Remake, Refine: A Brief Analysis of Refinery29

... Gross. Results from a Google Image search for "women's magazines 2014".

See a pattern here? Results from a Google Image search for “women’s magazines 2014”.

It has been incredible to watch as women’s publishing – or publishing for women and publishing of women – has grown from the arguably low-browedness of Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and People to include the empowering and still feminized likes of Jezebel, For Harriet and Refinery29. I remember being a child and remarking at the profound stupidity of some of the taglines featured on these magazines at the supermarket or newspaper stand. Brooke Erin Duffy, the author of Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age, touches upon the apparent need for these clichés in the business as most of women’s publishing, like many industries, is for-profit and consumer-driven. Early in the book, Duffy explains how these trite lines pertaining to the newest make-up or dieting tips and fads persist only because they drive up company earnings. Magazines rely on advertisers from several other industries in order to maintain revenue, so it makes logical sense in a capitalistic structure for Glamour to feature pieces on skin care or make-overs rather than substantive journalism on issues that matter like wage inequality or anorexia. To put it bluntly, they simply aren’t glamorous enough to drive sales.

Fortunately, this is all changing now thanks to the rapid democratizing effect that the Internet has had on media. We have seen the wondrous impact that arrived with Web 2.0 in terms of empowering various oppressed communities including women as well as peoples of color and those who identify as LGBT. These were pathways previously blocked off by gate-keepers who were primarily concerned with preserving an ecosystem rooted in patriarchal tendencies. Duffy wisely focuses on the idea of identity when talking about the past, present and future of this industry. Publishing companies and their magazines have culture and codes similar to actual people. She states that:

“‘The cover is a magazine’s statement of its identity.’ Often the image represents an idealized form of feminine identity: the perfectly proportioned model, the fresh-faced celebrity, or the “everyday woman” who has conquered her domestic/weight/family struggles and now ‘has it all together.'” (31)

Thus it should stand that a magazine’s identity, as an amalgam both of the producers (corporate identity) and the consumers (individual or personal identity), isn’t one-dimensional; a women’s magazine shouldn’t be limited to a few basic ideas of western femininity. Identity is a complex construction, so naturally the Internet has allowed for publications to exist outside of print. The various, interacting interfaces of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and so forth serve not only to strengthen the voice of the publication, but also to extend its reach based on the different “languages” (or communities) unique to these platforms. The barrier of entry has been shattered in many ways, though certain things like ad revenue are still a vital part of the system.

Nonetheless, Refinery29 is one of several excellent examples of hybrid media which link typical themes of women’s style and fashion with socio-political awareness and an engaging feminist agenda.

Because women can be smart as well as stylish.

Surprise! Women can be smart as well as stylish in 2015.

Refinery29 embodies much of what Duffy talks about when addressing what these magazines mean for women in the digital age. They don’t have covers to convey their identity in a direct manner, but branding remains of utmost importance across all platforms. Several sites like Refinery29 struggle to integrate their mobile sites and apps with the full site, however this is another are which R29 excels in as the interface on mobile, Android, iOS or otherwise, is totally intuitive and essentially works with the same fluidity on every device. The virtual limitlessness afforded through the Internet and websites also makes it way easier for women’s publishing companies to display several aspects of their brand’s culture. Acting as a metaphorical net instead of a singular fishing rod, women’s magazines in the digital age now have the ability to connect with several different kinds of consumers who may engage with the brand for varying reasons. Easing this transition along are applications like Google AdWords which monetize web traffic and encourage visitors to view and buy products that they may actually be interested in based on prior searches and web history. While many may deem these new ad efforts as invasive, I see them as empowering for the consumer. No longer are women being subliminally convinced to try the Atkins Diet, now they are provided with suggestions that more accurately represent their interests. The general plurality of messages which cascade from sites like R29 can not only serve to educate readers to become better, smarter shoppers but also smarter, stronger women. The popular women’s publications of the 1990s rarely combined serious topics like this with styling tips like this. To be able to read such a range of material from a quick browse leads me to believe that this new era of new media will only continue to give all consumers greater choice in what they consume and internalize.



Duffy, Brooke Erin. Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2013. Print.


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