Dr. Debbie Danowski Presents Talk on the Cultural Significance of Popular Women's Magazine

News Story: November 27, 2008

Dr. Debbie Danowski, associate professor of Media Studies, will present her talk Cover to Cover:  Contemporary Issues in Popular American Women's Magazines on Thursday, November 13th from 12pm-1:30pm in the faculty lounge.  Dr. Danowski will discuss the topic of popular magazine covers and their cultural significance.  The event is free and lunch will be provided. 

Abstract:  Women's magazines have consistently dominated popular American media often achieving readerships of more than several million each.  Because of this widespread popularity, these magazines provide valuable insight into American culture.  As Zuckerman points out, Women's magazines also tell us a great deal about the construction of gender in U.S. society.  Within these journals certain aspects of women's lives were emphasized, other dimensions downplayed or ignored.  Topics discussed, images displayed, activities presented all affected women's perceptions of themselves, their possibilities, and the world (XV).

Throughout the years, researchers have studied many aspects of the magazine industry yet despite an extensive body of knowledge, little research has been done to examine the most visible aspect of any magazine: the cover. One of the few is a study by Malkin, Wornian, and Chrisler in which the covers of 21 popular women's and men's magazines were analyzed for gender-related messages regarding body appearance.  The authors determined that women's magazines were more likely to contain messages about diet, exercise, and cosmetic surgery to change body size than were men's magazines (3).  As pointed out in the study, a magazine's cover is primarily a sales tool the images selected and the way we describe the contents must be provocative, hard-hitting, and full of elements that sell not feature oriented (Lee qtd. in Maklin, Warnian, and Chrisler 2).

This paper will present results from a study that analyzed and categorized the messages sent out via the covers of the five most popular general interest women's magazines with the highest circulation during the years 2000 - 2005.  In total, more than 2,000 cover entries were reviewed from almost 300 magazines and divided into 17 categories for material content.  These categories are: food/cooking; relationship (family, friends, etc.); weight loss; fashion; beauty (makeup, hairstyles, etc.); home (decorating, cleaning tips, etc.); celebrity/entertainment; fitness/mental health; financial/career; fiction; editorials/personal experience; medical; travel; parenting/grandparenting; holiday/seasonal; body fixes; and miscellaneous.