Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Hey! It Ain’t the New York Times
In my younger days, I used to be a big fan of Cosmopolitan magazine. The condensed novels and short stories were just the things to skim in that lazy pre-yawn hour. Simple plots, sexy men – just the thing to switch mental gears and prepare me for pleasant dreams.

And then, after I finished the fiction, there were still those dozens of glossy pages of fashions, horoscopes – and all of that sex advice. Except, as it turns out, it wasn’t only the short stories that were fiction.

Meryl Yourish pointed me to an online article by Liza Featherstone, Faking It: Sex, Lies, and Women's Magazines, that reports, according to various women’s magazine editors,
…many of the people discussed in these [sex advice] stories simply do not exist. The former Cosmo editor says that when the qualifier "Names have been changed" appeared, the characters in the story were composites. But a fact-checker at another top-circulation women's magazine says, "'Composite' gives it too much credit. It's much more invented than that. 'Names have been changed' can mean anything, including 'Totally made up…."Hey, it ain't The New York Times," the Cosmo loyalist says in her former employer's defense. "We should not be in the business of misinforming people, but we are publishing an entertaining, popular magazine that people want to read."

The comments reported by Featherstone took place at a
….cocktail-hour panel of women's magazine editors, hosted by Mediabistro.com, a media networking organization, and held at Obeca Li, a trendy nouvelle Asian restaurant in lower Manhattan. Audience members, mostly senior-level editors and writers for women's magazines, joined the panelists in voicing many familiar complaints about the industry: too many skinny models, even more emaciated feature stories, and too much advertiser influence on editorial content. Laurie Abraham, executive editor of Elle magazine, however, had something else on her mind. The worst thing about women's magazines, she asserted during the panel discussion, is how much "we lie about sex."

Even more oddly,
Once, discussing a prospective personal essay with a Marie Claire editor, a writer was asked to change a reference to a female lover -- turning her into a man. "Women's magazines have a very specific idea of what's 'normal,'" says a Glamour writer. "Anything that deviates threatens the stability of the universe.

Apparently, writers of these columns and articles did just what I probably would have considered doing: They sat round with their friends, concocted interesting salacious anecdotes -- some spun off the actual experiences of these friends – and then attributed them to fictional women of the age appropriate to the magazine’s readership.

Imagine all of the young competitive women who felt inadequate as they measured their sex lives against the myths of magazine lore – or, even worse, who used these columns as a guide to fulfilling sexual behavior and relationships.

One recent Marie Claire headline, Featherstone writes in conclusion, stood out from the newsstand's usual breathlessness: the truth about women and sex. A bit ambitious, perhaps, but emphatically worth a try.

From what I have read so far, Blogsisters tell the truth! Right? Right?