ScienceSkepticism

7 Secrets to Scaring Women Into Buying Your Magazine

I had never heard of Shine before commenter Infinite Monkey sent us a fascinating link to it, but apparently it is a collection of all the stupidest bullshit on the Internet that’s targeted at women.

I know it’s targeted at women because, for starters, everything is pink. Banners, links, headlines, and the dot over the sultry, curvy “i” in “Shine”: pink. Also, there are many pictures of women holding coffee cups and listening to one another possibly talk about feelings. Like this:

feelings

Another clue that Shine is meant for those with “vajayjays”? The main categories: Manage Your Life, Fashion+Beauty, Healthy Living, Parenting, Love+Sex, Food, and ASTROLOGY. Yeah, astrology is important enough to get its own category.

Shine’s main goal appears to be driving traffic to other sites. For instance, the article Infinite Monkey sent us is written by the editor-in-chief of Prevention, and the formula is thus:

1. [physical attribute about which I am about to make you panic]
Paragraph One summing up research in very general terms without offering links or citations. This research shows that [physical attribute] will kill you.

Paragraph Two describing a common sense way you can overcome [physical attribute] and perhaps cling to life for a bit longer.

Link to Prevention magazine article that may or may not have anything to do with the above.

Got it? Let’s look at an example:

4. Arm length
Have a hard time touching your toes (even though you’re flexible)? Women with the shortest arm spans were 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with longer reaches, found a recent study. (Find yours by spreading your arms parallel to the floor and having someone measure fingertips to fingertips; the shortest spans were less than 60 inches.) Nutritional or other deficits during the critical growing years, possibly responsible for shorter arms, may also predispose a person to cognitive decline later in life, say Tufts University researchers.

Take this precaution: Put your appendages to good use with a hobby such as painting or pottery. A 5-year study from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center found that adults who spent the most time engaged in stimulating leisure activities were more than 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spent less time challenging their brains.

See how many calories you’ll burn during each of these warm-weather exercises.

Okay, so the research in question here is a Tufts study of 2,798 seniors, of whom 480 developed dementia or Alzheimer’s. Researchers did in fact find that the women in the group with shorter arm lengths developed dementia and Alzheimer’s at 1.5 times the rate of those with longer arms. However, “for every inch longer a woman’s leg, the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by 16 percent,” something the dear editor didn’t bother to mention. Why? Maybe because it dilutes the fear-mongering by presenting a more accurate and complex view of health? After all, if you want women to freak out about dementia, it’s much easier to tell them to measure their arm span and then OMG panic if it’s under a certain number.

The next point, about ear lobe creases predicting cardiovascular events like heart attacks, is even worse:

Linear wrinkles in one or both lobes may predict future cardiovascular events (heart attack, bypass surgery, or cardiac death). A crease on one lobe raises the risk by 33%; a crease on both lobes increases it by 77%, even after adjusting for other known risk factors. Though experts aren’t exactly sure, they suspect a loss of elastic fibers may cause both the crease and the hardening of arteries.

She simply states these percentages as though they’re fact. In reality, the research hasn’t even proven that cardiovascular risks cause wrinkles. It could simply be that we get wrinkles as we get older, while we also become more likely to experience heart trouble.

Even if there was a definite link between ear lobe wrinkles and cardiovascular events, do you really need to be told that you should keep your heart healthy by staying fit and eating well? And if you know you have a high risk of heart trouble, should you really be following whatever fat-burning cardio workout some magazine recommends for anyone? No! You should talk to your doctor and ask for help planning an exercise regimen that won’t lead to a heart attack on the treadmill.

After clicking around the Prevention web site, I’m actually shocked to see that this is their M.O. They regularly cherry pick scientific research, oversimplify the data, and all-too-readily use it to make blanket recommendations to women. Commonsense advice, like “eat well” and “exercise,” is buried by trendy quick-fix BS, all of which they claim is supported by science.

For instance, the article 5 Potent Anti-Aging Botanicals is subtitled “Research-backed ingredients that firm, smooth, and tone. We’ve got the studies to prove it!” One recommendation is red tea, because it “decreased skin cancer tumors at least 60%,” according to a study that is never actually named. The only person quoted as recommending red tea? Well, that would be the senior chemist at Jason Natural Products, who, as chance should have it, offer a Jason Red Elements Red Clay Masque for just $13.60! I can haz science?

