Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Magazine Woman [February 27]

A few people have expressed interest in reading the column i refer to in ‘Shy: a memoir’ about Magazine Woman. It was first published about ten years ago in The Age.

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There she is again. Just when you think you’ve seen the last of her for a while, she pops up again in all the usual places.

She’s in the bathroom mirror, standing just behind you, smiling seductively with her hair all tousled and her fashionable pink terry-towelling bathrobe framing her perfect neck. Her skin is clear, her scent is fresh, and she’s putting you to shame again. She’s Magazine Woman.

She joins you at the beach in her sleek black swimsuit, her hair now combed back in a perfect, salt water slick. As you scurry self-consciously into the shallows, she strides out beside you, throwing one smooth, long leg out in front of the other, smiling all the while at the admiring onlookers. A perfect dive, and she’s strokes ahead of you already, because, remember, she’s always, inevitably fitter than you.

In fact, she comes to the gym with you and perches elegantly on the exercise bike, back straight, armpits dry, and as you crouch and sweat and frown, she’s still smiling that beautiful smile.

No one else can see her, except perhaps those bored enough to flick through the dog-eared ‘Vogue’ or ’Marie Claire’ magazines as they pedal away. You wonder if she escapes the confines of those glossy pages for them just as regularly as she does for you.

And she sure gets around. You’re far from home, in the change room of a small boutique in a distant shopping mall, and as you look up from that tricky zipper, she’s turning around, making sure her identical new outfit looks as good from the left angle as it does from the right. (And it does.) So you take it off and hang it back on the rack, once again reminded of your bulging thighs or sloping shoulders or non-existent bust. You can’t win when she’s around.

So just who is she? And why does Magazine Woman plague your sub-conscious in this way?

Is she your ideal self, the stunning beauty you wish you could have been, or are trying hard to be? Sometimes she looks a little like you, but slightly thinner, or taller, or with a flush of rosy colour highlighting her well-sculpted cheekbones. At other times she looks completely different, fair where you are dark, or curvaceous where you are stick-like.

Is she your past, youthful self? She’s always young, and reminds you of the time your skin was smooth and your hair was thick and shiny with health. And she has an air of confidence (remember, ignorance is bliss) that you must have felt at some time before the responsibilities started piling up.

Or is she the enemy, the Other, upon whom who you focus all your envy and resentment, because you know very well you were never, ever anything like her, and never will be?

And yet we can’t keep away from her. Hundreds of thousands of us buy her image in dozens of different magazines every day, to pore over her wardrobe, her hairstyle and her make-up, feeling that strange mixture of pain and pleasure that she always induces.

In one part of our media-savvy brains, we know all about her hair-brushing, her air-brushing, her waxing and teasing and plucking, her tinting and fudge-ing, her rigid work-out regime, her dental and her cosmetic bills. We understand she’s a pawn of the industrial/entertainment complex, designed to stimulate our desire for retail therapy, and distract us from the real problems facing this mad, over-consuming society of ours. We even know she may soon be replaced by an image that is entirely digitally constructed, using the very latest tools of the computer animation industry.

But another part of that contrary organism, the human brain, insists she’s all pure and natural, no artificial colourings or flavourings, no genetically engineered improvements. She’s what we should have been, and what we could yet be if only we would buy more products.

So we meet her at the hairdressers. She’s the one with the hairdo we know will suit us down to the ground, if only our stylist could get it right for once.

Then we return home and take a bath with her, pouring in the salts and the scents, paying homage to her beauty and begging her to become one with us. She’s our greatest friend, our worst foe, our nemesis – she’s Magazine Woman.