On a typical lunch break, I tend to spend almost all of my time staring at my phone. Some chit chat with my husband, I play him in a couple of rounds of Boggle (and, obviously,I win) and I scroll through my social media. Sometimes I even proof read a post or two for She Might Be, and on occasion I have even had the inkling to write an article. But whatever I am doing, I will not look up at what is on the table beside me.
There, in the middle of the table in the break room, is the same thing that is in every break room I have ever used: a well-thumbed pile of tabloid magazines. The front cover will offer diet tips with one hand, while scolding ‘too skinny’ celebrities with the other. A damning headline about how weight gain was a husband’s explanation for cheating, while telling women to ‘love their curves’ and showing samples of bikini-clad cellulite in an effort to portray itself as ‘inclusive’. I loathe tabloid magazines, and I am quite happy to never read another one – but there was a time that my entire week was centred around those glossy pages, and the insight that they were giving me on how I should perceive my own body.
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When I was 14 years old I worked a weekend job at a local tea room, and I would wander down there after school every Friday afternoon to collect a small pouch of weekly pay. I was making around £50 a week which is priceless when you’re 14, and £15 of that money was used immediately at a local corner shop to buy myself a stack of ‘mean girl’ best friends who were there to tell me what I was doing wrong with my life, and how my body was supposed to look. More Magazine was my favourite – there was a page dedicated to embarrassing sex stories and a position of the month (which every 14-year-old obviously needs to know) and the back page was always left for comical interviews with celebrities – but I also indulged in Heat, Look and even those cheap trashy TV magazines if they included celebrities I admired. I absorbed every meal plan the glossy pages threw in my direction. I learned to moisturise using circular motions in a clockwise direction to minimise cellulite and sagging because those were the worst possible things that could happen to a woman. I drowned in stories which were well beyond my years and advice that instructed me to change every element of myself, flipping back and forth between the poles of acceptability on a month to month and week to week basis. It was not healthy.
As I grew older and became more confident in my own style, I opted for the ‘I am too cool to care’ approach. My insecurities were hidden behind two inches of black eyeliner, and I was no longer suffering in that glossy hell. I hadn’t outgrown self-hatred, but I was cynical of commercialism and felt sickened by the conflicting standards of beauty that I was repeatedly failing to meet. I probably didn’t look inside another one for around ten years or so, because I felt nothing but failure and shame when I saw them on magazine stands. Tabloid magazines represented my failure to slot comfortably in to society: my inability to adhere. The constant pressure that the magazines had placed on my chest was a permanent reminder that, yet again, I was not normal, and every time I saw a glossy smile beaming out at me with a passive aggressive message plastered across it, I felt sick and I couldn’t breathe.
I didn’t look at another tabloid magazine until I was in my mid-20s, thumbing through pages during a long lunch break when I had nothing else to do. I lasted less than a minute. All I could see was tips on how to hate women. And when I am around the women who read these magazines, I can see the messages ingrained: they are constantly trying to alter and adjust. Constantly putting themselves down, and apologising for their behaviour. Tabloid magazines are, in my opinion, the last great hurdle. Without a tabloid telling a woman how to hate herself, she will have no other experience but love.