I’m accustomed to seeing idiotic drivel in magazines like Cosmo and Glamour, but somehow this is even more depressing. While those mags are clearly shallow brain vacation material, Prevention targets aging women who worry about their health and want to do something positive for themselves. Why not offer them intelligent breakdowns of new research and debunk the ridiculous claims of the scamsters peddling acai berries and the like?

I guess there’s just no ad revenue in that.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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64 Comments

  1. @Rebecca: Maybe they should have mentioned these missing measurements in the article?

    The ratio of men’s shoe size to penis length.

    The ratio of hand size to facial size as a marker for cancer.

    Observance versus non-observance on time perception in regards to water hitting the boiling point.

    Also, the shortening of time perception during periods of exciting activity.

  2. @marilove: Because women are stupid. DUH! They’re slaves to their emotions, and only worried about pleasing their man, both directly and indirectly by taking care of their bodies and making sure they aren’t disproportionate freaks that will come down with dementia and heart disease because of their freakishly distorted bodies!

  3. yea, this is exactly why i don’t read most magazines, but the general media is usually okay with making people panic in order to gain ratings. More people just need to know how to weed out the BS. The sad thing is many women are gullible due to their sensitivity. The world needs more skeptics in it.

  4. @marilove: Because stupid websites directed at women drive ad revenues.

    This is not to say that intelligent, thoughtful websites directed at women might not also do so, but given the choice between an expected positive with a low variability and an expexted unknown with high variability, most companies will chose the former.

  5. @Amy: I’m not so much worried about my legs as these damn shot arms of mine. Maybe we should have a sleep over and knit together while reading our horoscopes. Would you be a dear and measure my armspan for me so i know where i stand. All this time i thought the worst part about my short arms was that it would make me difficult to marry off because i can’t reach all the shelves in the kitchen…

    But seriously, i really enjoyed this. well put together, You get my gold star for the day :)

  6. @marilove: “…they are all generally hugely sexist….”

    That raises the question of who’s actually calling the shots at those sites? Women who have poorly developed self expectations or men who like the status quo, or something else entirely. I wonder why that kind of nonsense seems to sell so well.

    It seems symptomatic of a societal expectation that has yet to be overcome. Alas.

  7. @Zapski: Neither of those groups are calling the shots. The group calling the shots is people who want to sell ads. They’re agnostic with regard to sexism. Which is to say, they will be sexist or not insomuch as one or the other accomplishes their primary goal.

  8. @marilove: It’s not just websites directed towards women that are sexist and stupid. Websites for men as just as bad; we just don’t hear about them as much because they get less traffic. Most of us guys are too busy searching for ways to keep our hair and extend our penises to read articles.

  9. I infrequently buy one of these stupid girly magazines when waiting in line at the supermarket because I fool myself into thinking there’s going to be SOMETHING interesting in them. However, I always end up throwing the damn thing against a wall halfway through because they are just so bad.

  10. @durnett: Eeeeh, I don’t know about that. Take that Dell site directed at women. Men are the “default” — there always has been a sexist site full of pink for the women, because clearly women are “other”. That’s how it works.

    Of course, there are sexist ads (and tv characters and whatnot) about men, but it’s not nearly as prevalent or obvious.

    Also, it would be very nice to talk about sexism against women without always having to hear about, “But BUT! MEN have to deal with sexism toooooo.”

  11. @SKrap:

    I was thinking it would be more like:

    Being proud of your kids even they don’t become president.

    Feeling good about your less-than-perfect body.

    How to enjoy your TV even though it’s slightly smaller than the one your neighbor has.

    Making the most in bed with the partner you already have.

    Special Secrets Edition: Your kids will like cupcakes from a mix as much as ones made from scratch, and they really don’t care about those icing roses.

  12. @SKrap: I was referring to the constant magazine headlines that say you can have the most wonderful-perfect-amazing-and on and on. Expectations are raised which produces dissatisfaction and then a market for the needed fix to all forms of perceived mediocrity. Most people are normal and their children, looks, sex lives and skin are average/normal and in no need of interventions. The creation of inordinate and unrealistic expectations is essential when it comes to selling you and me useless items and crap information such as the health shit this post is about.

