Reading fashion magazines doesn’t make you stupid – The Guardian
I’m 15 and I’ve recently started reading “proper” fashion magazines, such as Elle, which I really like. But the boys – and some girls – in my school tease me and say this proves I’m stupid, or that these magazines are brainwashing me to become anorexic. How can I get them to stop?
Ahh, Olivia – welcome to the rest of your life. You are far more precocious than me in terms of taking an interest in fashion. At the risk of sounding like Old Father Time, when I was your age my focuses in life were the Cure and Neighbours (especially Bouncer’s dream, an episode that is not discussed enough any more, an oversight I truly believe it is my purpose in life to rectify). So, it wasn’t until I started working as a fashion writer for this paper when I was 22 that I realised it was seen as absolutely acceptable to mock people for being interested in clothes in a way no one does with people who are interested in, say, film or cars or football, despite all these areas of interest being very similar to fashion.
Let’s deal with the first and most popularly held accusation: that having an interest in fashion proves you are stupid. It amazes me, frankly, how many people there are in the world stupid enough to believe this. I left the fashion desk six years ago, and yet every non-fashion article I have written since – and I usually write about two non-fashion articles a week – is smacked with at least five comments below the line wailing, “Why should we listen to a FASHION WRITER about food/Judaism/movies/literally anything in the world?!?!?!?!?!” One can only pity these poor people, who clearly have minds so narrow that they are incapable of having an interest in more than one subject and are similarly incapable of imagining that other people can accomplish this astonishing feat.
At times like this, I remember one of the great forgotten classics of our time: Troop Beverly Hills, starring the marvellous Shelley Long as Phyllis Nefler, whose husband leaves her because she likes fashion. “You had so much energy, you were so creative, I couldn’t wait to see what you’d do with it. And, see, now I know what you did with it. You went shopping!” her tedious husband bellows at the beginning of the film.
But, as the movie proves, while Phyllis’s stupid husband can only be a stupid oaf, Phyllis is capable of accomplishing miracles (well, leading a troop of Girl Scouts, anyway) while simultaneously being a dab hand at accessorising and knowing how to buy diamonds. When I am queen of the world, this movie will be on every school curriculum, because it teaches two invaluable lessons:
1. Just because a woman likes to look amazing doesn’t mean she has no other interests;
2. Shelley Long is a goddess.
Being interested in fashion is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I don’t think one should be ashamed of taking an interest in anything. Being interested in something does not mean liking everything about that subject, nor does it mean one is utterly uninterested in everything else. Why, since I’ve been writing this column, I have thought about fashion, the career of Steve Guttenberg, the books of Melissa Bank and whether I should buy a Halloween costume for my dog – all in the space of 10 minutes, without breaking even a bead of sweat. And you know what? Most other humans can, too.
When people (usually men, but, as you say, not exclusively) mock you for being interested in fashion, this just proves that you are so infallible that they have nothing to criticise you for other than the fact you like fashion, which, as we’ve already discussed, is no bad thing.
Many men, in my experience, get a bit nervy when they see a woman taking an interest in something that has absolutely nothing to do with them – for all of fashion’s faults, one thing in its favour is that it is utterly uninterested in the opinion of heterosexual males – and their instinctive response is to mock it. Don’t let this make you feel bad about yourself, Olivia, or like you have to apologise for yourself. Simply smile pityingly at these poor creatures, tell them that your feeble ladybrain is unable to cope with the cerebral demands of football magazines and then walk away, dignity intact.
As for whether reading fashion magazines causes eating disorders, well, this is a slightly different issue. Whereas those who are telling you that fashion magazines make you stupid are saying this in a mocking, even bullying way, those who raise the eating disorder issue are usually trying to look out for your wellbeing, however hamfistedly. But, as you know, Olivia, the truth is that eating disorders are a lot more complicated than that. My God, if only eating disorders were caused by fashion magazines – we could cure them all today. Hooray! Cupcakes for everyone!
So, when someone says this to you, calmly tell them that you appreciate their concern but that they are belittling a serious disease, and that if they are so interested in eating disorders they should educate themselves with books such as Getting Better Bite By Bite by the brilliant Dr Janet Treasure and Life-Size by Jenefer Shute. While they focus on these, you can focus on learning what kind of ankle boots are in this season. You might also take an interest in other things, too. Because that’s how smart you are.
- Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.