When lamenting the lack of females honored by this year’s major National Magazine Awards, we got into a conversation about the dearth of quality women’s (print) magazines out there. As a Professor of Magazineology, I thought it’d be worth everybody’s time to discuss which women’s magazines are actually worth your time!
Considering that I’m gay, have no interest in celebrity interviews (unless they’re gay) and “fashion” is a thing other people give me advice on but never something I feel confident approaching on my own, you’d think I have little need for lady mags. You would be wrong. Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time in college, I was studying for my Hebrew final with a “pre-veterinarian” friend (studying for his Orgo final) in Barnes & Noble when I mourned my inability to get anything done at Barnes & Noble due to the café’s proximity to the magazine racks. I’d constantly get up and “borrow” new magazines and read them instead of studying. I could do this for hours and hours. “Is that weird?” I asked my friend.
“No,” my animal-loving friend responded. “It would be like if I was trying to study at a pet store surrounded by puppies.”
You follow? I bet you do. Let’s begin! Share your favorites in the comments!
15 Good magazines for women
[in no particular order, except for #1, which is #1 because it's #1]
“feminism in motion”
editors: Jessica Hoffman & Daria Yudacufski
single issue: $6.95 US, $8.95 Canada
subscribe: $25 US, $30 Canada // four issues
The Los Angeles based feminist magazine is constructed by “an editorial collective committed to anarchist, transnational, and queer perspectives” which “embrace the multiple shifting identities of feminist communities.” With journalism, analysis, art and essays by progressive writers and thinkers like Jack Halberstam and Jessica Hoffman, make/Shift is on the cutting edge of intersectional issues and radical grassroots activism with a distinctly literary voice.
“the best-selling lesbian magazine”
owned by Avalon Media
editor-in-chief – Merryn Johns
single issue: $4.95
subscribe: $39.95 // 10 issues
A few years back, when Curve was still running a seemingly endless series of L Word related covers and then put Pam Grier on the cover without actually interviewing or photographing her, I felt my enthusiasm for the magazine waning. But the magazine got infinitely better when The L Word ended, and is now effortlessly snagging major cover stars like Uh Huh Her, Tegan & Sara, Glenn Close, Jane Lynch , Ruby Rose, Shay Mitchell and Chely Wright. The slim magazine tries to do it all for lesbians — it’s amped up its fashion coverage by doing more original shoots as well as doing monthly bits on women’s health, wedding planning, travel, politics and profiles of up-and-coming activists and entrepreneurs.
13. MSLEXIA (UK)
“for women who write”
editorial director: Debbie Taylor
single issue: £8.95
subscribe: £20.75 // four issues
I’ve been reading writer-focused magazines like Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest since I was a teenager, but never did I dream that somebody out there across the pond was creating a writer-focused magazine that did all the things those magazines do, but specifically for women!
Since 1999, British magazine mslexia has been honoring “women who write” with a “unique mix of debate and analysis, advice and inspiration; news, reviews, interviews; competitions, events, courses, grants. All served up with a challenging selection of new poetry and prose.”
“The cultural road map for city girls everywhere.”
editor-in-chief: Amy M. Lesser // exec editor: Kat Long
single issue: free [where to find go]
GO Magazine has been the #1 source for lesbian nightlife and entertainment in the New York City area for about a decade, and is now distributed nation-wide. Fanatics may notice that with the exception of Barack Obama and trans icon Topher Gross, almost every GO! cover star is a queer lady and more often than not, the cover is plastered with photos of people like you and me: like the adorable lesbians of the annual Captivating Couples feature and the yearly “Red Hot Entrepreneurs” making an impact in the lesbian community. It’s at once glossy and local, with heaps of travel stuff and a serious repository of event photographs. It’s also the only place where I’d show up on the same list of “Women We Love” as Ellen DeGeneres.
11. Lula (UK)
“girl of my dreams”
editor: Leith Clark
single issue: $15.99 US
subscription: £27 UK // 2 issues
“When you open a Lula everyone’s a girl and everyone likes each other. I felt that fashion magazines are about women looking at women, but there seems to be this imaginary man in the room. It’s so sexualized. I don’t fully get that. I made a magazine of women looking at women, without that competitiveness and that hard edge that we think we need as we get older.”
- editor Leigh Clark
Lula is a gigantic super-heavy epically expensive (in the US) British magazine that comes out a few times a year and is (justifiably) worshipped by its followers. The photography is gorgeous, the design is engaging, the style is innovative and it lives up to its descriptor as “gentle, whimsical and ethereal in tone, mixing high fashion to fall in love with and interviews that feel like late night chats with people you wish you knew.”
