Programming Note

I'm finally, finally moving the blog to Wordpress, so there may be page errors, missing content, and general mayhem here for the next few days. Please stand by. I'll tweet when the site is back to normal. 

Redbook Loves Kristen Bell's Post-Baby Body, Hates Your Post-Baby Body

Earlier this summer, I started picking up Redbook. What? I know. Seems I've developed a small but heretofore nonexistent interest in reading magazines that don't actively Redbook_kristenbell_september2013 make me feel bad about myself. Redbook is a little heavy on the motherhood and cooking content for my taste. But it's packed with fashion and home décor that I could walk out the door and buy right now, because most of the items it features are affordable, cute, and from the Gap, not Givenchy. I'll happily fork over $3.99 for that.

So I was intrigued a few weeks ago when I came across an essay on the Huffington Post by Redbook's editor-in-chief, Jill Herzig. In long-hallowed ladymag tradition, Herzig is rapturous with self-congratulatory praise for doing the unthinkable, something that has never been done: featuring an actress on a magazine cover before she's lost all her baby weight! 

The actress in question is Kristen Bell, and lest you get too excited, we're talking about an extra 15 pounds eleven weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Lincoln. It's not like Bell threw on some sweats and drove to the photo shoot straight out of the hospital. But here's how Herzig explained it:

How did we get to this ridiculous place, where losing the baby weight is a competitive sport followed by millions? Magazines certainly haven't helped...

You think?

As the editor of Redbook, I'll admit I've sometimes been part of the problem. But I'm proud of our September cover featuring Kristen Bell...she is comfortable, clear-eyed, and lovely. She is also, by her estimation, 15 pounds away from her pre-pregnancy weight.

Weird, I'd expect someone a whopping 15 pounds over her pre-pregnancy weight to be massively uncomfortable, bleary-eyed, and totally hideous! I get what Herzig is doing here, but it's super condescending to note that a woman who 15 pounds over her normal weight--though probably not even 15 pounds overweight because, you know, Hollywood--can still be beautiful and comfortable with herself. Welcome to the real world, Jill! Some of us manage to leave the house and function in the world while simultaneously being more than 15 pounds overweight every single day!

Full disclosure: we moved this cover from August to September when Lincoln was born a little later than expected. I counted the weeks to our cover shoot and rescheduled to give Kristen more time. I didn't want Redbook to be part of the media meat grinder that pressures a new mother to torch off the weight...

Rampant speculation on my part, but I'm not convinced that Redbook was behind the date change, especially if the shoot was rescheduled because of an unexpected change in Bell's due date. However, I am convinced that moving the shoot by what could only have been a few weeks was in no way as generous and significant as Herzig would have you believe, and that, if anything, the rescheduling was motivated by simple logistics and not pure Glinda-the-good-witch wishes for Bell's wellbeing.

Maybe that's just me.

Anyway, after reading this, I was eager to see the actual article, so given my newfound lack of distaste for Redbook, I picked up the issue when it hit newsstands. First: Kristen Bell does look great--and, if not for Herzig's warning that Bell is packing an extra 15 pounds, I doubt anyone except, like, Bell's own trainer would have noticed. But for those of us not familiar enough with Bell's typical body to pick out all her new fat deposits, the mag helpfully spells it all out for us!

...Bell walks into a Hollywood studio, her petite 5-foot-1 inch frame weighed down by a bag filled with new-mom essentials: breast pump, sterilized bottles, insulated storage pack, and what she calls her "compression garments." Those would be the industrial-strength Spanx that help camouflage the last bit of pregnancy weight. The 33-year-old wiggles into one for her Redbook photo shoot and confesses that they were a vital part of her wardrobe a week earlier, when she hosted the televised CMT Awards.

Wow, Redbook, soooo body-positive to immediately throw all the emphasis not on Bell or the baby, but on the restrictive undergarments she wears to look slimmer on camera.

The intro aside, the article quotes Bell talking about her body and her pregnancy weight gain in a way that sounds not just celebrity-adjusted but normal person-adjusted, and Redbook portrays her attitude positively. That's great! What's not so great is what happens after Bell refers to Heidi Klum and her body that magically retracts post-childbirth as "alien," and starts talking about her own weight loss:

Comparison is one long, agonizing death and does not interest me at all. But I'm a healthy eater. [For tips from top nutritionists, see page 104.] 

Kind of intrusive to bust in with a promo there, right? Especially when page 104 is not about healthy eating, per se, but is headlined "4 Ways to Lose Faster"? Hello, mixed message! Hello, conflation of eating well with dieting! Hello, reminder of what Redbook really thinks is important!

And at the top of the facing page, a graphic callout urges you to turn the page:

See how celebs lose weight the healthy way!

So when you do turn, you get the nutritionists' diet tips, an "ab move [that] works better than Spanx" (but is it better than compression garments?), and "The Hungry Girl lunch planner." Sigh. Nutrition is great! Exercise is great! But does Herzig really not see how her magazine is undermining both Kristen Bell and its own narrative when it focuses so relentlessly on weight loss?

In the Huffington Post article, Herzig calls out British tabloid OK! for its overbearing scrutiny of Kate Middleton's post-baby body. While Redbook isn't scorning Bell on its cover, I would argue that what it's doing is just as bad--if not worse--because it's far more insidious. It's easy to dismiss blatant tabloid cruelty; it's not as easy to spot, much less ignore, the deliberate conflation of body acceptance with 75-calorie cookies and exercises meant to imitate the effect of a torturously uncomfortable undergarment.

