With the start of a new year I decided to start monitoring cover stories in the weekly ‘women’s magazines’ in Australia. More information on this, and a complete listing of the cover stories, can be found here.
Three month summary
For three months I’ve monitored the stories included on the covers of four Australian women’s magazines.
Based on the results so far, the average cover is likely to include a story about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and/or the Kardashian family. Ellen de Generes, celebrity couple Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom, and the Duchess of Cambridge may also be included. Also likely are a diet or body image story, often featuring a minor celebrity, and possibly a story about participants in the My Kitchen Rules TV show.
The bulk of the 273 stories over the past three months were about celebrities (64 percent or 175 stories) with Cruise/Holmes and the Kardashians topping the list; almost 18 percent (49 stories) were about diets or body image; 6.9 percent (19) were about MKR; and only 2.5 percent (seven stories) were broadly human interest, focusing on people with no celebrity status. I grouped the remaining 23 stories (8.4 percent) into ‘other’.
While stories about celebrities are undoubtedly popular, there’s a preference for those in difficult or controversial circumstances; relationship breakdown, distress, scandal and acrimony get more coverage than happiness and harmony. Only one of the top five celebrities – the pregnant and seemingly happy Duchess of Cambridge – receives coverage which is unvaryingly positive. Coverage of Cruise/Holmes, the Kardashians, Kerr and Bloom, or Ellen de Generes tend to focus on relationship tensions, pregnancy and health issues, possible infidelities and marriage inequality.
The magazines do not prioritise the stories in the same way. Most of the Cruise/Holmes coverage has been in Woman’s Day, but it ran only one Kardashian story. Who magazine, however, featured the Kardashians on the cover six times but Cruise/Holmes only once. Both NW and New Idea ran several Cruise/Holmes stories (six and seven respectively), but New Idea had only one Kardashian story while NW had ten. Diet and body image were the second most featured subject area in all four publications: 15 stories in NW, 14 in Woman’s Day, and nine each in New Idea and Who.
After three months I’ve decided to stop the monitoring. The trends are pretty clear and while there’s definitely scope to do a more detailed analysis of coverage, tone and story mix, I’ll leave that to someone else.
Weekly summaries by cover dates
25 March: The body image theme continues this week. NW‘s main cover image is of three bikini clad celebrities, two slim, one noticeably overweight. The headline is “Size Doesn’t Matter! Stars reveal, ‘We love our bodies’”. Given NW has run around 15 stories this year in which size quite definitely matters, and one of the celebrities actually looks unhealthily large, this is rather stunningly hypocritical.
Woman’s Day includes a story on singer Rickie-Lee’s “weight loss shock”. Two years ago the same magazine ran a story about Rickie-Lee under the headline “This is what a real woman looks like”, a reference to former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins who had posed nude. I actually took a photo of the story at the time because I expected there would be a weight loss story about her sooner or later – and there is this week.
Despite being lauded as a ‘real woman’ at a size 14, the size of the ‘average’ Australian woman, she felt the need to lose weight and is now apparently underweight. If non-celebrities struggle with body image it seems the pressure is much higher on those in the public eye.
18 March: It’s the good, the bad and the ugly of celebrity bodies in the women’s magazines this week. Who‘s main story was headlined ‘Scary skinny’, and focused on too-thin celebrities; at New Idea it was Brynne Edelstien’s loss of 16 kilos and ‘Home and Away’s hottest bodies’; Woman’s Day gave most of its cover real estate to rumours regarding Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy, but also managed to include the ’5:2 diet’, a TV show’s ‘body war’, and ‘plastic surgery secrets’ on My Kitchen Rules; NW‘s main story was about singer Joel Madden’s ‘secret life’, but they also covered plastic surgery under the headline ‘nip-tuck knifestyles’.
Other common themes are a rumoured daughter for the Duchess of Cambridge (Who, New Idea and Woman’s Day) and once again NW and Woman’s Day have Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes stories.
11 March: the 11 March edition of Who was in the shops a week earlier than usual and was initially taken for the 4 March edition. This has now been corrected. I was unable to find an edition dated 4 March despite looking in several outlets.
