Monday, March 10, 2008

Essence, I wish I could quit you

I used to love Essence Magazine...when I was 16. Back then it was like Cosmo for black teens full of articles about famous people, lifestyles and hairstyles that I could never quite pull off. There was also the occasional article about sex which made reading the magazine seem like a very grown up thing to do. I always looked forward to seeing who would be on the next month's cover and then gobbled up the issue in no time flat.

Flash forward more years than I care to reveal and the magazine is still around, only my feelings for it have changed.

As a girl growing up reading the magazine I guess I thought it would grow up with me but this is clearly not the case. Everything about Essence is the same as it has been for twenty years. It looks the same, weighs the same, talks about the same "safe" celebrities ad nauseum and features damn near the same articles month after month.

You always know what you are getting with Essence and maybe that's good enough for some readers but it's like boring sex. Everyone has it at some point, but if it's always the same it might be time to see a therapist.

To be fair, Essence is really the only magazine of its type out there. It has a healthy circulation and doesn't seem to be starved for advertisers. Its closest rivals might be Jewel or Heart & Soul but really, the former is still too green and the latter makes me feel like I'm reading a browner version of Redbook.

After it became clear that Suede was never coming back from its hiatus, I secretly wondered if some Suede's fresh attitude would eventually start to invade

Essence but it didn't. Suzanne Boyd left the company and it was back to business as usual.

So what about that content? There's usually an "inspirational" letter from the editor that I don't read, some beauty products shot against a white

background, a page or two of hairstyles, the ubiquitous "I'm in an interracial relationship" article, one page confessional essays, the cover story, a poorly

shot fashion layout sometimes featuring an America's Next Top model contestant, some recipes,and another "inspirational" essay by former editor Susan Taylor.

The end. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I guess their philosophy is "if it ain't broke why fix it?" I'm sure there are a lot of Essence readers who like it just the way it is. I'm just not one of them and I refuse to believe I'm alone in that.

One particular issue of Essence that stands out in my mind is one that featured Lil' Kim on the cover some years back. At the time I was surprised that Essence would put a rapper of Kim's particular niche on the cover so I snapped up the issue only to get home and find that there was no interview with Kim in the magazine. There were just details from the 10 hour plus photo-shoot and an "open letter" to Kim written by an editor. Not even a write around, just a letter saying nothing new about her provocative image. It was, in a word, lame.

That pretty much sums up what Essence has become to me. A pretty cover photo to draw you in and not much going on between the sheets.

Will I buy this month's issue featuring Erykah Badu? I don't know, but I won't lie, I will probably page through it at the grocery.


Kwana said...

You are totally reading my mind. I just can't quit Essence, but every month want to run up to the offices and give the editors a good shake. But I still buy. It's a black gal thang, I guess.

Camille Acey said...

I read the interview with Badu on,I thought she looked fierce andthe interview was decent . If I was in America I woulda bought it in a heartbeat. I hate to love Essence.

Camille Acey said...

Also my mother stopped subscribing to Essence a few years back after noticing too many white women (and too few black ones) in the ads. She decided to stick with Ebony and I laughed in her face and told her she'd be back to Essence soon enough. Now I don't know if she renewed her subscription but last time I was there I was certain I saw some recent issues of Essence. It just can't be beat by anything out there. Sad but true.

Ondo Lady said...

Lady you took the words right out of my mouth. Essence is like an old pair of slippers; old and worn out but still working.

aulelia said...

Some really good points made here. Essence seem to be going for the 'gloss' factor instead of the content factopr these days. and I am with camilla acey, I hate to love essence too.

@brigitte, you summed up the lack of essence perfectly when you said: "You always know what you are getting with Essence and maybe that's good enough for some readers but it's like boring sex. Everyone has it at some point, but if it's always the same it might be time to see a therapist."

Gorgeous Black Women said...

I love Ms. Badu but yes, I too feel the same way about Essence. I'd like to read that "Be a Rich Black Woman" article though

Queen of My Castle said...

I so agree with you. I don't even look at the Essence mag when I need a magazine fix. I feel guilty, but I always head to the Cosmo, Elle, Glamour, or maybe even Redbook. Essence alawys bores me and I figure it to be for older women that are more into their images and careers, and would rather go to work than have sex with their husbands. I guess what I am saying is that it has no spice to it.

jaybee said...

i stopped reading it YEARS ago. i have a few vintage editions in my mag collection, but unless i'm bored to death and there isn't another magazine around for miles, i don't spend a penny on essence.

which is sad, because aside from Ebony and O, what do we have to reflect us on the newsstands?

Ondo Lady said...

Queen of my Castle, I am with you all the way. I sometimes have a flick through Essence in the newsagents and then go and buy Elle, InStyle, Marie Claire, Red, Cosmo - anything but Essence. But I still feel guilty though, I can feel the magazine glaring at me disapprovingly as I leave the shop without it.

Invisible Woman said...

You forgot about the "get your finances straight and be rich!" article every single solitary month.

CHIC NOIR said...

Invisible woman you have said nothing but the truth. It is literally the same info month after month.

Anonymous said...

My problem with Essence is their continued practice of exalting substandard relationships; their choice to run articles with Kim Porter and Andrea Kelly is unforgivable. When we blindly support mess, mess will still come. Until we demand better from Essence, it won't get better. In general Black magazines are an embarrassment.

Brigitte said...

"You forgot about the "get your finances straight and be rich!" article every single solitary month."

Oh you are so right about that. The only thing different about that article every month is the picture of the sister. I think they alternate between a bobbed hairstyle and a pixie cut. LOL!