Just As Beautiful - now available in print

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The UK's first magazine solely aimed at and featuring plus-size women has made the transition from online to print, generating a lot of discussion in the process.

Just As Beautiful magazine, which has been available to subscribers in online format for three years, can now be purchased via its website. When i tweeted the news this morning my words were met with several irritated reactions from friends and followers - people who sit in the 'plus size' category themselves yet feel that a magazine that singles them out is patronising and offensive to women whatever their size. People who aren't plus size and felt the language used by the magazine is negative and defeats the object of being more inclusive.

I took a look at the press release about the magazine's launch and I have to say, it rubbed me up the wrong way immediately. Reference to Christina Hendricks? Check. References to 'size zero' and 'impossibly skinny' models? Check. Footnote declaring that 'Men prefer women with curves'? Oh yes.

There's some good points in there - the fallacy of the diet industry, the editor's statement that she wants readers to feel they shouldn't have to change the way they look to be happy. But really, did it have to packaged alongside all that 'size zero debate' (come on, it's not 2006), 'what men really want' rubbish?

Whenever I talk to women about magazines they usually make two main points. Firstly, how much they'd love to read publications which feature a wide variety of women and secondly how much they'd love to read publications which didn't insist on telling us 'what men REALLY want' every issue. In an ideal world this would work out fine. I'd love to see magazines which really support women and don't rely on pitting us against each other by making snide comments about what's supposedly attractive and what's not. It's such a tabloid tactic - women vs women, good for a bitchy feature.

Many mainstream women's magazines are guilty of fatphobia. I don't this means that publications seeking to be inclusive and raise self esteem should go the other way and start promoting themselves alongside quotes about the desirability of 'curves' and comments about the bodies of models - who incidentally, are 'real women' too, no matter how thin they are. And while plus size women may shop at different places to those usually featured in mainstream magazines, what's with all the rest of the content especially aimed at the larger woman? I couldn't help feeling that this setting apart has got undertones of those times when major fashion magazines produce one issue featuring curvier or older models, yet refuse to feature them at any other time of the year.

I started a discussion about Just As Beautiful at a community I'm part of, laying out my thoughts and feelings about the way the launch has come across first. The general consensus was that while the magazine's aim is probably in the right place, it's not something any of the women who commented on the post would want to buy. The magazine's title was a major sticking point. You can't deny that it's a fine example of an almost unbearably patronising title. When I was growing up there was a plus size shop in my town named 'Pretty Big' and to be honest Just As Beautiful has that same level of cringe about it.

Some noteworthy comments:
"There is a major issue of fatphobia in women's magazines but by publishing this, they're shooting everyone in the foot. Specialist magazine showcasing plus size women and issues = no longer concern of regular magazine because there's a magazine doing all that. What little exposure plus size women/issues get in other women's magazines might go *poof* in light of this..."
"Just because my body is a particular size or shape, it doesn't mean that i'm going to automatically need to read all about it, you know? I'm not just a body, grasping for anything that vaguely might resemble me. And if it had some intelligent articles about women's bodies, the problems facing all sizes in the media - it'd be different. But this just seems reductive and patronising."
"I've always felt that even though I'm a size 16/18, I have exactly the same lifestyle, goals, interests as a size 6/8 woman. It means that a fat woman's lifestyle is dictated by her fat, and suggests that they need to approach life in a different way from a slimmer woman, which is perverse. Although I 'fit in' with this magazine's target audience, the fact I still live my life as I would whether I was bigger or smaller means that it's entirely redundant to me. I dress how I want to dress, I socialise how I want to socialise, I have attractive partners to whom I'm genuinely attracted...I'm strong academically, I have distinct ambitions. And none of that has anything to do with my size."
"...it makes me feel really uncomfortable when plus-sized women...are labelled as 'real' women - thin women aren't imaginary! It's another way of saying that attractiveness in a woman is defined by whether or not men find her attractive. Aside from the inherent heteronormativity in that way of thinking, it's just plain misogynistic."
Overall there was a feeling that trying to keep two groups of women separate purely because of size is a negative thing and that magazines should be trying harder to be inclusive of everyone.

