Women beware: Dangerous
messages in the checkout line
By Jocelyn Green (9/19/04)
While the average Christian
might veto graphic video games, inappropriate movies and some
primetime television, there’s another venue to be wary of:
the local supermarket.
among the candy bars and breath mints at the grocery store these
days are nuggets from top-selling magazines designed to whet a
different appetite. Provocative cover photographs and headlines
on magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour
urge women to try all sorts of shocking attire and sexual techniques
in order to keep a man interested in them.
author of Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual
Temptation One Victory at a Time, says the magazines can
have the effect of pulling women into pornography.
“They cause many
women and guys to want to see more,” says Arterburn, founder
of New Life Clinics. “It’s becoming more and more
addictive to women.” Zogby International reports that one
out of every six women — including
Christian women — now struggles with an addiction to pornography.
porn that is clearly in some of these magazines plays into the
addictive process. What titillates someone today doesn’t
work tomorrow,” says Jan LaRue, legal counsel for Concerned
Women for America. “The porn industry exploits that.”
While some articles
merely desensitize readers to sexual content, others blatantly
“Most of us who
would never go near a porn shop are saturated with these messages,”
says Elizabeth Leonard, associate professor of sociology and co-director
of the Center for Women’s Studies at Vanguard University
(Assemblies of God) in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“When you show
sexually provocative material and deliver messages that premarital,
extramarital and homosexual sex are OK, those are harmful messages,”
says Rick Schatz, president of the National Coalition for the
Protection of Children and Families.
Kate Fowler had been
raised in a strong Christian home, but she fell away from the
faith during her years at Vanderbilt and the University of Colorado.
Messages she saw and read in women’s magazines contributed
to her changed lifestyle. What she once considered demeaning,
offensive and off-limits slowly and insidiously changed her behavior.
Subscriptions to Cosmopolitan, Glamour and InStyle
altered her beliefs on what relationships with men should involve.
“The more I read
about pornography and promiscuous sex in Cosmo, the more
I believed that this was what sexually liberated, confident women
do,” she recalls. “I had to revamp my entire mentality
to think that those things don’t have to be a part of my
Judith Resiman, president
of the Institute for Media Education, argues that these publications
teach women to be sexually coarsened and frighteningly aggressive.
“To catch and keep a man, you are being trained to be a
harlot,” she says.
Leonard sees two primary
problems with articles devoted to sexual “techniques.”
“When you separate
sex from relationship, you make sex too important, as though everything
has to be about sex,” she says. “But, oddly, you also
make it trivial by creating scenarios of multiple partners. And
our bodies are just not created for that.”
For the average young
woman, continual exposure to the media ideal produces a body dissatisfaction
rate higher than 60 percent among high school students and 80
percent among college students, according to researchers at Brigham
and Women’s Hospital in Boston. A study found that the more
frequently girls read magazines, the more likely they were to
diet, even though more than 70 percent of them were not overweight.
Not only do magazines
show women how to look, they offer radical avenues to achieve
it. Lillian Calles Barger, president of the Damaris Project, noticed
45 advertisements in one magazine for cosmetic surgery or some
other body-enhancing procedure.
These ads — along
with plastic surgery reality TV shows such as Extreme Makeover
and The Swan — tell women that their bodies need
to be “fixed.” Last year, 24 percent more females
18 and younger underwent breast augmentation compared to the year
before, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
magazines carry another subtler threat: promotion of self and
beauty as idols.
Leonard suggests that
placing too much emphasis on self teaches women to serve self,
not God. “We become our own god,” she says. “We
will do whatever it takes to keep self fed and satisfied, even
though it’s not ultimately satisfying. We become the center
of our own universe.”
In the past five years,
Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, has urged supermarkets
to either cover or remove offensive periodicals from the checkout
line. “These magazines both contribute to our sex-saturated
culture and are a sad reflection of it,” he says.
At 16, Ashley Bergman*
began spending a lot of time and effort trying to look like the
females she saw in magazines in an effort to please her boyfriend.
Ten years, an eating disorder and two cosmetic surgeries later,
she knows the price was too great. Bergman, a graduate of an Assemblies
of God university, has been in therapy for the past 18 months.
“I had Cosmopolitan,
Glamour and Allure all coming to my house,”
she says. “I was obsessed that I had to look like that.
It’s addicting to feel like you have to do more until every
part of your body is done.”
In her quest for the
perfect body Bergman became anorexic, even though she wasn’t
overweight. After that, she had a $5,000 breast enhancement, then
a $3,000 nose job. She reached the point where she didn’t
leave her residence without makeup applied and every hair in place.
In addition to therapy,
Bergman has been helped by a return to her Christian roots. “My
faith keeps me sane and together,” she says. “God
doesn’t make mistakes. He didn’t make me to where
I needed to be fixed. I don’t read Cosmo anymore.”
found the advice of the magazines — to buy more stimulating
clothes, wear better makeup or to lose weight — to be vapid.
“There’s no mechanism for dealing with wounds or feelings
of insignificance,” she says. “There’s no real
way to deal with the human side of relationships: brokenness.”
Fowler graduated in
2002 and rededicated her life to Christ. She is engaged to a Christian
and no longer looks at women’s magazines. “Now I cannot
read them because they make me sick,” she says.