (Cosmopolitan), speaking about the magazine as a ‘women’s safe place’ that is ‘all about you’ and the things (all) ‘women really care about’. Moreover, for an editor-in-chief: ‘Our publication encourages young women to feel good about themselves, that they’re great as they are’. Swinging their dilemmatic (and problematic) relatability-aspiration pendulum, also repeatedly mobilised was an ideology of ‘best’: ‘It’s aimed at making you look and feel and do the best you can’, insisted a features editor. This was again used to counter claims that these publications are detrimental as misguided and unfair. One freelance writer protested: ‘Me and my friends that write for magazines spend a lot of time actually trying to help people with their weak spots’.

Others spoke of a distinctively contemporary backlash against these publications:

There’s been a cultural backlash against women’s magazines because we are perceived—I would argue incorrectly—as being out of touch, telling women that they’re not right, they need to be thinner, healthier, lalala. That we’re not funny, that we’re not intelligent, and that we’re out of touch with this growing new wave of feminism, etcetera.

Against this, magazine producers repeatedly asserted: ‘We have changed since the 90s and the noughties’. In particular, in the words of a staff writer: ‘When we’re talking about the shift in women’s magazines, at the core of everything we do is [...] always trying to enforce positive messages’. In what follows I examine how magazine professionals explain the rise of LYS/B.

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