It’s sort of like We Heart It meets Rookie meets Nylon meets BOMB. Sometimes you’ll find stretches of pages filled with original drawings and collages, sometimes you’ll find Carrie Brownstein interviewing Miranda July, and you’ll always find tons of wispy girls with dramatic faces wearing expensive clothing. Definitely not for everybody, but its cost is somewhat justified by the fact that it’s basically an art/fashion book — one does not recycle Lula, one keeps it forever.
10. women’s health
“it’s good to be you.”
owned by Rodale, Inc.
editor-in-chief: Michele Promaulayko
single issue: $4.99
subscribe: $15.99 // 10 issues
If you’ve just gotta read a mainstream women’s fitness magazine, try Women’s Health. Though its quality has degenerated somewhat since its release (seriously for the first year or so, I was stunned by how consistently GOOD this magazine was), in general Women’s Health is surprisingly non-terrible, despite the excessively airbrushed cover models, occasionally transparent product-pushing and traditional obsession with “slimming down,” getting “flat abs” and having better sex tonight.
Its smartly-toned features are often topical and relatable and its fitness and nutrition advice occasionally more fresh and relevant than its newsstand buddies. Although it’s not readily apparent from studying cover archives; unlike Shape and Fitness, which got repetitive after a year or two, Women’s Health usually manages to find new stories to tackle. That being said, it’s been a while since I’ve read it regularly, and recent covers have disappointed me. Still, I’d prefer it over other women’s health/fitness magazines — anddddd….
Speaking of other women’s fitness magazines, here’s how I feel about them:
Shape has gotten way slick/shiny, and hella repetitive, with non-athletic cover girls who seem to work out exclusively at the beach and in shimmery ponds.
Fitness seems focused on women with children who live in houses with cars and have real jobs, which is to say — not me.
Self is okay, but there’s way too much self-help crap in there, pages upon pages of babble about how to be happier in 8 steps or something or sleep stress-free in five minutes a night. Just tell me how to get hot inner thigh muscles, mmk?
8. tom-tom magazine
“a magazine for female drummers”
single issue: $6
subscribe: $29 // four issues
Admittedly I’ve never read this one myself — although I am apparently female, I’m not musically inclined and therefore not particularly interested in female drummers. HOWEVER, if you ARE interested in female drummers then this magazine will make your life 100 times better than it already is. (Also, it’s my life goal to see Alex Vega on the cover by next year.) Autostraddle writer M.J. wrote enthusiastically about the magazine in late 2010, saying “Tom Tom Magazine is all about female drummers! So if you like drums, girls, or girls who drum, check it out. It’s gorgeously designed and full of thoughtful interviews with both big names and up-and-comers that you want to know about: Heather Hall and Janet Weiss, for example. Tom Tom also throws awesome parties in NYC, offers reviews of music, art, and fashion, and is super positive about the queer community.”
7. DIVA (UK)
owned by gay & lesbian media company Millivres Prowler LTD
editor-in-chief: Jane Czyzselska
single issue: £3.65 UK/$6.99 US
subscribe: £36 UK
The first issue of DIVA was published in 1994, if you can believe it, and it remains the only monthly glossy newsstand magazine for lesbians in the UK (possibly in the world, now that I think about it). A bit edgier than its stateside counterparts, DIVA is one of those magazines that makes being a lesbian seem super-cool and sexy — from its annual “Naked Issue” to its annual “Sex Issue” to cover stars like Jane Lynch, Heather Peace, the Coronation Street girls and Leisha Hailey.
Recent issues feature stories about trans writer & publisher Paris Lees, “Lesbians Who Love Musicals,” smashing the “Lesbian Glass Ceiling,” Lesbian Misogynists, Sheffield’s gay scene, Glasgow’s Queercore night, Margaret Cho, Bisexuality for Beginners, Judy Chicago and naked lesbians.
“For women with something to get off their chests.”
editor-in-chief: Debbie Stoller
single issue: $4.99
subscribe: $19.95 // six issues
BUST’s focus on DIY and independent musicians/writers/artists has made a major impact on girl culture and the lady-mag world. Straight out of the gate, BUST was all about the crafting and other nerdy pursuits (feature articles are often about things like HISTORY!) and hosts super-fun BUST Craftaculars (I went to one in Brooklyn, it was awesome). BUST readers are smart, independent, pro-active women who like celebrities, makeup and clothing as well as political activism and books.
The almost-monthly magazine chooses its cover models/interviewees carefully, sticking to women who have something to say, like Beth Ditto, Mindy Kahling, Amy Poehler, Diablo Cody, Amy Sedaris, Eve and Portia De Rossi. The recent “Earth Issue” offered 51 Ways to Go Green Without Growing Broke, a feature on “how ladies are leading the eco-revolution” and “Urban Farming Made Easy.”
It’d be slightly better if they hired me to write a column for them about queer issues though, just saying.
