Monday, October 24, 2011

Not At All Impressed: Ladies' Home Journal Mixes Gossip And Diet Information In With Its Advertisements And Hopes You Won't Notice!

The Good: Some of the articles are substantive and interesting, Decent enough photography.
The Bad: Exceptionally addy, Advertisements blend with articles, Light diction, "Fluffy" articles.
The Basics: In another magazine that assumes women are less substantive than they are, Ladies' Home Journal is mostly advertisements with a few softball articles and dieting tips.

It has been a while since I last reviewed a magazine, so I figured I was about due. For that, I picked up a copy of Ladies' Home Journal my wife had from the library. Women's magazines like Self (reviewed here!) and Lucky (reviewed here!) have fared poorly under my pen for the simple reason that they tend to insult the intelligence of women or are completely out of touch with reality - i.e. most women aren't spending thousands of dollars on purses these days. But Ladies' Home Journal has a reputation as a better women's magazine on the market and the issue I was perusing had a cover story I was actually interested in, so I thought I would approach it with as little bias as I could and try to enjoy it.

Alas, I did not enjoy it.

Despite its reputation as a magazine for substantial, educated women, Ladies' Home Journal insults its customer base by presenting a magazine that is so filled with advertisements that only the most clueless readers would not notice the lack of substance. Ladies' Home Journal truly is a magazine of advertisements with articles squeezed in. For the purposes of my review, I used the May 2011 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. I was pysched because it had a cover story on Lauren Graham, whom I recall from NewsRadio, but have enjoyed more recently on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood.

Issues of Ladies' Home Journal are 160 pages, not counting the covers which have plenty of printed information (or advertisements, anyway). What alarmed me right off the bat was that with 160 pages of magazine, I counted ninety-three full pages of ads, with another twenty pages having column or half-page advertisements. When 58% of your magazine is entirely advertisements, it's time to shut down or start giving your magazine away. With more than 60% of the magazine devoted to advertising to one of the most choice demographics in America, Ladies' Home Journal ought to be free. It is not.

So, what does one get in the forty-seven full, substantive pages (and twenty partial pages that remain for the "meat" of the magazine)? Ladies' Home Journal is broken down into five feature articles running between two and five pages each. The issue I reviewed included an article on actress Lauren Graham, wherein she responded to softball questions about life, family and acting. It gave her a chance to plug Parenthood and discuss in vague, general terms the state of the American family. Other feature articles explore the relationship between ignorance and poverty in rural America and the article skirts some of the more edgy issues, like the links between poverty and abuse and young teenage pregnancy. Instead, a surprisingly safe Kentucky family is featured as the challenges to their daughter's success are outlined. The other features are an article on sugary snacks (basic sixth grade Health class stuff), current style, and homemade gifts (which are admittedly cute).

Outside the changing features each month - though the magazine seems to get at least one female celebrity on its cover to focus on and provide an expose for - Ladies' Home Journal has regular columns on Style, Life, Home, Food and Health issues. The style articles are pretty blase and usually include one body and one fashion style topic. The month I read featured hair dying tips and Mexican retro clothing. Neither grabbed me in any way.

Arguably the most useful section of the magazine is the Life section. Ladies Home Journal explores the lifestyles and attitudes that might make living as a woman today easier or more fulfilling. While there are schmaltzy fluff pieces - like a feel-good feature on Bethany Hamilton (the one-armed surfer) and ways to be happy - the magazine has useful articles like how to search for a therapist and how to recognize serious issues in a marriage. There is also a "Dear Abby" type column where experts explore questions asked by readers.

The "Home" section is a catchall that seems to be part style and life (like an article on hair) and part life (articles on the family pet seem to end up here). The Food section is a practical guide to cooking easy, healthy and/or inexpensively. The Health section is very basic, generic advice for living a healthy life and understanding it, with articles on women and bone density, allergies and advice geared toward the needs of middle aged women.

Outside the sheer volume of advertisements, what struck me about Ladies' Home Journal was the was it didn't challenge any expectations. The diction is at the level that a fourth grade student could easily read the magazine. The photographs are lush and colorful and are of women who almost all possess a very standard appearance of the norm for beauty. Even the poverty-ridden Kentucky couple looks pretty close to the Hollywood ideal. The advertisements are exactly what those who speak out about the influence of media on body type rail against. The make-up, medicine and store ads all have thin, airbrushed women who look quite unlike the average woman who will buy this magazine.

In other words, like virtually every other women's magazine, Ladies' Home Journal sells an ideal and it is an unrealistic one that comes across as silly to those who are looking for substance in their publications.

For other magazines reviewed by me, please check out my take on:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Magazine
Newsweek En Espanol


For other magazine reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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