Common stories this week are about singer Pink’s “new body” (Who considers it “buff” but New Idea wonders if she’s “gone too far); Russell Crowe dating a much younger woman (Woman’s Day and New Idea); and , of course, the usual quota of Cruise/Holmes stories (Woman’s Day and NW) and My Kitchen Rules (all but NW).
4 March: Three of the four magazines this week give cover space to the high rating TV show ‘My Kitchen Rules’, and two of them – Woman’s Day and New Idea – have it as the lead story. Only NW has not included the show, instead giving most of its cover to yet another Kardashian story, this time “Kim’s web of lies!”.
As I mentioned last week, the Kardashians are popular cover fodder, appearing on at least one cover (and often more) each week. I understand their fame started with a television show, but they now seem to be famous for being famous – and rich. I’ve never watched any of their shows, but thanks to magazines and social media, I know about Kim’s sex tape, her short lived marriage, her pregnancy, and their various fashion lines. And all without trying to locate information on the subject!
25 February: The most prominent story this week revolves around photos of the Duchess of Cambridge in a bikini. Woman’s Day ran 20 images over five pages, and even though they’re not good quality photographs, two were also included on the cover. The magazine claims the photos are a celebration of Kate being well again after her much publicised morning sickness, whereas Who‘s cover claims she is stressed by the invasion of privacy involved in the photos being taken. New Idea seems to side with Woman’s Day, with a cover story claiming to know why Kate is “smiling again”.
Kim Kardashian is also pregnant and popular cover material. Who has featured both Kate and Kim under the headline “pregnant and stressed”, while in NW she’s being “dragged to court”. The Kardashians – Kim, Khloe and Kourtney – have made the cover of one or more of the magazines almost every week this year, a total of 12 stories.
The only storyline which appears more often on the covers is that of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes even though they’re already divorced: 16 stories about new relationships, their child, his children, extravagant spending and Scientology. The combination of fame, wealth, divorce and an unorthodox religion is obviously irresistible to the magazines and presumably to their readers.
18 February: It’s been an interesting week in the world of women’s magazines. First there was the story about TV personality Chrissie Swan, who apparently tried to buy a paparazzi photo of herself smoking while pregnant to avoid the embarrassment and condemnation that would follow publication. While she was outbid by Woman’s Day, the resulting cover headline – “The photos that saved my life” – seems to focus more on her decision to stop smoking than on the dangers of cigarettes and pregnancy. This allowed the magazine to run the images but not anger Swan’s fan base. While criticised on social media she also received support on high profile websites Mamamia and Hoopla.
The Chrissie Swan photos were soon overshadowed by the news that Woman’s Day had also bought photos of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge in a bikini. While the royal establishment is “disappointed” at what it sees as an invasion of privacy, other commentary is unsurprised by the decision to publish next week. Those who disapprove can choose not to to buy the edition, but many more will, helping maintain the magazine’s position as the highest circulating of those in this informal study.
Finally, The Australian reported today (paywalled) that Grazia magazine is closing due to dropping circulation.
On the covers, major space was given negative stories about the appearance of celebrities in Who and NW, continuing a theme noticed earlier in the year: Who has a plastic surgery special featuring “20 shock new looks” while NW is focussing on “booty vs bones”.
Woman’s Day and New Idea have positive celebrity relationship stories dominating their covers: Nicole and Keith’s second honeymoon (New Idea) and Ellen and Portia’s “secret Aussie holiday” (Woman’s Day). Both also ran My Kitchen Rules stories, though New Idea as the “official MKR magazine” gave it more prominence.
11 February: last week’s alleged celebrity baby boom continues, with Woman’s Day and New Idea running headlines suggesting Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban are expecting another child. Two magazines put model Lara Bingle in a relationship, either with singer Anthony Kledis (Who) or as part of a love triangle with a “footy star” (Woman’s Day).
