Women Deserve More
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More, the magazine that promotes itself as "the one magazine that celebrates women over 40," seems a bit ambivalent for such self-appointed trailblazing.
Occasionally -- in apparent defiance of the cosmetics advertisers that pay the way of most women's magazines -- More actually dares to depict older women, some of them larger-sized, with little or no makeup and without designer duds. Yet a few pages away, readers will readily find tips on how to disguise their true ages and slither into a size 8.
Instead of selling itself to older women, the magazine sometimes just sells them out. And in the process it risks following in the footsteps of Mirabella, another magazine that tried and ultimately failed to address itself in a consistent way to older readers. Even though More "celebrates" an older audience, its mind often seems to be on a younger demographic. Like many women's magazines, what More really celebrates is the inner teen in all of us.
Despite articles that are often appropriate to its target audience, More's cover lines are interchangeable with what you could expect to see in Seventeen or Glamour: "Beauty Secrets: Psst! 59 ways to more radiant skin;" "Style Smarts: Sexxxy Suits-The hottest shoes in town;" "Best makeup, top tricks for a flawless face;" and on and on. The "celebration" of age, with its dependence on "secrets" and "tricks," has an undercurrent of guile.
Many of More's ads, especially those for makeup, skin care, hair color, weight-loss programs and cigarettes, also appear in Self, Redbook and other magazines marketed to younger women. So even when More addresses its older audience in its editorial content, a substantial number of the ad images beam out the young-is-best message.
It's an ambivalence that hasn't escaped the notice of at least one of the magazine's own celebrated subjects. Jessica Lange, interviewed in December on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, commented wryly about the airbrushing that her photograph on More's December-January cover received. The subtext: Yes, we celebrate your being past 40, but you shouldn't look too far past 40 to pass muster at the newsstand. Lange is 55. Her cover shot depicts a fine-looking woman who looks closer to 33 or 34 than 55.
To its credit, More also publishes true-life stories of interesting women confronting the challenges that arrive with one's fifth decade. These are accompanied by photographs of women who look a lot more like the ones I know than the celebrity cover faces and the models for Clarins, Estee Lauder and Bee-Alive products.
Articles on dating after divorce, starting a business, managing a serious health issue while maintaining high performance on the job, an end-of-year guide to female-themed philanthropic opportunities, are well done. A keeper is former Ms. magazine editor Suzanne Braun Levine's article, "No More Ms. Nice Guy," about how aging has enabled her to give up perfectionist fantasies and terminal politeness.
Perhaps its best-known feature on the reality of the over-40 female image was instigated by actor Jamie Lee Curtis. In 2002, at 43, Curtis challenged More to run a completely un-retouched photo of her. Curtis knew she no longer had the body she'd exhibited in films and wanted to make a point about that.
"I said to them, 'Let's take a picture of me in my underwear,'" Curtis told CBS News' "48 Hours" last year. "No makeup. No styling. No hair. No clothing. Pretty brutal lighting. The whole goal for me was that people would look at it and go like this, 'Oh, I get it. She's real. She's just a person like me.'"
More Magazine's editor Susan Crandell told CBS that reader response was "100 percent positive."
But while More's editors often demonstrate this kind of sophistication and flair, they can also get tangled in the old diet-indulge-diet-indulge dictates of women's magazines. Take, for example, a feature story on Cybill Shepherd.
"At home with Cybill and yes, she's lost 25 pounds!" That cover story was followed in the February 2004 issue by Shepherd's recommendations for the best martinis and the best dessert (banana-bread French toast with ice cream) in her hometown of Memphis.
The message: Have Cybill's cocktail and Cybill's dessert, then go on Cybill's diet.
I became curious about More after I received an invitation to subscribe, but it took five trips to drug, grocery and book stores before I located a copy. Kristen Severs, More's newsstand manager, said that More targets affluent women everywhere and blamed wholesalers' lapses for its absence.
But the scant presence of More on sales racks groaning with women's titles made me wonder why it's that hard to find. After all, parent company Meredith Corporation owns 17 magazines, including behemoths Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal, so it knows its way around newsstands.
Could it be that More has not moved out far enough from the rack pack to establish a unique identity and find a following?
The now-defunct Mirabella magazine also tried to be an intelligent, if trendy, vehicle for a more mature reader until it began to alter its content to please advertisers who believe that younger consumers are less brand-loyal and therefore more receptive to ads. Its editorial voice became less distinct, and ultimately, it was closed down; its demise helped along by the launch of More in 1998.
Seems like there's a lesson for More's staff to remember: If your target audience truly is the mature reader, respect her. Find someone more compelling than a hair colorist to the stars to follow around for a day. Dare to tinker with the celebrity-dominated editorial balance and show us the grace and guts of women who, along with the actresses and recording artists, are doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, accountants, journalists, business owners, athletes, moms, sisters, daughters, wives and girlfriends. A lot more of them out there could use more from More.
Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism," Strata Publishing, Inc., and of "Exploring Mass Media for A Changing World," Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.