Maybe we should call this post the worst Cover Lies, as the most egregiously mendacious covers are often the most fun to mock. Regardless, here's a little tour of what some of the glossies were really saying in 2009.
Looking at a whole bunch of old Cover Lies is a great way to remind yourself that ladymags just recycle the same old weight-loss, man-snagging, and faux-self-improvement tropes again and again and again. In February Cosmo, for instance, we saw the Simple Way To Revolutionize Your Life. Yes, ladies, it's breathing. Millions of women have died because they ignored this basic tip.
Am I normal? Is he? You might not give a shit, but one important goal of ladymags is to make sure you and your genitals are conforming enough. So get out the measuring tape and appraise various aspects of your "down-there."
Of course, the Weight Loss Tip is also an essential part of the woman's magazine anatomy. These tips fall into two categories: Totally Insane, and So Basic That If It Worked Everyone Would Be Skinny. May Glamour offers the latter.
Like the Weight Loss Tip, the Sex Tip changes little from month to month. May Cosmo (May was an especially lie-alicious month) offered pull-out cards with tame sex fantasies — like going to a wedding in nice clothes — for those who can't even think up lame, cliched scenarios on their own.
Another tried-and-true ladymag trick is to promise scandal and deliver saccharine. May Vogue was full of models talking about how nice other models are — just like how every celebrity in Hollywood loves every other celebrity, every famous marriage is perfect, and every star stays thin by chasing after her kids.
It might seem like it's easy just to churn out monthly variations on tired themes, but the staff at magazines actually have it rough: they have to take all the free shit advertisers send to them and somehow shoehorn it into what passes for an editorial feature. A frequent solution is the "20, 30, 40" method — age categories that are, as June Marie Claire makes clear, pretty much random.
Dividing women into age categories isn't just a way to sell cosmetics — it's a way to promote clothes too. August Vogue did this by putting the ancient, decrepit Christy Turlington on its cover, then filling its interior with teenage and twentysomething models supposedly showing off looks for older women. Also a Vogue standby: the terrifying cosmetic procedure. Here it's "Inner Eyelid Laser Incineration."
Elle is often especially good at featuring clothes that look good on no one. As a bonus, the September issue also offered some eyeshadow "tips from hos."
Related to the Completely Unflattering Outfit is the Completely Absurd Photo Shoot — and Vogue really excels in this department. In October, highlights included several combinations of things that shouldn't be combined: tennis and breakfast in bed, boxing and evening gowns, horses and hats.
Of course, the secret weapon of all ladymags is that they're completely depressing. Whether they're telling you that your man will leave you because you're too successful, or doling out confusing, contradictory sartorial advice, if you read enough of them you will not want to eat, have sex, go to work, or even get dressed. All you will be able to do is lie in bed and read magazines. Which is exactly their plan.