The Portrayal of Beauty in Women’s Fashion Magazines

by Brian Moeran


This article explores the ways in which international fashion magazines such as Elle, Vogue, and Marie Claire portray feminine beauty in textual and advertising matter and how their readers react to such portrayals. It is based on content analysis of more than 700 issues of these titles published in France, Hong Kong, Japan, the UK, and USA, and collected over a fifteen-year period, as well as on extensive ethnographic research among fashion magazine editorial staff and women readers of the magazines in question. The analysis focuses on the different kinds of “face” that magazines invite their women readers to put on. While magazine contents confirm the validity of previous feminist critiques, the article argues that magazine editors—and their advertisers—adopt a “technology of enchantment” as a means of exercising control over their readers. Magazine and advertising language is imbued with “magical” power, and the structure of beauty advertisements closely parallels that of magical spells used in healing rituals. The efficacy of such spells is borne out by reader interviews.

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