An Open Letter to the Editor of Women’s Health

An open letter to the editor of Women’s Health magazine

An article in the Beauty section of the April edition of Women’s Health, entitled ‘Your Perfect Scent’ was brought to my attention by a friend and fellow blogger, and several statements in the article as well as the overall tone compelled me to write you.

The article attempts to categorize women in a range of ages – from their teens until ‘40+’ according to perfume category, arguing that throughout their lives, women prioritize their fragrance choices differently and gravitate towards the perfumes that reflect those priorities. It then proceeds to cite various perfumes currently available that might appeal, and this is where I feel compelled to protest – both at the underlying assumptions that teenagers want to impersonate walking cupcakes, that women in their thirties wear perfume to feel ‘sexy and secure’ and finally the statement that women in their forties wear perfume to feel ‘elegant’.

Women at any age read magazines such as yours for information and inspiration in their lifestyle choices, and few of them are entirely aware that for print media in a competitive digital age, advertising revenue takes pride of place over relevant content. As a consequence of perfume being formulated to target certain demographics and as a result of what you choose to advocate in your editorial pages, the perfumes sold in department stores and mall chain stores are all indistinguishable from one another. One sweet, fruity floral scent segues seamlessly into the next sweet, fruity floral, and only the name of the designer on the label is interchangeable. So women are shortchanged from both sides of that equation – by the major designer houses that are often the only luxury these women can afford, and by the very magazines they read for inspiration promoting only the brands they already advertise on their pages.

The problem is that neither your readers in general nor women in particular are thrilled about being defined in demographic terms, any more than teenaged girls can be lumped into cupcake fragrance categories, women in their thirties need to feel ‘sexy or ‘secure’ or ‘forty+’ women – a term I personally find more than slightly condescending – want to be considered ‘elegant’ above all other reasons for wearing perfume.

What surprises me more than any other aspect of a very important issue in general, namely the stereotyping of women in the media, is that we live in an individualistic age. As women and as individuals, the opportunity to make individual choices that reflect our unique selves has never been greater, and this includes the very subject matter of your article – perfume. What is more, as social media change how we are informed and entertained and inspired to make those choices, creating and maintaining a dialogue with your readers is a valuable tool to retain the very readership that underlies your role in that media landscape, whether on a newsstand or on the Web.

There is a rich and invaluable resource available to any journalist interested in her subject matter – perfume blogs. We would quite happily have participated and in the process been thrilled to share what we know – that you are not doomed to ‘elegance’ simply for a diminished sense of smell – a claim I find quite unsubstantiated by scientific evidence in the article or in my personal experience, nor are you compelled to waft cupcake as a teenager, simply because there’s nothing else to choose from. There’s not too much else to choose from in the mainstream market because a tiny number of companies determine what scents land on department store shelves, and if one sweet, fruity floral scent becomes a success, it must therefore follow – so dictate the laws of the marketing briefs of these companies promoting this or that ‘exclusive designer’ – that only sweet, fruity, floral perfumes will do.

Women’s Health is a magazine that has a broad scope – to promote a healthy, happy and fulfilled lifestyle for its readership that goes beyond the usual stereotypical ‘women’s magazines’. Even so, when you attempted to inform your readers about a very personal choice, you fell victim to that precise stereotyping, and ignored a perfect opportunity to elevate your editorial content a bit above the stereotypical content of any other women’s magazine currently available.

Which is why we read you, after all.

Yours sincerely,
Tarleisio, perfume blogger at Scent Less Sensibilities

This letter has also been published on the following participating blogs:

Bloody Frida
Olfactoria’s Travels
All I am – a redhead
Eyeliner on a Cat
Beauty on the Outside
Redolent of Spices

14 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Editor of Women’s Health

  1. This is high praise indeed from one of my major sources of inspiration! Olenska – you're very, very welcome. This was a step we all felt we needed to take – and so we did! Spread the word, if you can!

  2. Dee – I just couldn't help but feel compelled to do…something….

    So I did a little – and you all did the rest! Now, let's just see where it takes us! 🙂

  3. Very well said. I'll publish it on my blog, too, but will wait a day or two to keep the echoes going.

    We also need to do something like this in response to articles on the evils of common perfume materials. I know they appear from time to time.

  4. I feel it's also worth mentioning that there are quite a few other magazines that have committed these transgressions, I subscribe to LOTS of magazines (for fashion and beauty), I should start to take note of the more insipid perfume “articles” I come across. I will tell you one thing though, if I see ONE more magazine touting Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh as THE perfume to buy this Spring/Summer, I'm going to burn it.

  5. Doc Elly…thank you for joining the fray! I agree wholeheartedly about perfume materials as well – and I suspect we might be getting back to that one later.

  6. Carrie – please do keep your eyes peeled! We really shouldn't take this kind of drivel, and I'm surprised that so many women actually DO.

    Should you ever get that urge to burn yet another foghorn touting the dubious merits (as if!!!) of Daisy Eau So Fresh…let me know! We could film it with our smartphones, put it up on YouTube, spread the word…;)

  7. Dear T, I just wanted to add my thanks for writing this.
    I don't think I said it before, but it is so well written in every respect.
    Polite, diplomatic, sincere and very much to the point. 🙂

  8. Thank you so much, Ines, Especially given that the words 'polite' and 'diplomatic' rarely go together in my vocabulary, meaning that I wrote three drafts that were very much..snarkier than this one, but snark is not always understood and what the Italians call 'gentilezza' usually is. Therefore…I picked my battle!

    So long as it said what it had to – and it seems that indeed it did! 😉

  9. Doc Elly…If my blog stats are anything to go by, people are indeed reading it. So far as a response goes, well – as of this early morning CET – there hasn't been one. At all, and I've even checked my trash and spam folders, too! 😉

    But at least…we all did something.. And thank you, too, for joining us when we did.

  10. Thank you for taking the time to read this, Mimi! (And may I say it – it's good to see you here, too!)

    The sad and truly pathetic thing is that as of late Tuesday afternoon CET, there has been absolute, total silence on the part of WH. Of course, notwithstanding the general issue of such ridiculous stereotyping to begin with!

    Well, there go a few readers they might otherwise have had…;)

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