What does Trump have in common with glitter nail polish?
The realization came to me as a surprise, sometime in April.
We had been working on a 3 month project following and tracking posts published by women’s and men’s magazines on Instagram. Think Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Esquire and more. In April we processed all the data to draw conclusions and suggest actionable tips for Instagram publishers. (Read the report)
As we looked back, we realized that some of the most engaging posts published by women’s magazines covered political and social topics: feminism, the presidential inauguration ceremony, former president, women’s march. You may think: “wait, really?”, like I did. We typically associate women’s magazines with articles about fashion, beauty and celebrities, but that’s not all there is to them. At least, not anymore. Lifestyle and fashion magazines are becoming more political than they used to be.
I was a little confused about seeing these posts along with posts about lipstick, shoes and shopping, but the biggest surprise was the engagement they generated. There’s a shift happening. The new generation of young adults is more connected to the political scene and it understands the way politics are shaping the way we live our daily lives.
The idea that politics are a hot topic for young women (and men) stuck with me. So I started to dig deeper by browsing through several issues of mainstream magazines: lifestyle, celebrities, women’s, men’s and teen magazines to observe how they present political and social issues to their audiences.
In all honesty, not all the stories that are related to political and social issues are serious pieces of news reporting. There are also lots of tabloid style stories. It’s enough to look at a few cover story titles published by the US Weekly to understand how this approach is not an attempt at serious journalism. Their articles are centered on gossip and the private lives of political figures.
Here are some examples that illustrate well this tendency:
June 19, 2017 — Ivanka Takes a Stand — Why I disagree with my dad
April 3, 2017 — Melania’s Secrets — Separate bedrooms
February 27, 2017 — Melania’s struggle — A life she never wanted
February 20, 2017 — Ivanka & Jared Under Pressure
February 13, 2017 — Melania & Donald — Separate Lives
February 6, 2017 — The first family! The private album childhood photos
January 30, 2017 — Daughter in chief: Ivanka’s new life
To be fair, it’s not just US Weekly that is concerned with the private lives of political celebrities. Same goes for People magazine and many others. This kind of stories will always find an audience because us humans have a weird interest in VIPs (political, music artists or actors) and in scandalous stories.
We should also mention the fashion and style pieces, articles about outfits or hairstyles, worn by female political figures at certain events. Take this story, for example, on what Melania Trump wore during the 4th of July weekend. There are plenty similar stories about the british royal family, published by women’s magazines. Since the new elected president, Ivanka and Melania Trump are just as much in the limelight as the duchess, if not more.
And then there’s the real deal. In between the expected beauty and style, travel and movie advice, you’ll find stories inspired by the news. Though some of you will not agree with the commentaries or their subjective perspective, you can’t deny their political nature.
Cosmopolitan has a “Politics” category on their website. It’s the third item on the left menu, right under “Celebrities and entertainment” and “Beauty and style”.
Wondering what kind of articles they publish? Here’s a sneak peak:
Jul 19, 2017 — Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Had A Private Meeting at the G20 Summit
Jul 15, 2017 — The Trump Administration Just Cut $200 Million From Teen Pregnancy Programs
Jul 4, 2017 — North Korea Claims It Tested First Intercontinental Missile
I’m not sure that these stories will make it to the print, but it’s possible that some of them will. They will surely not be featured on the cover, but there’s an unmistakable (an unsuspected) interest in politics coming from Cosmopolitan.
But Cosmo is not the only one. Vogue has recently published a well documented, thorough portrait of german chancellor Angela Merkel on their website. The article is planned to be a part of Vogue’s August 2017 issue.
Similar news-inspired stories appear on Glamour as well, in the News and Culture category. Here are just 2 titles concerning social and political issues, both articles published on the same date:
July 14, 2017 — Trump and Russia: Every Crucial Development, Explained
July 14, 2017 — These Congresswomen Showed Off Their Arms to Protest Sexist Dress Codes
Glamour’s executive editor Wendy Naugle admitted that this new wave of political involvement approach has been boosted by last year’s elections:
many readers became invested in the idea of Clinton shattering the nation’s highest glass ceiling.
In December 2016 Teen Vogue published a commentary titled “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America”. It’s not the typical article you’d expect to see in a magazine addressed to young women. According to Mercury News, it quickly became Teen Vogue’s most shared and viewed article of the year (retweeted over 30k times), followed by an article on “How to Apply Glitter Nail Polish the Right Way”.
The same topics appear in men’s lifestyle magazines as well (see Esquire’s News and Politics website section), but it’s somewhat less of a novelty. Men are typically perceived as being more interested in reading the news and more involved in the political and social scene.
While the political scene is getting more attention from the general lifestyle/ fashion magazines, there are still some that haven’t been impacted by the trend: niche magazines, which have a narrow focus on cooking, knitting or home decoration.
Based on the engagement we’ve seen on social and political posts, we can tell that these topics appeal to their intended audience. So there you have it: Young girls and women care about personal health and beauty, but they care just as much about the society they live in. That’s what Trump’s politics and glitter nail polish have in common: they are objects of interest for the millennial generation.