This gem of a book, “The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media” is the child of the similarly named website, and takes on the challenge of convincing the new or soon-to-be feminist why we need feminism, and reminding the converted they are not alone in the cause.

It takes some serious chutzpah to tackle a subject that is so damn depressing, yet somehow authors Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cossiet make it more digestible with humor.

“One minute your being told to love your body and embrace it as the imperfect vessel  that it is, and the next you’re manically rubbing coffee granules on your arse cellulite instead of drinking them in your morning latte (which, by the way, makes you fat).

Some things will never be funny, and they do not speak lightly of those things, but where they can lighten the mood, they do, with turns of phrases so sharp that Jane Austen would be amused (if she understood the modern lingo of course).

“…you need to look better, lest you offend the pot-bellied builder who locks eyes with you over his egg sandwich as you order yourself a hangover breakfast in the local caff. ‘Your mascara might have lengthened those lashes, love, but it’s clear you’ve neglected to give them a curl!’ he might leer”

They focus mainly on the toxic messages embedded in women’s magazines and how those messages permeate our lives. It is a pressing issue indeed, given this recent quote from Lorraine Candy, editor of Elle UK, that created a bit of a twitter storm:

“We are selling beautiful images. Our readers pay £4 to see something beautiful and they don’t always want to see something real. We know from research that’s why people buy the magazine. It’s not as big an issue as you all think it is.”

Chapter by chapter they dissect the women’s magazines, discussing history, fashion jargon, help columns, sex advice, quizzes, underwear, makeup, and much more. The authors’ British point-of-view was refreshing, and I enjoyed the verbal differences in language. I was particularly interested in Rhiannon’s experiences working in the fashion industry.

The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the similarly damaging messages in lad mags (men’s magazines) and how they contribute to our woes. It is simultaneously comforting (in the sense that we are not alone in our disgust) and saddening that our frat culture has a brother lad culture across the pond.

Overall, the message is clear. The media has a serious problem. We all need to take a close look at what we are consuming and question the underlying messages.

If you are looking for some serious, heavy hitting research then this book is not for you. But it is a good resource for those looking for an introduction to the problem of patriarchy and for those seeking to commiserate. If you are a feminist who loves to read magazines, I have no doubt you will be entertained by their insights, and will probably share many of them. I will definitely be passing my copy along to friends to read.

You can stay in touch with the authors and Vagenda Magazine via Twitter and their website.


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