As I stated before posting the first of yesterday’s guest posts, I don’t hold any ill will towards Frankie. I like some of the contributors, and - as I stated on Twitter when I shared the link - I intend to buy it for plane reading when I fly out to London next week. Given the response to yesterday’s posts, though, I thought it was worth articulating my own thoughts on the magazine in more detail.
When I was in first year uni, I happened across a copy of The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order in a bookstore near my house. It was raw, witty, well-constructed and used real people’s personal stories to illuminate larger feminist and political points. As my extremely favourable adjectives would suggest, I loved it. It played a substantial role in my decision to take up Gender Studies at the end of that year.
I felt much the same way when Frankie hit the newsstands a couple of years later. So funny! So clever! So fresh! Just like The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order, minus the overt feminist disposition. But totally awesome. I was thrilled to discover this fantastic magazine, which seemed to be written for people just like me.
Then I got over it. Because, like my guest posters yesterday, I realised that while Frankie might be written for “people like me” in the marketing sense of the phrase, it wasn’t actually speaking to me. It was quirky, sure, but its quirkiness increasingly felt narrow and affected. Its models conformed strictly to the hipster beauty ideal, which as a woman with substantial hips and tits, left me feeling more alienated than Cosmo or Cleo. It didn’t strike me as any more critical than the magazines it positioned itself in opposition to – just written for a different “type” of girl.
In short, it felt a bit like going to certain independent arts/media festivals, which had a habit of making me feel conspicuously “not indie enough”, despite the fact that I was, uh, producing said indie media myself like a demon that dedicates itself to producing lots of indie media. Conversations around this subject and others like it are how Monica and I coined the term “hipsterllectual”.
So, you know, my thoughts on this subject – like Tiara’s and like Fat Kuzbu’s – are driven significantly by my own personal experiences and “issues”. But I still think they’re worth talking about.
In part of the conversation around those two blog posts yesterday, a bunch of us basically came to the consensus that if you looked at Frankie purely as “an indie/twee/hipster mag” rather than “the most super amazing, authentic, progressive magazine EVER!!!”, it was pretty much meeting its brief. Journo Nicole Haddow observed: “The brand is consistent and it distinguishes itself from mainstream perfectly,” while Frankie contributor Chloe Walker commented on Tiara’s post: “on the website the mag is described as ‘aimed at women (and men) looking for a magazine that’s as smart, funny, sarcastic, friendly, cute, rude, arty, curious and caring as they are’. That’s their focus, not ‘diversity’.”
Chloe also made the following, rather salient, point: “I think people project a lot of yearning onto Frankie. … We’re so desperate for decent material that when we find a magazine that we identify with more than usual we can sometimes get so clingy and obsessive that we become angry that we don’t identify with it completely.”
She’s right. You can observe the same criticism around other publications targeted at an intelligent, critical, non-mainstream audience – Jezebel, Feministing and Jane, to name but three. People expect mainstream media to be bad (often, I would argue, they expect it to be worse than it actually is). But if you position yourself as something different, something alternative, something for smart, discerning young lady – well, then it’s all on.
But those projections go both ways, and Frankie also benefits from the hopes and expectations that are projected onto it. Some may be disappointed that it isn’t everything they’d like an indie, progressive mag to be, but a lot of others are so glad that it’s Not!Cosmo that they imagine it to be things that it’s not. People don’t just buy Frankie because the content “makes them feel good” - they buy it because it makes them feel smarter, hipper and more discerning than other people.
It also strikes me that it’s in response to these projections that people are critical of it. As an indie/twee/hipster/creative magazine, it’s fine if flawed (as are we all - this blog, and me, certainly included), as but one manifestation of a broader model of white, hipster-skinny, middle-class, centre-left “alternative” womanhood, it’s no less problematic, exclusive or aspirational than Grazia’s rail-thin fashionista, Cosmo’s confident “sexy chick” or Cleo’s “hot mess”.