Obviously there's the other side of the coin to consider. According to its editor, the magazine has achieved great popularity over the last three years and has proved a great find for women who feel excluded by mainstream mags. You can't disagree that many of these magazines display an extremely dismissive attitude towards women who aren't thin, most obviously when it comes to features about clothes. As I mentioned above, there's the one-off issues 'celebrating' women who aren't young, white and thin but sadly that's all they are: one-offs.

These magazines do need to do better. Stop sending your size ten writers off to get Harley Street treatments for 'that stubborn tummy roll' or 'those nightmare saddlebags'. Stop pretending that crash diets are normal. Start taking a more inclusive approach to fashion. Maybe then women bigger than size 12 won't feel like they need a separate magazine to cater to their interests and lifestyles.

There is a problem with self esteem linked to women's magazines and by being critical of Just As Beautiful I'm in no way criticising its readership or its original aims. But it's certainly something which has got a lot of people talking and many things about it have made me uncomfortable.


Sarah Ditum said...

What I don't get is the idea that women would want to identify themselves explicitly by size. Because size changes, and the problem for Just As Beautiful from a marketing point of view is that it excludes both all the women who aren't "plus size", and all the plus size women who don't think of themselves principally as "plus sized".

Essentials recent "real woman" relaunch (where real meant a spread of body types, not just a figure of eight bombshell) looks like a much smarter bid for the same sort of feel-good territory.

Blair said...

Wow, that cover - now I see what Colin meant with the Cheers magazine comparison, it's bloody awful! Totally agree about the title too.

I think there are good intentions behind this magazine and I'm sure it will find an audience, but as someone said on off_hs, segregating 'skinny' and 'curvy' women is hardly the answer. I think there's a wider issue here with the body fascism at work in the media and magazines - as a UK size 8-10 I rarely feel that the bodies of women of my size I see in magazines look anything like mine! Not only do magazines often only use very skinny models, but they all have the same body shape - either skinny all over, or slightly 'curvier' but still extremely toned with a tiny waist/stomach. And not having a classically beautiful/angelically pretty face is only okay if you're incredibly thin. What about size 8/10 girls who are pear-shaped, or slim but still a bit flabby? What about 'curvy' girls who don't have the hourglass shape of a Christina Hendricks type? I wish magazines would embrace diversity a bit more and use a greater range of shapes and just general looks as well as sizes. I know people will say just don't read mainstream magazines, buy a zine instead and stuff but I like the fashion and culture features in mainstream magazines, I'm a bit old to be into the whole 'alternative' scene and I love reading about clothes I can buy - I don't want to give that up, I just want the magazines I read to be a bit more realistic! I'm slim and a lot of people I know irl call me 'skinny' but I feel like my body is disgusting when I look at models in magazines - this is when you know there's a problem...

The girl on the cover of JAB (lol) may be 'plus size', but she has a stunning face and is very well-proportioned. I'd be interested to know if this is going to be true of all the models in the magazine or if they will go the whole way and use a truly diverse range of 'real' women.

Rambling, badly written comment here but great post - lots of food for thought!

Sarah Ditum said...

Oh dear. It's made it onto PSD:


Hannah Mudge said...

Sarah - i agree; i think a spread of body types is the way to go rather than focusing on just one. I think that's what most women want. That PS Disasters post is just a whole heap of awfulness :(((

Blair - Totally agree; as you know i'm also size 8-10 but am totally the same - the women in magazines don't represent my body type either - and as someone who's pear-shaped i've had to resign myself to the fact that i'm one of those body types that the fashion industry likes to pretend doesn't exist, lol. At the end of the day we do have the privilege that the clothes featured in mainstream women's mags actually do come in our size. We definitely need more diversity and acknowledgement that body types other than 'thin' and 'Christina Hendricks' exist, are acceptable, and are beautiful. Even when magazines feature plus size women, as you say there is a tendency to feature only perfectly proportioned larger women with small waists, so even then there is the feeling that some plus size body types are 'more acceptable' than others. Thanks for tweeting about the post btw, much appreciated :)

RedHead said...