5. the gentlewoman (UK)
“fabulous women’s magazine”
single issue: £5.00 UK, $10.95 US
subscribe: £16 UK, $33 US // 2 issues
So this one time (last week) I was at fitforafemme‘s house and I saw this magazine on a coffee table and I thought “what is this lovely lovely thing?!” Well, it’s Gentlewoman Magazine. It feels so nice on the outside, like a real book, and the inside is pretty bangin’, too – full of “ambitious journalism and photography of the highest quality.” Recent issues have included pieces on or by Adele, Yoko Ono, The Magnetic Fields, Jenny Holzer and Tilda Swinton. It’s classy without being stuffy and approaches fashion with an “intelligent perspective” that is “focused on personal style – the way women actually look, think and dress.”
4. Shameless (CA)
“your regular dose of fresh feminism for girls and trans youth.”
independently owned by Shameless Media
editor: Sheila Sampath
single issue: $6.99
subscribe: $15 CA, $25 US // three issues
This Canadian magazine advertises itself as “an independent Canadian voice for smart, strong, sassy young women and trans youth.” If you like this website, I think you’d like this magazine — it takes the reader seriously, approaches media and mass culture with a fun yet critical eye, and (intentionally or not) aims to cultivate the reader’s desire to engage in political, social justice and anti-oppression activism. Honestly it’s so good I can’t believe it even exists. Also, it’s rad that they decided to expand their target audience to explicitly include trans youth as well. If you have a daughter over the age of 12, you should get her a subscription to this magazine ASAP, and maybe one for yourself too.
3. Frankie (AU)
“art * music * fashion * craft * life”
owned by “unique and progressive” Australian magazine publishing company Morrison Media
editor: Jo Walker
single issue: $9.50 AU
subscription: $57 AU or $115 US // six issues
When my friend Crystal visits The States from Australia I ask her to bring me Australian magazines and two years back she brought me Frankie. I was surprised by how sophisticated, fun and cool-looking it was.
Frankie started when friends Louise Bannister and Lara Burke decided that nothing on the newsstand suited their fancy and they thought they could do it better themselves, molding a mag that “spoke directly to the reader, contained great affordable fashion, sweet art, interesting reads and pretty photography.”
That being said, the relentlessly skinny models and twee aesthetic can be a bit 0ff-putting in the same way more mainstream women’s magazines are. But I’d prefer it to any similar American magazines. It reminds me of when I liked NYLON.
“more than a magazine – a movement”
independently owned by non-profit organization Feminist Majority Foundation
editor: Katherine Spillar
single issue: $5.95
subscribe: $25 // 4 issues
Ms. changed the world. When the Gloria Steinem-led magazine debuted in the early 70’s, it became a point of contact and a conversation launcher for an emerging wave of feminists committed to political progress in a rapidly-shifting cultural climate. Its first issue sold out its 300,000 print run in eight days. That’s how hungry American women were for something that spoke about real life issues, like wage inequity, sexual harassment, second shifting and abortion; rather than another glossy of makeup advice.
Ms. has had quite a few bumps in the road and has been subject to a lot of dissent, particularly for its initial focus on middle-class white-lady problems. But it continues to grow/change and plugs on (despite its failure to put us on their blogroll after like 56 requests!), featuring work by writers like Amy Bloom, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Barbara Ehrenreich.
New York Magazine, which initially published Ms. as an insert into its magazine, recently ran an Oral History of Ms. You should read it.
“feminist response to pop culture.”
independently owned by Bitch Media, a 501(c)3 non-profit
editorial director: Andi Zeisler
single issue: $5.95
become a bee-hive member: $5/month
Portland-based feminist magazine Bitch is absolutely my favorite lady-focused magazine of all time. It’s smart, dorky, funny, educational and somehow also friendly. Consistently inventive and always-evolving, this non-profit publication is in fact partially responsible for my ability to write critically about pop culture through a queer and/or feminist lens — an ability which helped me build this here website. It’s the next-best thing to double majoring in Women’s Studies and Sociology.
Every issue has a theme which dominates its long-form pieces — like Labor & Love, Insider/Oustider, Confidential, Make-Believe, Style & Substance and Puberty. For example, the “WIRED” issue included articles on bunk science reporting, racism and sexism in Second Life and “the evolution of the artificial woman.” Front-of-book bits include Love It/Shove It (pieces for or against a specific show/website/campaign/concept/musician/movie/genre/trend) and columns which tackle questions like “Who made Taylor Swift the sex police?” and “What’s missing in the rhetoric of political cartoons?”
Bitch’s online presence is pretty rad too, with amazing guest columnists including at least one queer-centric thematic column per month (this month it’s Carrie Nelson talking about Bi Invisibility).
Also, paying for membership in the “b club” — which includes subscriptions as a member benefit — is tax-deductable ’cause it’s a non-profit. I think last year I accidentally joined twice, so. So what’s your excuse now, weirdo?
[indie-mag lover? check out Buy Olympia for many of the publications listed here]