The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Women's magazines are reinventing the status quo

Shoppers browse the racks at Rumors, a thrift boutique on N. Graham St., on June 9, 2022.

Women’s magazines are often perceived as frivolous in the world of media. Foundational concepts of fashion and beauty are constantly seen as the sole cornerstone of women’s magazines, feeding into the stereotype that female-oriented publications deal only with shallow, surface-level topics. 

But women’s magazines are so much more than that.

Various woman-dominated publications have started to fuse social justice into their creative visions. This development is the new cornerstone of women’s magazines, which are now flourishing under the leadership of powerful female leaders and storytellers. 

I sat down with the executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Leah Chernikoff — who took part in leading the magazine to its first American Society of Magazine Editors award in General Excellence — to discuss in depth how women’s magazines are revolutionizing journalistic mediums and spearheading coverage of key issues. 

Chernikoff said women's magazines have had bad reputations for perpetuating some harmful beauty ideals over the years. 

“At the same time, women's magazines were often the only place where there was very serious attention being paid to women's issues that weren’t being otherwise addressed in other mainstream publications," she said.

Prior to her position at Harper’s Bazaar, Chernikoff worked to advance this mission in other creative spaces, such as ELLE magazine.

At ELLE, she oversaw storytelling projects ranging from topics on how abortion restrictions affect women’s reproductive health to the socioeconomic implications of the Flint water crisis. She led and created partnerships of creators and activists to bring the stories to life, including award-winning women’s issues and politics writer Mattie Kahn and social justice artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, a pair that worked together to document communities in Flint.

Now, at Harper’s Bazaar, Chernikoff is proud to be a part of another vibrant community of empowering storytellers who are reinventing journalism through a fresh and innovative artistic direction. 

Chernikoff works for Samira Nasr, the first woman of color to helm the magazine. She described her as a leader who "leads with her truth, which is to see the world in an inclusive way — fashion as a part of the culture and culture as representative of the people who make it. We want to reflect those stories onto our pages."

Malissa Rodenburg, a freelance writer for Women’s Running, shared similar sentiments regarding inclusivity across various community spectrums. The magazine focuses on training, health and nutrition for female athletes and is founded on principles of body positivity to empower women of all backgrounds to embrace their physique and ability. 

As a former staffer, Rodenburg explained how her team would produce many features promoting a positive female body image:

“Body image can be a really big problem in the sports world," she said. “So that was something that we tackled often... There is no such thing as how our body is supposed to look like.”

Faran Krentcil, a former colleague of Chernikoff’s at ELLE magazine, is a writer and editor with experiences at Fashionista Nylon, InStyle, Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar. 

According to Krentcil, fashion and beauty exist alongside cultural change; they work in tandem. A Duke University alum, she recalls the collection of female-oriented magazines at her alma mater’s library, emphasizing their multidimensional and comprehensive contents. 

“If you go through those archives, what you're going to find are stories about fashion and beauty. All of those things that are traditionally associated with the women's sphere,” Krentcil said. “But you're also going to find, very early on, that there are articles about politics, about supporting women who are in a war effort or a social justice effort and about becoming part of a change."

She adds that Vogue was one of the first American publications to publish photographs from concentration camps. 

To paint women’s magazines as “frivolous” or “surface-level” in the first place is extremely harmful since they have never fully fit into those specific categories, anyway. Since the early-to-mid 20th century, they have been covering these hard-hitting issues.

“I don't think it's particularly fair or accurate to say that fashion and beauty are frivolous,” Krentcil said. “Fashion is one of the biggest employers of women in the world. How our clothes define our body is one of the most political and social things we could possibly do.”

No doubt, women’s magazines are transcending the status quo, dismantling stereotypes of frivolity and former notorious reputations of surface-level affairs. The mission of women’s magazines has always been to highlight overlooked issues in society and break barriers while doing so.

No doubt, the future of women’s magazines is very bright. They are transcending the status quo, dismantling stereotypes of frivolity and former notorious reputations of surface-level coverage. Now more than ever, the mission of women’s magazines is to highlight overlooked issues in society and break barriers while doing so.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

And this is just the beginning.