The other day, I got stuck in the checkout queue behind a woman buying $321 worth of groceries. With time to kill, I picked up an issue of Cosmopolitan.
Oh, how I hate Cosmo. The thing that irks me most is that it's so normative. It implies that every woman in her mid(ish) twenties just wants lip gloss, a promotion to a slightly better office job, and tips on how to improve her performance in the sack. This couldn't be further from my mid-twenties experience - many among my friends had no job, a crap job, or were doing further study because they couldn't find a job. Lip gloss was nothing to get particularly excited about; and if any of my friends were having sexual difficulties they didn't share them with me, to my enormous gratitude. (The irony is that the women who read Cosmo are usually about 18 years of age, and don't even fall into the faux demographic that the mag describes.)
Anyhoo, I was reading a copy of Cosmo, and it had one of those semi-regular features in which real women strip their clothes off to make the rest of us feel better about having normal bodies. Women's magazines have to tread a fine line. They can't afford to make us feel so stink about our bodies that we'll stop buying the mags, but we have to feel sufficiently stink to purchase the beauty products the mags advertise. I'm not even sure what it is that these 'real women's bodies' features actually encourage. They claim to celebrate the differences among women; but do they simply encourage us to compare and contrast, feeling slightly relieved that someone else has a bigger bum or smaller boobs?
Whatever the case, I was kind of surprised by the 'diversity' of the featured women's bodies. Women of four different sizes appeared, the largest a 16. But all of the women were in their twenties. There was no hint of the bodily changes that come with aging. No one had the stretchmarks or wobbly bits that childbearing bestows. There was no one with a disability or even a birthmark. Every body was groomed and hairless. (I say this with the bitterness of someone who hasn't found time to finish waxing her legs, thanks to work and children. I've only managed to do the right one, and have spent the last couple of weeks looking like half a yeti.)
Amongst this array of women, I saw none who looked like me. And that, I suppose, is how women's magazines tread their fine line: by making women's diversity seem remarkably uniform.