Self Editor: Photoshopped Mags Just Giving Women What They WantS

Self editor Lucy Danziger (pictured) is still making excuses for Photoshopping pop-star Kelly Clarkson. The latest: digital manipulation is simply what readers want!

Danziger's appearance on a Women at NBCU breakfast panel last Wednesday shows she really needs to learn when to cut her losses — we don't need to hear her say that "Kelly liked the picture" for the eight zillionth time, or that "we did not make her look skinny, we made her look better." But the real kicker is her explanation for whittling Clarkson away in the first place. She says,

[P]eople like to say, "Oh, the media is the problem." I would say that, if we're really honest, the reason some of these magazines get bought by people is because they want to see that image. It is a consumer-driven market. If you put something on the newsstand and they don't like it, it won't get bought.

She goes on to say we could "debate [...] all day" whether magazine Photoshopping or a consumer desire for unrealistic images came first — but it's clear which side she falls on. And even though she thinks her consumers demand Photoshopping, she still claims that Self doesn't really use it that much. The magazine is "as honest as they come," she says — except, presumably, for the whole Kelly Clarkson thing.

Danziger's argument that she's just giving her customers what they demand echoes Cosmo editor Kate White's "contribution" to the whole Ralph Lauren Photoshopping mess last week. In her (rather superfluous) appearance on the Today Show, White said,

I think women have to protest - and back it up. Because sometimes women say they want real girls in stories, but often those stories don't rate as well. Or if you put a heavy celebrity on the cover it might not sell as well. So women have to complain, and then back it up with their actions. Their pocketbooks.

Both editors neatly pass the buck to magazine readers, whose appetites they claim really dictate how teensy a cover girl must be. This is pretty disingenuous, especially given that women's magazine editors set themselves up as tastemakers in so many other areas. They sell ads — and get free shit for advertorial features — largely by convincing companies that women will buy the products they recommend. They position themselves as trendsetters at the forefront of fashion — not followers who just report on what women are already wearing. Especially in the case of Self, they give health and lifestyle advice, and while they sometimes feature reader opinions, they don't base all their tips on workouts readers already perform. Women's magazines are completely in the business of telling women what to wear, what to buy, what to eat, and what to do, and the idea that women tell them what to put on the cover is ludicrous.

Moreover, it's hard to even evaluate Danziger's claims about readers' tastes, since they don't really have very many options. There is no mainstream American women's magazine that features un-Photoshopped models of all shapes and sizes. There's Bust, but with its smaller budget and bimonthly publication schedule, it's not a real competitor. Really, the major women's magazines represent something of a cartel of unrealistic female images, and women searching for an alternative will have a hard time "voting with their pocketbooks" — there's nothing to vote for.

Of course, it's true that Danziger and White are in the business of selling magazines, not making us all hate our bodies. Their reluctance to experiment with, say, not Photoshopping probably has as much to do with fear of the unknown — and perhaps fear of advertiser response — as it does with misogyny and sizeism. But as I've said before, women's magazines are in financial trouble, and the old formulas clearly aren't working so well anymore. In fact, the biggest ad gains this month were reported, not by Cosmo or Self, but by Southern Living and Real Simple, which sport food, not models, on their covers, and which credit their success to helping women actually do stuff. So maybe it's time for editors like White and Danziger to stop making excuses about what consumers want, and give them some actual choices.

3 Minute Ad Age: October 20, 2009 [AdAge]
Top 5 Monthlies: Giving Women What They Want [MinOnline]

Earlier: Kelly Clarkson Slimmed Down On Self Via Photoshop

Ralph Lauren Fires Photoshopped Model For Being "Too Fat"