Saturday, 27 June 2009

Happiness in Magazines - or not

It takes a lot to get hair as pink and blonde as mine: four hours of a hairdresser (two at some stages) dividing, bleaching, washing, dividing, pink-ing, washing, snipping, cutting, drying, straightening, snipping again. The extensive time spent in a context so focused on image makes it impossible for girl not to consider femininity - especially given the reading material on offer. Each appointment is a rare opportunity to run the gamut of glossy magazines with impunity; each one proffering tropes of womanhood - none of which remotely appeal.

So which kind of lady could I be?

Now, I could be the sort of girl I am and take the Guardian, but the kind of girl I am also feels embarrased about waving my liberal zine around in there. There's something about spending silly money on silly hair that doesn't quite square with Iranian protest updates.

Today my random selection featured Vogue (scary), Tatler (foie gras for the soul) and OK! (unsettling).

OK! No
I've always consoled myself with the notion that no one reads 'sleb magazines seriously, but curiously OK! still manages to take itself seriously. Like Tatler, it's in the thrall of awful rich people, albeit at opposite ends of an alleged 'class' spectrum. My copy was a few weeks old - comparing Kerry Katona and Katie Price's respective falls from grace - what will the future hold for them? Price has always been the worst kind of woman and is a vicious empty vessel ('I should have trapped him with a baby' screamed a recent Closer front page), while Katona is more troubling - you believe her damage is real. One uses bawdy sexuality as empowerment, the other is helplessly subjugated by the nasty piece of work she married. Both are independently wealthy, though this brings about a marked contrast in their situations - Price has a license to behave how she pleases, for Katona it's just another way she is robbed of personal resources by her husband.

A few pages on we get Chantelle Houghton, who is now boasting curves after a too-skinny phase. This modicum of willful, classic womanliness wrestles with routine WAG-tastic modern standards for relationships, informing insights like: 'If a woman could describe her perfect man they'd say they were looking for someone who was caring, thoughtful and someone who would put up with a lot of shit. So Peter Andre then.'

The repellent nature of the Jordan-Chantelle model must be to do with the way they tell 'em, because when Rufus Wainwright talks about prima donnas in Vogue it sounds classy, passionate and inspiring. Funny how different things sound when they come from someone with talent. Meanwhile, Alexa Chung posits another alternative to the up-skirt route to self-definition when she tells us how she hearts the tomboy look. 'It's far classier to showcase your personality than your cup size' she says, underwriting said personality with the aphorism 'I don't care what anyone thinks' while holding down a career that reeks of kitten farts. Alexa could've learned a lot from Florence Welch, whose wardrobe we plunder in the next feature. Channeling vintage, silliness and eccentricity, her outfits convey 'I don't care' by wearing it rather than saying it. Though admittedly, it's the difference between a Dan Brown novel and a Julie Burchill column.

I left Tatler 'til last, and didn't finish it. After 26 pages of adverts you're plunged into fawning accounts of gratuitous displays of wealth enacted by dead-eyed heiresses. The humbling of this scene was one of the few positive effects of economic collapse and it seems they've got over it now.

Now I'm not trying to say all women are scheming, squealing or stupid. That's almost certainly not true. It's just a shame they don't have decent magazines in hairdressers.