It's wonderful that Redbook was excited to feature Bell, and to do so briefly after she gave birth. But next time they feature someone with an atypical magazine-cover body, I hope they'll spend less time congratulating themselves about it and more time promoting better body image among their own readership.

Should you lean in to the workforce, opt out of the office life, or just skip the whole debate and buy a bunch of expensive clothes? Glamour's September issue has the answer, and I wrote about it for Jezebel

The Seventh Annual Vogue Liveblog

 Good morning, and welcome to the seventh annual September Vogue liveblog! I’ve been derelict as a blogger this year, but I hope subjecting myself to 902 pages of Vogue in one sitting counts as atonement. Have mercy on me, blogging deities!


First, the rules: I have not opened this issue. I have not read any of its contents online. I didn’t click a single one of the approximately 465 links to the Marissa Mayer article that showed up in my Twitter timeline. I am seeing everything except the cover for the first time live! Refresh to see updates, or if your life for some totally invalid reason involves activities other than reloading this page for the next nine hours, I’ll be tweeting, too, with the hashtag #vogueliveblog. Take it away, Wintour!

Continue reading "The Seventh Annual Vogue Liveblog" »

This year's Vogue liveblog: it's on! On Thursday, August 22, starting at 10 a.m. Eastern, I'll wade into the dark recesses of Anna Wintour's editorial vision. See you then for 902 pages of fashion, celebrity, and total misery.

Lowest Common Denominator: Cosmopolitan, September

40: Approximate percentage decrease of desperate, try-too-hard content since Joanna Coles took over as editor-in-chief. Cosmo_september2013_ninadobrev

Non-zero: Chance that my above conclusion is wildly incorrect, and that I've gone soft in all my months of not blogging.

Hundreds: Questions raised by the Nina Dobrev cover. Like, what exactly is she doing? Did a photo editor dream up this contortion? How long did she have to stand like that to get the shot? Is houndstooth back? What do guys think of the pictures I post, and as an old married person, do I care?

1.3: Brain cells engaged by the cover-heralded "Confessions" section. Twenty-somethings do dumb shit when they drink and a six-year-old didn't know to sit with her knees closed? FASCINATING. (Tangent: Even Redbook, geared as it is to an older crowd, is publishing reader confessions now. Why? There's no point publishing decades-old tales of embarrassment when Twitter lets us watch people make asses of themselves in real time every single day.)

Double: The standard employed by "Cosmo Guy" Josh Peck. When he's asked about co-star/noted domestic abuser Chris Brown, he says, "I can comment only on how he was with me," but when asked about former co-star Amanda Bynes, he lets fly with, "I'd say get a flip phone that doesn't have internet on it." Charming, bro.

68: Page on which writer Jessica Bennett asks "why are we all such haters."

A kajillion: Approximate number of haters Jessica Bennett spawned last week when she posted that her employer, Sheryl Sandberg's organization Lean In, was seeking an unpaid intern.

1:4: Ratio of outfits worn by Rebel Wilson to pages devoted to her. Insert commentary about how fashion magazines fail at making anyone over a size 0 look fashionable.

$12: Anticipated price of a tube of toothpaste if Cosmo's "tooth facial" terminology catches on. Oh, and the "facial"? It's a ludicrously ornate name for brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash. 

20: For no apparent reason, the number of words that Cosmo's beauty director limits herself to answering reader questions on page 122.

Only this once, I think: Number of times I've looked at a page of Cosmo and thought, "I should remember this for future use," and didn't mean future mockery. (For the record, page 132's "Sexy on No Sleep" is going to come in handy for me, because I'm bad at sleep.)

Like a tiny smidge, maybe: Amount of relief I felt upon seeing this ad—which I first spotted in Seventeen—in a publication ostensibly aimed at adults. It's sliiiiiiightly less abhorrent to tell grown women that street harassment is a compliment than to tell teens that, right? Maybe? No?

17: Number of international Cosmo editors who participated in "Your Passport to Hotter Sex," providing valuable contributions to global understanding by revealing that pegging is big in Australia and making a sex tape is cool in the Netherlands, provided you don't "scream each other's first and last names during your performance." Can someone call the Nobel Committee, please?

110/70: My normal resting blood pressure, which remained entirely consistent while reading "What Really Goes Down at a Bachelor Party." If you suspected guys ate red meat and pounded booze and went to strip clubs, ding ding ding! And if you thought reading about that would be a total snore, right again!

The 90s: The decade mercifully not resurrected in the beauty feature in this issue, unlike every other magazine I've read recently. Instead, it's "That 70s Show."

At least 1,000: Number of words this picture is worth. 

Tons: Sincere praise I give for "Your Cosmo Guide to Contraception" package, 12 pages of everything from IUD failure rates to how to talk to a gynecologist. How old are Cosmo's readers that they need to be told that jumping up and down after sex doesn't prevent pregnancy? I don't know, but vital information in this kind of easily digestible format cannot possibly be a bad thing. 

245: Page of the aforementioned feature that includes instructions for applying a condom with your mouth, breasts, and feet. Maybe that's the page you'd like to remember for future use.

Congratulations to me! I've managed to completely abandon this site for almost an entire year!

I feel bad posting here merely to acknowledge that I've let this site go fallow, but then I feel worse not posting at all. So, I'll just say hello, and note that I have a stack of magazines on my desk that I am having FEELINGS about, and that I hope to discuss them with you soon. In the meantime, if anyone who was a teen in the 90s would like to talk about the ridiculous grunge resurgence and why black velvet chokers were the worst thing ever and maybe also what it all means, hit me up on Twitter.

Update: I will be doing by annual Vogue liveblog on Thursday, August 22. Stay tuned!


Editor: Wendy Felton

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