Ever wondered what women's magazines are like across the pond?
As someone who spends a lot of time reading - and writing about - American ladymags I thought that, for a change of pace, I'd investigate a few foreign ones. So a few weeks ago, I bought four British magazines and four French ones to see how they stack up against their American counterparts.
I was particularly interested in how these foreign editions treat single readers: Does the strategy for love and romance veer from what American women are used to reading? Are there tips? Is being single considered a blessing or a curse? Do they want women to be more or less assertive? Let's take a look:
More! - Oct. 19th edition
Dannii Minogue, sister of Kylie and a reality tv judge in the UK, is on the cover. Almost the entirety of her interview is devoted to her "gorgeous boyfriend" Kris, a rugby player six years her junior. "He accepts me in my tracksuits and my UGG boots and no make-up and my hair in a [headband]," she gushes. "He's The One." It's no wonder she's obsessed with her boyfriend-her friends and family sound psychotic. "When he met all of my family and friends, they all came back to me going, ‘If you mess this up, we won't be your friends any more because, seriously, we thought you'd be single forever.'"
Later in the issue, the magazine ask forty men to answer the rather cheerful question "How Can We Tell if You're About to Dump Us?" And there's a feature called "I've Never Had a Boyfriend," in which four attractive twenty-something women confess that they've never had a serious relationship and a nebulous-sounding "relationship expert" tries to understand how exactly that could happen. Sample advice: "Between now and Christmas I want you to get to know men with a good relationship track record so you'll know what to look for in future relationships."
However! I am willing to take back anything I might be inclined to say about the obsession with monogamy that this magazine appears to have because there, on page 100, was the Position of the Week. This week's is called The Cat and it's reenacted step-by-step by an interracial Barbie couple. Plus!! There's a bonus tip that involves a vibrator "to maximize your pleasure." And if that was not enough, there are five readers profiled who were paid to try it. Yes, that's right, our British sistren can get paid £30 to try out sex tips in magazines. It is times like this that I question whether the American Revolution was a good idea.
Marie Claire (UK Edition) - -November 2009
"In the midst of this doom and gloom, I feel inclined to spoil myself more." Ah, another article on the minor luxuries women won't give up during the recession! Except this is a pretty serious, reported article called "The Pleasure Boom" that claims that the recession has resulted in a kind of golden age for sex toys in Britain.
Moving on from gold-plated vibrators, they address the age-old "Should I Tell Him How Many Men I've Slept With?" question by encouraging evasiveness. I loved this: "When men want to play the numbers game, I stick to my ‘more than one, less than a hundred' line, and remind them that all of my experiences have made me into the sexually confident woman that I am today." I usually cringe at any mention of the O-word-oxytocin-but I appreciate that they warn women that the "cuddle hormone" can "lead to inappropriate bonding with that random one-night stand."
General bonus: this magazine came wrapped with a giant bar of chocolate to celebrate Chocolate Week 2009.
Glamour (UK Edition) - November 2009
I was not particularly moved by any suggestions in "Happy Couple Tips to Try Tonight, Tomorrow and Forever." Is there anything new in "Brag publicly about him," "Spoil him," or "Think back on all the reasons you fell for him"? Plus I'm not sure that using a photo from Gossip Girl of Dan and Serena making out is the best way to illustrate eternal love.
There is a fairly depressing piece on what men talk about when we're not around. From "Overheard at a football match": "She's got the premenstrual with the cramping and bloating and terrorizing, then the menstrual, then the post-menstrual. No shit, she's fit for habitation for only, like, ten days a month." Not only in there no analysis of this comment but there is no indication that this kind of casual misogyny-fed to us in a women's magazine, no less!-is completely unacceptable. What's next? "Top Ten ‘Take My Wife, Please' Jokes"?
