The Self-Flagellation Of The First-Person Beauty Piece

One of the most degrading things about working at a women's magazine has to be trying out various beauty treatments — and then writing a first-person piece about how frumpy your "before" self was.

January Elle (the "Make Better" issue) puts three women through this particular wringer. First up is Maggie Bullock, who gets hypnotized in hopes of becoming "Maggie 2.0," "a leaner, more chiseled me [...] loping, serene and gazellelike, on a treadmill." Her hypnotherapy saga, which ends when she gains the willpower to eat just half a sandwich rather than the whole thing, only rates about, say, a 2.0 on the scale of magazine humiliation.

A little higher is April Long's project: trying a new hairstyle every day, then photographing herself and making fun of how she looks. She describes getting her picture taken every day as a "snake pit," so it must have been a blast to come up with self-flagellating captions like, "The rest of my hair looks like cocker spaniel ears, but when I pull it into a ponytail, I resemble a horse." Humiliation quotient: 4.5.

The real winner, though, is Miranda Purves, a married 37-year-old who hopes to become "sexy" with the help of a GQ editor, the author of Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?, and some male friends. She confesses that she's "never, never felt like a sexy woman. From the second I hit puberty I had figure flaws - cellulite, short legs, big feet, too-long hips, breasts too far apart." Then she allows her "consultants" to deconstruct (and deride) her favorite outfits, and to give her advice like "[a sexy woman] should schedule three sessions in a week with a personal trainer; even a week will create the right attitude; meditate on why she wants to look sexy; watch 9 1/2 Weeks high; buy some expensive lotion; throw out all her old underwear; read something romantic like Consuelo by George Sand."

The idea that a grown woman who may not feel traditionally sexy, but clearly has her own style and presence in the world (she proudly describes herself as "scary") needs sexiness lessons is ludicrous. What makes it worse is putting Purves's litany of bodily imperfections next to hyper-airbrushed photos of Beyonce and Ciara. The first-person beauty piece is all about playing the ugly duckling amid swans, the implication being that if Purves — and her readers — are very diligent, they can look half as good as the girls in the fashion spreads. Purves's piece would get at least an 8 for humiliation, except that by the end she rejects the whole thing: "I believe a little bit more that you can fake sexiness," she writes, "but I also think that if it doesn't come naturally, you shouldn't bother."

Elle [Official Site]