That title is so patronising it's unreal, like some matronly woman patting the hands of fat girls everywhere. They should have a magazine called Just As Beautiful for thinner women, fatter women, women with disabilities, women with missing limbs, women with scars or burns. Any woman who looks different to the norm is Just As Beautiful. Can't we just get over this whole 'mustn't offend anyone' mad mindset and just get on with our lives, accepting that the fashion industry is set in its ways of what's pretty and what's cover-worthy. Let's just all aspire to be healthy. I was actually pretty pissed off when US Elle put Gabourey Sidibe on the cover - Oscar-nominee or not, that size is not aspirational - and whenever someone goes on about how inspirational Beth Ditto is. But I've had this can of worms sitting open on my desk for years.
Back to the point. Title patronising, Christina Hendricks most over-name-checked woman in world right now. End.

Hannah Mudge said...

Agree about Christina Hendricks. She must get so angry that this is all everyone talks about her for now. No matter what she does as an actress, it's always going to be about the way she looks and her looks as some sort of 'statement' about women and body types. Do you ever read ONTD? There was an ENORMOUS controversial post about that Elle US cover on there which was mainly related to the fact they appeared to have lightened Gabourey's skin quite a lot. When it comes to size i think people need to stop trying to weigh in (pun not intended) on what other people do with their bodies. I think magazines need to stop holding up famous women's bodies as 'inspiration'. I think people need to stop thinking it's their place to judge what others should eat or how much they should weigh. What works for me and what i find inspirational is not going to apply to many others and nor should it. Personally i believe in looking after my body, maintaining good physical fitness and muscle tone. Magazines trying to tell me what female celebrity's body i should be inspired by this week is beyond tedious.

Sue said...

My name is Sue Thomason and I'm the editor of the magazine you're discussing. I pretty much agree with everything you say here and you won't find a more militant feminist than me!

We have now split with the publisher and changed the name of the magazine to BEAUTIFUL. The only reason we were called 'Just As Beautiful' was because we were tied into an association with the old online magazine. I also never liked the name.

I also agree that women of all shapes and sizes should be represented in women's magazines and segregation is not the ideal. But segregation and positive discrimination are a good way of getting the attention of the media and the public so that we can begin this battle and evolve into the ideal women's magazine. Hopefully, leading all women's magazines to follow.

We have chosen a mainstream cover for the same reason. If we were to release another Bitch magazine we would remain 'underground' and the progress would be much slower.

I do have a little criticism of your views here (it's only fair as you have criticised my magazine :-) and that is to say that you have presumed an awful lot about the magazine when you haven't even read it. So I'd like to suggest that you don't knock it until you've tried it!

Fortunately, you can try it for free because we have released the print issue in digital format (without most of the adverts)and you can get it at http://www.beautifulmagazine.co.uk


Sue Thomason

Hannah Mudge said...


Thanks for your response here, it's much appreciated and was very insightful. I'd just like to point out that I did in fact look at some of the online editions of the magazine before writing the post. Quite a few of my negative impressions also came from the press release I found online. I think it's great that the name of the magazine has now changed!


Sarah Ditum said...

I really appreciate an ed who's willing to deal with criticism, so props to Sue. OTOH, it's madness for an ed to try to *underplay* the importance of their magazine's cover. The cover is what people make their initial purchase on - not the contents. Where I work, we've been given guidance that you have a 6 second window to make an impression on the newsstand, and the ed should spend 40% of the issue working on cover and packaging. Because if the outside's not right, no one's even going to get to the contents page.


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