Cosmopolitan (UK Edition) - November 2009
This month's Cosmo quiz is dedicated to all the single ladies, namely Agyness Deyn, Alexandra Burke (the winner of the American Idolesque X Factor), Kate Hudson, and Lily Allen. "They're all gorgeous, sexy and single. What can your celeb relationship twin tell you about your love life?" I took the quiz, answering questions like, "If a friend invites you out on the same night you've got a date, you'd cancel to go out with a friend." My single celeb soulmate is Kate Hudson and our shared problem is that we are prone to judging too quickly. "Like Kate, you're not ready to settle for one guy. Perhaps that's because in the back of your mind you're always thinking someone else might come along."
There's an interesting article on women who have had to move back in with their parents-whether for financial reasons or because of a bad breakup-and who think it's the best thing they ever did.
In an advice column, an 18-year-old asks whether she should go out with her coworker who is ten years her senior. The casual response seems like something that would probably never see the light of day in American magazines: "In a couple years' time, 10 years between you and a boyfriend will make much less difference to anyone."
Cosmopolitan (French edition) - November 2009
My favorite part of French Cosmo is the special psychic supplement that comes with the November issue, which includes a punch-out tarot deck and a quiz called "What Kind of Love Witch Are You?" I took it, and apparently I'm the kind that loves "eternal adolescents who don't take anything seriously, especially not love." My inner goth could only be happier if it came with love spells.
There's a long reported story that feels a bit behind the times on online dating and another depressing story about men. This time it's a list of the ways (by text, via the silent treatment) in which men leave us. There's another story told from the point of view of men on what their girlfriends do better than anyone else ("walk wearing stilettos," "read my thoughts").
The last page is an ode to wearing garter belts by a female writer who claims they're "comfortable, practical, and they makes me feel more sure of myself." Very French.
20 Ans - October 2009
20 Ans (it means 20 Years Old) is something that doesn't really exist in America: the sexually frank magazine for teenagers. But it's less like Sassy than a hybrid of Bonnie Fuller-era YM and Maxim.
There's an article on what men like to do in the morning (Sleep in! Eat a ton of cereal! Have sex! I have never heard of a woman enjoying any of those things!) that is pretty vapid, but I did enjoy the the Ten Good Reasons to Sleep with Someone article: "there's nothing on tv," "you're young, beautiful, and sexy," "you have nothing better to do," "you want to." They also include a few reasons not to: "you haven't shaved," "you have a sex toy," "it's too hot out," and "you don't want to."
Later, there are several stories prepping girls for adult relationships. And by "adult relationships," we mean "male disappointment." There's an article on why your man doesn't do what you tell him (the answers: "because he doesn't want to" or because you're a nag), another of tricks to get your guy to get off the phone/internet/tv (parading around in lingerie is encouraged), and a quiz on whether he's happy with you.
Glamour (French edition) - November 2009
Can I be honest? I have never encountered a women's magazine with so little love advice to dish out to their readers. There's a story on how to catch a man's eye, and another about fantasies women have about yoga teachers, bakers, and surfers but the vast majority is taken up with articles on that don't make finding and keeping a man your life's central conceit. Which, of course, doesn't mean they're breaking much new ground; you'll find stories on how to build your own bookshelves, the return of the smoky eye, and women who love their thigh-high boots.
Bonus merch: This month's issue comes with a tote bag that says BAG GLAMOUR BAG on one side and a line drawing of last month's cover on the other.
Biba - November 2009
There's a quiz for couples to take on whether you're sexually compatible and a food story on recipes for seduction (raspberry tart, berry muffins). There's a roundup of women's stories about guys who tried to pick you up and failed: "He began to guide me through poses, murmuring that I had a great body… What he didn't know was that I was the sub for yoga class that day." There's not any new ground here, but I did appreciate a reported piece on whether girls and boys are raised differently, and whether sexism comes from imposed gender rules on kids.
These British and French women's magazines have the occasional bit of advice that feels a bit more risqué than anything published in the US, but overall, the familiar far exceeds the exotic. I do think that our lady mags could take a cue from their foreign counterparts and start illustrating sex tips with Barbies and giving away cute totes. If anything can help sagging newsstand sales, I'm sure it's free chocolate.