Just Say No to Fashion Mags

This started as a book review of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano.

And, I admit it – before I write a book review, I usually head over to GoodReads to see what other people thought of it. Not to crib their thoughts but to get a general consensus of things. What I found for Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s book on the beauty industry and the impact it has on women and their self-esteem was pretty much what I thought of the book when I was done.

Discussing cosmetics, selfies, ad campaigns. self- esteem and the marketing of cosmetics to men, Face Value wants to be an informative read on the industry. But it’s a bit all over the place and never really commits to one path or point of view.

Given that Whitefield-Madrano has worked for years at various fashion mags, I guess it was optimistic of me to hope for a call to just stop buying into the manipulation, but that didn’t happen.

So I’m gonna do it myself.

Sorry, writer friends, journalists, and anybody who still works in an ad-driven media industry writing about fashion, cosmetics or lifestyle, but the honest to God best way to stop feeling bad about how we look is to…


Ideally, stop letting ads of any kind into your life if you can avoid it (/looks lovingly at the AdBlocker icon on laptop screen), but especially ads that are designed to make you feel bad about yourself, or that try to make you believe that happiness/perfection/self-esteem comes from buying a thing. Any thing, but especially a thing that promises “improvement” and insinuates that you are not good enough, as you are, right now.

But I like make-up, you’re saying, I can hear you… Dudes, I am not saying to not wear make-up. Wear as much or as little as you like. But find out about it by visiting the websites of cosmetics companies, which, to my shock, almost exclusively feature the products of that company and actual information about them, and not copy that tells you how much you need said products, or pictures of women airbrushed to look better than they actually do while using said product.

Fashion too… We used to buy fashion magazines because someone (like the inimitable Grace Coddington) would decide what we needed to see. Photos of collections were embargoed until the appropriate seasonal release. But nowadays, you can see the entire collection of a designer mere minutes after it’s gone down the catwalk. Months before those clothes hit the stores. We don’t need fashion mags to see fashion anymore.

What else did we get from lady mags… recipes? All over the internet. Likewise celebrity news (if that’s your thing), plus advice, human interest/lifestyle stories. They’re everywhere, why would you pay for a dead tree version that can’t even be properly recycled?

When I made the decision to stop buying fashion mags – made mostly because I found that the articles and ads just didn’t speak to me or offer me anything useful, I almost immediately felt a lightness. We cancelled our cable subscription around the same time, and so now (working from home and seldom riding transit) I see only a tiny number of ads each day – usually on apps where they can’t be removed. The ads I still see are for things (cars, diapers, chain coffee) that I would never buy anyway.

And I’ve gotta tell you all, it’s so incredibly freeing. Honest. The idea that I can make choices without pressure, based on my own wants and needs and not manipulation by ad execs is so amazing. I still wear make-up and buy new clothes, but I do so based on my own opinion and comfort, not because I’ve been made to feel inferior, ashamed or less than fabulous.

After all, we all know that ads in ladies magazines are photo-shopped, that we’re being sold an ideal of perfection that doesn’t exist, even for the model in the ad. So why let ourselves be tricked into buying that thing? Based on the lies that it promises? We’re all smarter than that.

I wanted to like Face Value, I wanted to believe that Whitefield-Madrano’s background gave her insight that the rest of us didn’t have. But like most fashion and cosmetics ads, it was a lot of airbrushing intended to make us hand over our money and still feel bad about ourselves in the end.