  13. @marilove: It might be nice, but it could never be constructive. The root causes of sexism are in the construction of seperate social identities. We can’t ever productively seperate one from the other, particularly when they come in the form of a self/other or insider/outsider dichotomy.

  14. @James Fox: You know, I was about to respond about how my magazine would be way more fun, but I was mostly kidding anyway.

    Then, I thought about the one you’re proposing and you know, it might actually be both viable and productive, which is an odd thing in the magazine industry.

  15. Did you know that greasy fingers after eating may indicate a possible increase in the probability of heart attacks? It’s true!!
    Take this precaution: Always keep a box of baby wipes near the dinner table. No more greasy fingers! Secret tip: They’re not just for babies anymore!

  16. @HERD_Dad: My son and I have a running joke that started when he was ten (now 19) and didn’t want to use “baby” wipes while camping. I covered the package in duct tape and called them MAN TOWELS which took care of the perception problem.

  17. @SKrap:

    @marilove: It might be nice, but it could never be constructive. The root causes of sexism are in the construction of seperate social identities. We can’t ever productively seperate one from the other, particularly when they come in the form of a self/other or insider/outsider dichotomy.

    Signed. Askmen.com has more than its fair share for both gender. Proceeding right along to womenshealthmag.com, I clicked a /random/ “relationship” advice column and found:

    “Stroke his ego
    If it seems like every time you ask him for a favor your words go in one ear and out the other, you may need to butter him up more. Men are brimming with testosterone, which makes them competitive, and compliments help them feel important and superior.”

    *facedesk facedesk facedesk*

  18. @SKrap:

    Actually, as I was writing my sarcastic magazine cover, I realized that I might actually be willing to buy a magazine like that. I think it could be a successful magazine; too bad I don’t know how to start one up.

  19. @Joshua:

    Yes, but it was a bit of a problem when I was under 18 and not allowed to buy things that might corrupt me. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to find some nice, generous, boys who were willing to help me out, just out of the kindness of their hearts.

  20. Yes, it’s all about ad revenue.

    @Gabrielbrawley and @SKrap have collectively hit the nail on the head.

    Ultimately, neither readers nor editors really guide the content of any commercial media enterprise: Advertisers pay the bills and direct the content. And that has been the case most pointedly since just after World War 2.

    There may be some exceptions, but none immediately come to mind.

    We might ask why it is that all these truly atrocious lifestyle magazines, and so on, are so astoundingly successful. Is the general populace, men and women, really that blindingly stupid, gullible, and sellable? Or is the fear mongering and appeal to assininity so effective that it pulls in even the brights?

  21. @mxracer652:

    And don’t forget that it is the consumers who drive the marketing for products they want.

    I am not convinced that this is as true as we are generally led to believe. What I mean by that is that there seems to be an awful lot of “product” for which there is little-to-no demand until such demand is created by the advertisers working for the manufacturer.

    In a couple of marketing and public relations courses I took at College in the late 90s, we were taught that the creation or invention of demand is one of the principle tasks of most PR, marketing, and advertising departments/companies.

    Stupid magazines like that exist, because there is a demand for that kind of horseshit.

    Baffling, isn’t it?

  22. @SicPreFix: The function of most advertising is to remind customers that you exist and to differentiate either yourself from other substitutable products (which may or may not be your direct competition.) Actual demand creation is rare, epensive, and not terribly effective.
    The function of a good marketing department is to figure out what people want (not what they say they want, but what they will actually consume) and how to provide it to them as efficiently as possible. In that way, marketing is almost directly opposed to sales, which is the process of convincing the consumer that they need your product, independant of whether or not they actually do.

  23. @SKrap:

    The function of most advertising is to remind customers that you exist and to differentiate either yourself from other substitutable products (which may or may not be your direct competition.) Actual demand creation is rare, epensive, and not terribly effective.

    But if that was the primary role of advertising, then surely advertising would not be so remarkabley expensive, glossy, or dishonest as it is and has been for several decades?

    The emotional tone of most advertising points to psychological manipulation. And that’s not a requirement for a simple reminder or point of differentiation.

    The function of a good marketing department is to figure out what people want (not what they say they want, but what they will actually consume) and how to provide it to them as efficiently as possible. In that way, marketing is almost directly opposed to sales, which is the process of convincing the consumer that they need your product, independant of whether or not they actually do.

