Elle’s Feminist Issue, first impressions.


The first I heard about Elle magazine doing a Feminist issue was when the news hit that David Cameron would not be sporting the new This is what a feminist looks like T-shirt. The Elle part barely registered, on my raised eyebrow. I knew that Elle was one of those glossy, high fashion magazines that I gave up years ago (Yes, I’m feeling much better for it, thanks – healthier, happier, freer in fact) so didn’t for one minute consider buying it, or the T-shirt.

I was mildly curious though when I tuned into the fact that the Fawcett Society was connected to it though tenuously it would seem as  there’s not one mention of them or the work that they do really other than that they are the recipients of any proceeds made from that T-shirt.


I’d also found myself recently critiquing the critics of ‘fake’ feminism in all of its guises on the basis that everyone had to start somewhere and believing that we all find our own paths to enlightenment. Also the fact that feminism is getting some positive press in popular culture, well, that couldn’t be such a bad thing…….. could it? It’s not like we couldn’t do with it. This made me slightly curious.

Then I duly forgot all about it.

Then a copy was placed before me by a friend who’d bought it on a bit of a whim.

Of course I opened it, cautiously. Within three pages I was compelled to rage about it but I persevered in the interest of working this blog and did actually make it through to the end.

I confess to not reading it avidly. Much of it was full of the sort of thing one would expect from this genre of magazines – manufactured and unobtainable body shapes and beauty ideals, clothes I could never afford and couldn’t ethically justify, lots of sponsored features about how I ought to be wearing my hair, clothes and makeup to distract me from the important issues like, erm, sexism for example.

I did read all the feminist bits though and I did even guiltily and cynically admire some of the pretty images. Oh, and I learned how to apply that cool pointy eyeliner look everyone’s sporting…..

But I digress.

Here’s a quick synopsis of my experience of Elle’s Feminist issue.

Unless you count the front cover starring Emma Watson in a skimpy top despite it also being the December issue, you have to flick through 70 odd pages of glossy adverts before you get to any actual words about  feminism. In fact you might be forgiven for thinking you’d picked up the wrong magazine as you trawl through the endless, vacant, available, youthful, skinny models in posh, expensive and skimpy clothes, all of the models white unless you count the one featuring Alicia Keyes.

The advert on p58 for an offshoot of the Elle empire confirms that they didn’t want to stick their neck out for too long into this feminist fad. Here they proudly proclaim their Wedding magazine. Out now. Now I’m not suggesting that feminism and marriage are mutually exclusive here but there does seem to be an unintentional irony in its placement here.

The cover feature, an interview with Emma Watson, is OK. I find it difficult to dislike Emma Watson in the same way I find it difficult to dislike Hermione Granger. Make of that what you will, there’s been enough written about EW over the last few months to keep both her fans and haters happy for a while yet, so I’m not going to add to any of that.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that of the 9 (and a bit) pages given over to EW, 6 were purely fashion photos with no editorial. So unfortunately mostly what I learned about her was that she can pull off a high fashion outfit with the best and rest of them. Her words got lost a bit. Of course why would I expect anything else from a magazine that is necessarily a slave to the fashion industry?

I guess I didn’t but just a few 100 pages later we have a similar feature with Benedict Cumberbatch and he gets to speak far more words. More on that later.

The Elle Inspire list (‘not a power list‘ apparently but a ‘compilation of voices you…..need to hear’) lacks inspiration for me. True it features many admirable women – Nicola Adams, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Gamma Mohammed, Bridget Christie, Tavi Gevinson, Malala, Yousafzai, Laura Bates and Shami Chakrabarti – but of the 50ish women featured around a quarter of them are from the beauty/fashion industry and only around 9 could be considered from a non white ethnic group and none with disabilities.

The Once Upon a Time feature is entertaining and probably, in my opinion, the only section of the magazine worth reading, though interspersed with models and seductive fashion imagery. First up is Fay Weldon with a cautionary tale about a skinny model and her matriarchs. Given the context of Elle magazine, an unexpected ironic story. This is followed by a possibly sarcastic contribution from Audrey Niffenegger. A great tale of female empowerment from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is well worth the read. Finishing with an excellent contribution, a twist on the traditional Red Riding Hood classic, ending with a call for change, from Kate Mosse.

Then we’re back to fashion: about 20 pages with a nod to the ‘active’ woman (a few running shots) morphing into a set for the ‘modern woman’ looking as passive as ever despite the editorial suggesting otherwise – oh, I see sorry, it’s supposed to be ‘relaxed’.

There are eight pages given over to Benedict Cumberbatch,  one less than Emma Watson. His photos cover less page space and are more about him looking cool and with decidedly more skin covered and decidedly less come get me gazes than the images of EW. But less expected was that the interviewer seems to have forgotten to ask him about feminism at all. This is particularly curious given that he’s one of the men photographed sporting the £45, ethically controversial       t- shirt.

Then there’s another 50 odd pages of ads and beauty features until we get a ‘real life’ 2 page feature on Cheryl Strayed who impressively completed the Pacific Crest Trail. A true story of personal emancipation from grief and self destruction. It would have been cool to hear a bit more from some of the other remarkable women paid lip service to in the aforementioned Inspire List

Finally there’s a few more ads for good measure, more beauty features, a travel section featuring places that most of us could only dream of, more ads, more fashion etc. etc. etc

So, in the end we have all we can expect from a magazine like Elle, nothing less and not much more: Lots (and lots and lots more) of adverts and features that use images and techniques that simultaneously make you feel inferior whilst managing to create a desire to have what you see whilst despising yourself for even caring.

In summary – the usual fayre interspersed with a bit of editorial about feminism, seemingly aimed at those who might be a bit curious but too busy striving for an impossible beauty ideal to want to be challenged too much.

Overall a bit disappointing! It seems a huge shame and a missed opportunity to highlight some of the real feminist issues that Lorraine Candy (editor in chief) eludes to in her ‘Welcome’ section.

So, Sorry Elle, I think that you just didn’t really try hard enough this time, leading me to the conclusion that you just didn’t really care.



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