Media: It's raining women's mags

Not more new glossy magazines, surely? Yes, it's true, girls - but will you like them?
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The Independent Online
Having spent the past few months setting up Sybil, I have developed an unhealthy interest in the launches of other women's titles. I was genuinely excited when I heard that Frank would be a "witty and provocative" magazine for women who were bored with being talked down to. As this was exactly what we were trying to achieve with the launch of Sibyl, I was also a little wary of it. But I needn't have worried. Yes, Frank is probably several steps ahead of the inanities of Cosmopolitan or Company, but it still holds to the same old assumptions: our readers are happy to spend wads of cash on minuscule pots of Double Serum Extra-Firming Skin-Smoothing gunk and endless dinner parties; they need to be told what they to wear this spring; they are almost all white and totally heterosexual.

But if Frank was disappointing, Red managed to dispense entirely with the radical connotations of its name. It was about as revolutionary as its strap: a new magazine for a new lifestyle. I have no idea what the new lifestyle is, but I suspect it's something to do with "middle youth". A Guardian article, which came out a few months before its launch, made things clearer by printing Red's own reader profile. Apparently, you know you're a Red reader when you find yourself owning four sets of bed linen, lying to your partner about how much your new haircut cost, and not going to the pub unless you know you'll get a seat.

On this front, though, it's unfair to single Red out. If a visitor from another planet was to scan the newsagent's shelves for clues about women's lifestyles, they would think they had discovered the most vacuous of all species.

Lots of women, including me, get a passing thrill from finding a pair of trousers I look good in or the perfect picture to go in the lounge (although, to be honest, I already know the best position to have an orgasm in). But I'm also interested in other things. Are New Labour's policies going to change women's lives? How are women portrayed in the latest Hollywood blockbuster? Are All Saints more cred than the Spice Girls? An intelligent, analytical magazine doesn't have to be academic or worthy. It can and should be (and, Sybil is) entertaining as well as challenging and inspiring.

It is true that most women's magazines manage to sandwich the odd decent feature in amongst the fluff. But they consistently ruin their credibility with insanely-priced make-up, endless adverts and fashion pages that would work better as abstract art.

Teen mags are more fun. I can afford the clothes and they even have a sense of humour. They're pretty good on issues such as health, sex, bullying, suicide and eating disorders. But, like the others, they seem unable to spot the contradiction in printing features about how it is your health not your weight that matters, next to pages of stick-thin models.

In the first issue of Sibyl we are running a campaign to encourage teen mags to use models of different shapes and sizes. We asked several to comment on the idea. Only Just 17 had anything constructive or to say. Others simply said "no comment".

When it comes down to it, these magazines are in the hands of the big companies that publish the and the advertisers who call the tune. Strangely, nobody wanted to advertise their new hair serum next to our feature on how dull and patronising tampon adverts are. Nor did we approach Dolce & Gabbana for the page next to our "Can Men Have It All" article.

Luckily, some companies do want to appeal to women who are clued up about what's going on, who make purchasing decisions based on their beliefs and who get involved in campaigns and debates. So Sibyl has decided to remain an independent publisher. That means no glossy paper, not as much colour as we'd like, late nights and cheap fizz when when we go to press. But if it means not having to edit endless articles about why frocks are back in fashion, I think we can just about cope.

`Sibyl' is available from selected bookshops or by calling 0171 226 2160.

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