    Aren’t marketing research and straight forward marketing separate departments, or divisions, or whathaveyou?

    I don’t disgaree that those functions you describe in those two paragraphs represent some of those departments’ (companies, etc.) functions, but I would posit that they do not represent the sole, or primary functions of those departments.

    Disclaimer: Clearly I am heavily biased against advertising, marketing, and to some degree public relations departments, companies, etc., so I am probably stretching the point, but I have rarely seen advertising that does not, at least to some degree, fulfil most of the “evil” the functions I attribute to it.

  24. Marketing research and marketing are different functions in the same way that data collection and analysis are different parts of performing an experiment.
    Its not at all unreasonable to have an anti advertising bias. The output measure for an ad is the degree to which it alters some component of customer behavior (not neccesarily end purchase. Good advertising generally isn’t aimed at make people buy more right now.)
    Think of the marketing department as the people making company level decisions (mostly true at any company with a large number of end users.) When faced with the choice of change the thing we make a bit so that people will buy more of it then tell them we did that vs tell people they should change what they want to be the thing we already make it is generally easier to change the things over which you have more control (in this case, production and product design.)

    Disclaimer: I tend to ramble about this stuff. Consumer behavior is a fascination of mine, even though I didn’t end up working in the field.

  25. Um, did I miss the part where the arm span thing talks about ratios? How the hell is 60″ going to be the same relative-to-height arm span on anyone that isn’t the same height? A 4’8 ” woman could probably touch her elbows to the ground standing with that kind of arm span…but I guess her short legs would even it out?

    does not compute!

  26. @James Fox: My son and I have a running joke that started when he was ten (now 19) and didn’t want to use “baby” wipes while camping. I covered the package in duct tape and called them MAN TOWELS which took care of the perception problem.

    @Joshua: I wonder if you could make camo-print moist towelettes…

    Instead of bothering to market shit to girls by turning it pink, why not employ a reverse strategy and marget women-only stuff to guys by painting it camo-colours or adding rivets.

    Case in point: Barbie -> GI-Joe

    Man-towels™: It’s not a moist towelette, it’s an alternative to using actual soap and water when washing up.

    Also in need of good slogans and toughening up:
    – Face-creams / moisturizers
    – Lipstick
    – Nail polish
    – Tampons
    – Handbags
    – etc…

  27. @exarch: Well, handbags have already been rebranded “manbags”, although I don’t think they caught on outside the early-oughts metro set anyway.

    But tampons are obviously “Blood-catchers”. Perhaps moisturisers are “skin lube”?

  28. Shine doesn’t just have an Astrology section, they have a DOGGY ASTROLOGY section!

    Born today, you are extremely loyal, you enjoy going for walks, you love feeling a breeze through your hair while you stick your head out of the car window, and have a penchant for sniffing butt.

  29. Hello Rebecca, I’m a long-time SGU listener and fan. I decided to join Skepchick today just to comment on SHINE because I found your comments so on the mark. The “momoscopes”, the article about Cindy Crawford’s cellulite, the breathless interviews with “mistresses,” the “$75 facial for a pregnant belly.” I’m just speechless. Part Cosmo, part Entertainment Tonight, part Oprah, and all crap! Sadly, it seems that this type of “women’s” site is pretty much the standard. It seems to follow a magazine template. People, US, Cosmo, and their ilk all very much follow this type of format. Short, dumbed-down articles on celebrities, diet, fashion, and sex.
    I’m going to guess that this isn’t really a new format, and that women’s magazines have offered similar variations since “Godey’s Lady’s Book” in the 19th century (minus the sex, of course). I wonder if there has ever been a female-oriented publication that didn’t follow this type of format? It would be interesting to find out.

  30. Additionally, the following quote from the article linked to by @Garrison22, represents, in my opinion, the very real danger of the degree to which the corporate world exerts control over our lives:

    For most of our history, we’ve sold newer and better products for habits that already existed,” said Dr. Berning, the P.& G. psychologist. “But about a decade ago, we realized we needed to create new products. So we began thinking about how to create habits for products that had never existed before.

    That’s just plain evil.

  31. This website makes me eye stabby… my own eyes, unfortunately. Which would probably make them happy as I’d bleed to death and I’m one of those women who ruin it for them all – “Why does anyone need to be bigger than a size zero. I mean like, totally… just… throw up already.”

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