I got a package from my mom last week. Inside, tucked among the granola bars and sweaters, was the latest issue of The Gentlewoman magazine. I am not exaggerating when I say that my heart soared the instant I saw the cover; after a long day of classes, opening a box to find Agnès Varda peeking up at me from a bright blue background felt like a special kind of present. I put the magazine on my desk, so I could grab it the second I had a chance.
I cannot remember my life without magazines. I still can remember paging through my mom’s issues of InStyle when I was little, or else squinting at headlines in the grocery store checkout line. When I started high school and dove head-first into learning about fashion, I subscribed to at least five different magazines. I read them all—Vogue, Glamour, W—like textbooks, with no page unturned. I eventually loosened up how intently I read the image captions, but to this day I still enjoy magazines for the joy they bring me. From essays and book excerpts to glorious photoshoots worth ripping out and pinning on your wall, cracking open a strong issue is a welcome reprieve from the daily grind.
Even though my passion for print media is going strong, my experience is certainly no indicator of the state of magazine industry. Quite the opposite— over the past few years, print journalism has received more bad press than your average celebrity. As media companies look to consolidate their efforts towards digital, magazines are often left fielding the blow. The fashion and beauty sector seems to be taking a particularly hard hit: In November 2017, Teen Vogue ceased print operations; in May 2018, Interview, the edgy magazine founded by Andy Warhol, announced it was shutting down altogether. This fall, there are rumors swirling that Glamour—one of my old favorites—might be the next title to get the axe.
By all accounts, prospects look gloomy for print magazines as we know them. In the age of self-driving cars and Amazon Prime two-day delivery, monthly glossies simply cannot keep up. But while most would say that it is time for the print establishment to fold up shop, I happen to think there is a future left for magazines—a future that, like most, looks radically different from the present.
As much as I love magazines for their aesthetic and artistic qualities, I am not blind to their actual purpose: selling products. If there is one through-line in mainstream women’s publications (think everything from Vogue and Elle to Shape and Life&Style), it’s that brands use their pages to target consumers. There is an interesting paradox in this dynamic: While the use of women’s content for sales boosts the role of women in dictating which products their families use, it also perpetuates the stereotype that women simply do not read anything that does not involve a $500 miracle night cream or weight-loss shake.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather take the crow’s feet than consume more media aimed at getting me to buy more stuff. What I do need more of are magazines like The Gentlewoman—small-batch, independent publications that devote their energy towards creating artistic, meaningful content. Simply holding on of these magazines—other examples of which include Cereal, Kinfolk, and Oh Comely—is an experience: they are heavy, textured, and bursting with color and inspiration. From intimate fashion shoots to in-depth, essay style profiles, these magazines feel like art, inside and out.
It is time to reexamine women’s magazines in 2018. It is time that more publications pivot towards a more holistic approach to print media—one driven by connection and passion, not ad sales. It is true that this switch would require us to completely rewire the way that we think about women’s media, but maybe that is also a good thing. Imagine a world in which magazine covers celebrated something other than a woman’s body size or flawless skin, and articles addressed serious topics (read: not how to “lose five pounds fast”).
I know. I like that image, too.