A Free Slap In The Face

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“I have recently moved house. A deed that – as everyone knows – results in all your spare cash being spent on oak floors, shutters and Farrow & Ball paint instead of the Whistles staples and watermelon martinis that usually pepper my bank statements.”

The above quote is from a recent magazine editorial. Not from some niche publication aimed at the smug hedonists of high society, where such a determined sense of “look at me? Isn’t my life just PERFECT?” would be a conscious and somewhat understandable attempt to fit into the elitist aspirations or lifestyle fantasies of the person who seeks it out and buys the magazine. No, this is from a weekly freebie thrust into the hands of commuters and shoppers outside of city transport hubs by a downtrodden hawker on minimum wage, alongside The Metro, The Evening Standard and whatever other print publications that have realised the only way that they can find a readership in these digital times is to give their product away.

It’s called Stylist and its deputy editor (and writer of the above comment) goes by the incongruously mundane – dare I say, working class – name of Susan Riley. Each week its glossy pages are taken-up with restaurant reviews, features on holiday destinations, opinion pieces, and, naturally, abundant advertisements for crap. But running throughout the entire contents there’s a common factor: an underlying assumption that the reader has the disposable income of Christy Walton and an unquenchable desire to spend it all on self-indulgent pampering and costly leisure activities.

There is so much wrong with the editorial extract quoted above, it’s difficult to know where to start but it does neatly summarise the Stylist mentality. The references to oak floors and “Farrow & Ball paint” – a previously unknown brand to a plebeian like me but research reveals that it’s considerably more expensive than Dulux. The assumption that we all know what she means by the term “Whistles staples” (for the edification of unwashed: Sue buys all her basic day-wear from a designer retailer). The achingly middle-class predilection for “watermelon martinis”. Quite simply, all of this is bragging of the most crass kind. Fine if you’re hobnobbing with your city broker fiancé and some journalist friends at an exclusive Soho cocktail bar; horrendously misjudged if you’re addressing a public battered by the government’s austerity measures.

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The gist of Susan’s dull-minded editorial is that funds set aside for extravagant home decor are so much better spent on dining-out at lavish London troughs with names such as Balthazar, Sushisamba, MASH, and Mildreds. After all, as Suze says, “right now, the cultural order of the day is being well-fed”. And how those words resonate as we despairingly place a can of mechanically-recovered slurry into an Aldi shopping trolley.

Oddly though, when not telling us all the best ways to spend our vast disposable incomes in a decidedly capitalist, elitist manner, Stylist is full-on middle class Social Justice Warrior: a glance at the website (yes, I know, I’m a masochist) reveals such empowering headlines as “the 5 cultural icons that shaped my identity as a gay woman”, “how this woman empowered a community of women through fashion”, “How the #MeToo movement has been influencing baby names in 2018”, “Why Love Island’s lack of diversity speaks of a much bigger problem”, “the definitive feminist ranking of every single Disney princess” (vital stuff I’m sure you’ll agree) and “call yourself an LGBT ally? Here’s what you’re missing”. 

How such hang-wringing concerns fit with the blatant elitism and hedonistic self-importance of the magazine is hard to understand, until you realise that these are the very issues – first world problems run rampant – that well paid middle class people fret over while wearing their Whistles staples and sipping watermelon martinis in their private drinking clubs where the badly dressed, Brexit-voting, Sun-reading lower orders won’t be able to bother them. Much like the middle classes who fret over Trump’s oppressive policies and proclaim their ethical vegan status even as they snort lines of cocaine – not, I think you’ll find, an ethically sourced substance – at dinner parties, these are people so caught up in their own wonderfulness that they have no sense of self-awareness and no understanding of the innate hypocrisy that permeates virtually everything they do and say.

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Some would argue that Stylist is an ‘aspirational’ publication, fostering a desire to transcend one’s lowly economic status and attain some of the pointless goods and empty experiences that the magazine so aggressively promotes. Others may say that Stylist simply offers the average Josephine  – we’re not being sexist here, the magazine is thoroughly pitched at a female readership, no matter who has it thrust at them as they exit a tube station – a harmless, tantalising glimpse of a fantasy life she desperately craves but can never have. Lifestyle porn for masochists. A fleeting escape from the drudgery of the real world, with a very bitter after-taste. Whatever turns you on, I suppose.

Above all, to me, Stylist represents a bizarre anomaly in these cash-strapped times. The obscene irony made all the more poignant when its latest issue is handed to you by a dishevelled migrant worker stationed outside one of the numerous pound shops or bordered up former retail units that dominate the 2018 retail world. If news reports of ever-worsening economic doom are to be believed, the zeitgeist of the age would surely be more accurately encapsulated by a monochrome leaflet, rammed with Lidl and Home Bargains ads, and featuring recipes for various flavours of gruel, DIY dentistry tips, and where to source the cheapest 2 litre bottle of cider. Instead, every Tuesday, countless issues of the obnoxiously out-of-touch Stylist continue to be thrust into faces of those who, hours before, had emerged from nightmares dominated by loan sharks, eviction letters, and Aldi luncheon meat.

ADE FURNISS

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