Photo of Trica Cusden

I realised the other day that I no longer have what used to be a major source of pleasure in my life. And that was buying a women’s magazine with my shopping and settling down to read it in the afternoon with a nice cup of tea. In their heyday in the 60s and 70s, over 12 million women’s magazines were sold every week of which Woman, the most popular, alone accounted for 3 million copies. 

 

I can well remember as a child waiting impatiently for my Girl and Bunty to drop through the letterbox alongside my brother’s Beano and Eagle, and for my mum there would be her copies of Woman and Women’s Realm

 

At every stage of my life there was a magazine waiting for me to grow into. From Bunty I progressed to Honey and Jackie, and then to Cosmopolitan and, for a brief and wonderful time from 1965 to 1975, when I was a college student and then a young married woman, there was Nova, described by The Times as "a politically radical, beautifully designed, intellectual women's magazine."  Nova covered such once-taboo subjects as abortion, cancer, the contraceptive pill, race, homosexuality, divorce and royal affairs. And unlike most other women’s magazines at the time, the cover wasn’t an idealised smiling female face, but something much more provocative, stylish and radical. 

 

I can remember being devastated when Nova folded in 1975 and I also remember trying to save as many copies as I could as a memento, but only managed to keep about 6 of them which are long gone. Which is a shame, because complete sets of Nova now sell for upwards of £25,000! But it wasn’t only the rather rarified Nova that I loved. My mum still had her weekly delivery of Woman and Woman’s Realm right up to her death in 1989, and she used to keep them all for me to read when I visited every six weeks or so. Seeing that pile of 12 or more unread (by me) magazines was such a treat and I couldn’t wait to see what delights were inside. Which begs the question why did I love these magazines so much and what do I have in my life now to replace them?

 

If you look at the evolution of women’s magazines over time it becomes clear that they have always reflected the life and times of the women reading them. Post-war the message for women of returning to the domestic sphere was echoed in homemaking articles, recipe suggestions for rationed food and the importance of looking after your home, husband and children. Which was probably why the raunchier magazines like Cosmopolitan became such a hit in the 60s and 70s, because they dared to suggest that women might enjoy sex and also that they might not be waiting until they got married to find out just how much. And, as the Women’s Movement gathered pace both here and in the USA, there was room for the idea of ‘the career woman’, or at the very least, of a woman who might work both before and after marriage and child-rearing.

 

Why Do Women Buy Magazines?

 

I know that the answer to that depends to some extent on the type of magazine. A woman buying Vogue magazine is buying it for a very different reason to the one buying ‘Take a Break’ every week. But across the board, from the most expensive monthly glossy, to the least costly weekly magazine the reasons remain broadly similar:

 

The primary reason has to be the magazine’s entertainment value. Articles that catch your attention, photographs that inspire you, Regular features that keep you informed and ‘au fait’ with whatever you’re interested in. That’s why we love to read them when we’re waiting to see the doctor, dentist or for our hair-dye job to take in the hairdressers.

 

Next is the tribal quality and the sense of belonging to a group of which you are proud to be an obvious member because you buy that magazine. Nova was definitely like that for me, but my mum’s Woman magazine was just as important to her, because, despite working full-time in our family business, she mostly thought of herself as a good home-maker who also valued beauty and fashion advice.

 

The third reason is to tell us what we are thinking almost before we think it. Or to solve a problem that we didn’t know we had. The very best magazines with the best writers always managed to keep their fingers firmly on the pulse of their readers as well as wider society. This was profoundly reassuring, especially if you were struggling either at home or at work.

 

And finally, magazines can be a source of information and inspiration. Good Housekeeping currently has the biggest circulation than any other magazine at around 365,000 copies a year or 30-40,000 a month. It advertises itself as offering: ‘recipes, health advice, beauty and fashion features, consumer reports, great ideas for your home and real life inspirational stories. It is the one magazine you can always trust for expertise and tireless attention to detail delivered in a positive and accessible way which gives readers direct access to “the best of everything”.

