Friday, September 11, 2009
The Essence Appears To Be Lost
I have written frequently about my love-hate relationship with U.S. Essence magazine. I started reading it when I was in England and was thirsty for images that looked like me. I stumbled across Essence in March or April of 1997 (the issue with Toni Braxton on the cover). The magazine was much thinner than the bumper issues of Marie Claire, SHE and Cosmopolitan that I was used to reading at the time, but I loved poring over the beautiful images of black women.
Maybe I have been romanticizing the content of the magazine, but it seems like there is a lot less weighty material contained within its pages these days. While women’s magazines are generally considered to be light reading with themes revolving around fashion, relationships, body image and sex, the last couple of years seem to have seen a recycling of the same articles but with different titles and the names changed. So, we now have an endless stream of articles about dressing to accentuate our best bits, finding the man of our dreams, losing weight and staying healthy and whipping up a meal in minutes (the August issue included such a tired and flogged-to-death issue of why black women hate on each other).
In each issue, we also get to find out what men’s thoughts on what qualities they like in women, what they like to see women wearing in bed and out of it, how we can better please them in bed and so on. So even though the magazine’s slogan is “Where the Black Woman Comes First”, it doesn’t always feel that way to me.
Essence has stated a commitment to see African-American woman more financially-secure and independent and consequently each issue features the ‘Work & Wealth’ section devoted to saving, earning more income and making your money work for you. But while we’re learning to accumulate wealth, the cost of the clothes featured in the fashion spreads doesn’t exactly encourage financially-prudent behaviour. Notwithstanding, I still enjoy reading about the women profiled in this section and picking-up career tips from this section.
Each issue features one major celebrity interview, which – unlike the more exploratory character pieces of publications like Vanity Fair – are puff pieces kissing the said subject’s ass. I can’t remember when last any of these interviews told me something I didn’t already know about the star.
The August issue featured leading man Idris Elba on the cover. Although I was a huge fan of The Wire and Mr. Elba’s acting skills, I did not enjoy the article in anyway. I already knew going in that nothing new would be revealed to me. However, I was hoping that the ride would be pleasant enough. Instead, we were treated to a 6-page spread all though which the writer drooled over the – admittedly handsome – actor and counted the number of their future children. Even when we were reading about his experiences talking to young British children about the evils of drugs or his now iconic role of Stringer Bell, we are doing this through the writer’s clearly star-struck eyes. The constant references to his sexiness, alpha male masculinity and great body quickly get old, even for a fan like myself.
I am always bothered when I read articles about women that focus more on their physical appearance than anything else. However, I found this reverse case equally offensive perhaps even more, because a similar article by a man, which played-up her good looks, lingering on the swell of her breasts and her ample behind, would not have been received so eagerly by many women.
So if I have so many complaints, why do I keep reading it you might ask? Well, I continue to have the hope with each issue that THIS will be the gem that I’ve been longing for with the thoughtful and inspiring articles that stay with me for months to come.
I realize that it is impossible to ask one magazine to be so many things to so many different types of women, but I can’t see that most would complain at the inclusion of a few more hard-hitting articles that really dig deep into women’s experiences and thoughts on the economy, politics and culture.