Magazine Profiles Don’t Do Women Justice

by Amy Zimmerman

Do you ever get sick of hearing about Beyoncé’s sex appeal, or reading a paragraph long description of Lana Del Rey’s lips? You’re not the only one. While feminists have often disparaged the physical representation of women in the media, it seems that journalistic coverage, particularly magazine profiles, might be just as superficial and ultimately detrimental. Carly Lewis recently dissected how male writers cover famous women, often writing profiles that are so two dimensional that they read like parodies. As an example, Lewis quotes the January Esquire profile of Megan Fox, in which writer Stephen Marche calls Fox “a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans.”

Unfortunately, the reduction of women in the media is the rule, not the exception. Female celebrities are classified as sexy or demure, authentic or fake, powerful or powerless. Lewis explains how, “It remains practically impossible for women to be profiled without being subjected to the male gaze, although the gaze is not necessarily the problem. The real trouble happens when the writer goes away to record his judgments, then paraphrases and assumes and generalizes and simplifies and projects.” It seems like there’s often a recipe for these profiles: start by commenting on the female celebrity’s appearance (sexy/cute/fat/skinny), and then compare her to other popular female celebrities. Finally, reduce her work and personality to a few condensed, easily digestible characteristics. While a man like Kanye West can be described as both a jerk and a genius, women are often reduced to one reigning characteristic.  As Tavi Gevinson noted about Lana Del Rey, the singer “has many different qualities that women in our culture aren’t allowed to be, all at once, so people are trying to find the inauthentic one.”

This trend in magazine profiles isn’t only abominable because it misrepresents women; it’s irritating because it leads to basic, oversimplified, uninteresting writing. A real woman, with all her flaws and nuances, is so much more fun to read about then a formulaic vixen or cliché good girl. As Lewis concludes, “I propose a moratorium on this stagnant approach to literary writing. Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.” And the next time Esquire wants to write a profile of Megan Fox, I’m totally available.

Published February 8, 2017


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