 

Good Housekeeping magazine has been going strong since 1885 and is probably the only one that I would consider buying from news stands nowadays and that’s probably because it has managed to maintain an appeal which spans a reasonably wide age-range, perhaps from women in their late 40s to women of our age. 

 

I have just bought the June edition, something I haven’t done for aeons. Nothing much has changed, except that, despite the cover story about 46 year old ‘single, childless, Asian’ (her description not mine), Anita Rani, most of the other articles featured women in their 60s, including Liz Earle and the 6 readers’ stories about sets of long-time best friends. And, most hearteningly, the main fashion spread of summer dresses featured an older grey haired model, albeit one with very long hair and with a tall and very willowy figure. It was packed with all that we have come to expect, but I won’t be spending £5.99 on it again.

 

Why? Because I get all the interest, inspiration, advice, companionship and compassion I need and want from being part of our Look Fabulous Forever private members Facebook group, Tricia’s Super Troopers, which now numbers 9000 women. This has all those very same hallmarks of what makes for a great magazine, but somehow much more personal and intimate. Last night I scrolled through to see what ‘content’ has been created by our members in the past few hours and days. And here’s what I found: 

Conversations about spring and summer fashion finds, beauty advice with one member showing off her beautiful ‘wedding’ makeup look. Lots of sharing of photos of gardens coming into bloom after a challenging and inclement winter and wet spring, including Christine’s photos of her trip down to the Chelsea Flower Show. Sandra had posted some more photographs of her travels to show us all that a lone traveller approaching 80 can still be adventurous and have fun whilst looking stylish and chic. Lily and Catharine showed a couple of stunning outfits, including inexpensive finds in sales and on Vinted. And we were all relieved that Wendy’s husband may now soon be discharged from hospital after a terrible time.

 

We also ask each other for consumer advice, recipes, book and film ideas, planting advice for our gardens and, thanks to a query from me about slugs and hostas, I now have a solution which actually works (not a single snail or slug bite after 3 weeks on any of the leaves on my 7 new hostas.) Thankyou Susan and Strulch. And if you are dreading that cataract operation, just mention it on ST and you’ll get instant reassurance, kindness, understanding and sensible support. There’s also family stuff - husbands, birthdays, anniversaries, grandchildren and Sylvia has been sharing fabulous photos of her son winning an Oscar for his design work on the film ‘Poor Things’.

 

Being a part of Super Troopers is like having a fresh and fascinating magazine delivered to your door every single day of the week and it’s all at the touch of a button (or in my case, a mouse). And, unlike magazines, the people who make a contribution every week feel like proper friends, so much so that many of them arrange lunches and anything up to 12 or more will meet to have fun with women who live near their neck of the woods. We’re also international with Troopers in the USA, Europe and Australia. 

 

And, in effect, I am the editor overseeing the whole thing. As you would expect with such a lively and dynamic group, there are sometimes ‘issues’. I have been alert to this tendency for controversy and divisiveness on social media from day one. I can see something brewing a mile off and I always act very decisively to nip it firmly in the bud. This has worked well for 4 years and we (the members with me) have managed to keep the tone positive, kind and welcoming, which I feel is a remarkable feat for such a large group of very diverse and opinionated older women.

 

Hopefully it’s not too trite to say that we women have always been emotional, social creatures who value nurturing relationships and creating an environment in which everyone can thrive. 

Thanks to the internet and social media we can now create a group which feels a lot like the village communities in which we lived for thousands of years. 

 

When I click on the Super Trooper facebook page*, it feels like returning home to be welcomed into the familiar embrace of a truly fabulous female energy, so I no longer feel the need of a magazine to create that sense of belonging and sisterhood.

 

Tricia x

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Upcoming Events:

Friday 14th June

The Zone Of Interest The Zone Of Interest

Film Club: Poor Things

Available on Amazon Prime

Watch the film beforehand and join us for a group discussion!

Day: Friday 14th June 2024

Time: 4 pm

Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86109288705?pwd=TUgzQW5IK0VnUGI2MGdtb0FQN3hxZz09

Meeting ID (if needed): 861 0928 8705

Password (if needed): LOOKFAB