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.