The negative focus on celebrity bodies noted two weeks ago has returned. Who‘s main story is about celebrities whose weight obsession has “gone too far”; and NW has stories on “skinny stars” and designer Victoria Beckham’s “shock new (weight) low”.
The popularity of the television show ‘My Kitchen Rules’ has led to prominence in the magazines: for the second successive week stories about the show’s ‘stars’ are featured.
4 February: celebrities babies are popular this week – or at least celebrity pregnancies. Accordingly to both Woman’s Day and New Idea, Angelina Jolie is pregnant with her seventh child – and having it “in hiding” according to Woman’s Day. Meanwhile, in NW Britney Spears is “pregnant and alone” and Kim Kardashian is having twins. Rather surprisingly, there’s no mention of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge on any cover.
TV cooking shows also make an appearance, with stories about the chefs in ‘My Kitchen Rules’ and ‘Professional Masterchef’ adding an unusually male component to the covers of New Idea and Woman’s Day.
Finally, the turbulent (at least according to the magazines) romance between Taylor Swift and Harry Styles is back on again. NW has the story on how Taylor won Harry back, although in its 14 January issue it had them eloping to Vegas. Consistency is obviously not a priority.
28 January: Who has again run a cover story about Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, this week apparently quoting Kerr refuting on “the lies” about their relationship. Woman’s Day and NW are more interested in celebrity bodies than celebrity relationships: NW has devoted most of its cover to celebrity “body shocks” including a bikini clad Demi Moore, Lea Michele sporting a (unconfirmed) “baby bump”, a topless Katie Holmes and “bony” Bai Ling; while Woman’s Day has gathered a five Australian female celebrities in swimsuits under the headline “beach beautiful at any age!”.
While it’s easy to assume the culture’s obsession with beautiful celebrity bodies contributes to eating disorders and body image issues among the general population, even the celebrities don’t escape criticism: Demi Moore is described as having a “skinny body and weight obsession”; Lea Michele seems to have gained weight so they speculate about pregnancy; and Bai Ling (whom I’ve never heard of) is called “gaunt”. Oh, and the shots of a topless Katie Holmes date back to a movie made in 2000. (I had to buy the magazine to get that level of detail; I wasn’t able to take a furtive cover photo on this occasion!) So while the message on the surface is that you need to be celebrity-thin to be considered beautiful, on another level not even the celebrities are acceptable.
Woman’s Day continues to include a human interest story on every cover. This week it’s an Australian dog getting a driver’s licence: previously it’s been a woman having her friend’s child, a barmaid still working at 91 and an “Aussie Gran” claiming her daughter has taken $300 000. These stories sit rather oddly with the rest of the covers, which are largely about celebrity bodies and relationships.
21 January: This week the first contradictory stories have appeared. Who is offering the “inside” story on the (apparent) breakup of singers Harry Styles and Taylor Swift, yet last week NW had them eloping to Vegas and two weeks ago New Idea was claiming their relationship had actually led to the breakup of Harry’s group, One Direction.
The magazines are also confused about the marriage of model Miranda Kerr and actor Orlando Bloom. A week ago Who ran a headline suggesting rumours of a breakup were unfounded (“Miranda and Orlando: what split?”), yet this week Woman’s Day will tell you “why he left” while NW is offering “Miranda and Orlando – Split? What split”.
Their fascination with diets continues, with three of the four running stories promising quick and significant weight loss, sometimes combined with celebrities (e.g. “Lara Bingle tells Who: How I lost 12kgs”) for added appeal. Only New Idea has resisted the diet temptation, having devoted almost all of its cover to celebrity stories.
14 January: All four magazines have bonus booklets of diets and exercise this week – obviously the focus given to this topic last week wasn’t sufficient. And call me cynical, but somehow I don’t think including the booklet of “world’s best ever diets and the only exercises you’ll need” will stop Woman’s Day from publishing other diets and exercise regimes before long. On the celebrity front, babies for Kim Kardashian and Fifi Box (who is she?) are getting a lot of coverage, while interest in the (alleged) relationships of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes continues.
7 January: Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes stories given wide coverage, plus lots of post holiday diets.