“Be a Better You” – Red magazine.
“A New Year, a New You” – Get Slim magazine.
“How to Get July Skin in January” – Elle.
If an alien visited earth this month and read our women’s magazines, they’d be left with the impression that all women really want is to lose weight, unwrinkle their skin, look different, act different and buy new shoes.
They’d get the distinct impression that transformation is transactional and that happiness can be bought in the form of a night cream. ET would think that, for this planet’s women, a new year means a new you, and that little else matters. But the relentless magazine headlines about aesthetic New Year’s resolutions don’t reflect *all* of the things that women really want.
As part of the Lodestone Political Survey, prepared by Survation, we polled over 1,000 women about what they really worry about and what they really want. When asked ‘what is the thing that most worries you at the moment?’, only 2% of these women answered by saying “the way I look”, 2% said “not having enough me time”, and 1% said “not fitting in”.
In contrast the top five responses were:
“My children’s/grandchildren’s future”
“Not being able to afford to pay the bills”
“Not having enough money as I’d like to have”
“Getting or being unwell”
“Becoming or being unemployed”
Earthly concerns, rooted in the grind of daily life, family love and economic realities come way above the worries that fuel New Year aesthetic transformation fantasies.
With women earning an average of 15% less than men, the prevalence of these everyday concerns shouldn’t be a surprise. Women are likely to have fewer financial assets and are more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.
These earthly concerns and aspirations were reflected in the answers women gave when we asked them what they would like their lives to be like in 2020. For example, a 47-year old gardener from Wales said: “I would like less stress on my finances and would like to feel safer and more secure than I do now.”
Similarly, a 43 year old office worker said that, in 2020, she would like to be: “happy, calm and secure; much the same as now but without the anxiety of worrying about bills and expenses being higher than our income,” and an unemployed 20-year old from the West Midlands said she would like to be: “better off financially [and] I would also like to have a job.”
A 61 year old woman from Northamptonshire told us that, in 2020, “I want to be able to use my heating without worry about the bill, I would like to have enough pension money to afford a taxi or a haircut, I would like to eat meat.”
Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about having “the right haircut”; they’re about being able to afford a haircut.
Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about “preparing the perfect meal”; they’re about being able to afford to eat meat once in a while.
Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about “having a stylish home”; they’re about being able to heat her home.
Some of the answers women gave are heartbreaking in their honesty and it’s telling that they mentioned debt 117 times, while make-up was mentioned a grand total of one time.
The fantasy of aesthetic personal transformation helps to sell magazines, shift products and help us cope with everyday life by giving us a moment of escapism. At times, I’ve found the New Year articles, inspiring and interesting, and I’ve enjoyed looking through magazines with my sister and friends. At other times, I’ve found the articles at this time of year condescending, simplistic, formulaic and repetitive.
The key point is this: not all of the things that women really want can be bought in a shop. Not all of the things we really want can be achieved in the gym, the bathroom or the beautician’s. Many of the women we surveyed talked about their concerns about personal finances, work and the future of the economy, and when we asked women “what is the one thing you would most like politicians to focus more on doing?”, the top responses were “ensuring we have a stable economy” and “working to create more jobs”.
While many magazines pump out advice on action we can take as individuals to transform the way we look, we should consider spending more time thinking about the action we can take collectively to tackle the big issues. New Year, new you? No thanks. New Year, new thinking? Yes please.
Fran O’Leary is Director of Strategy and Innovation at Lodestone. She is writing in a personal capacity. Follow @FranOLeary
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