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Barbara Whelehan writes Boomer Bucks for Bankrate.comWomen's magazines: style vs. substance

Since youth, I've always enjoyed reading magazines, lured by their glossy color pages, their portability, their promise to help solve problems. In seventh grade I subscribed to Young Miss, where I'd read about how to conquer acne and other matters of great concern to adolescents. In those days, we weren't exposed to you-know-what (three-letter word, rhymes with "hex"), though once I read an article about how to kiss. I was disappointed to discover it wasn't specific about what to do with your lips.

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As I got older, I graduated to magazines such as Redbook and Cosmopolitan, the latter of which, if memory serves, didn't have much salacious content other than a not-so-prudish cover photo of a well-endowed woman. The cover lines have shifted over the past two decades from makeup tips for your face and make-up tips for your boyfriend to increasingly racy teases.

I happened to purchase the June issue of Cosmo (inadvertently picking up the UK edition), and that word, which we don't say at Bankrate, appears three times on the front cover, in addition to another related word (rhymes with "wargasm").

I still make impulse purchases of women's magazines from time to time, but I haven't really taken stock to see if those targeting more mature audiences attempt to reach women of substance or those mostly concerned with beauty and fashion tips. So I approached my editor about buying a half-dozen publications to determine the fluff factor -- ranking each for how much they focused on style versus substance.

I also, of course, wanted to see how much content they devote to finances. After all, women really need to know how to manage their finances every bit as much as men do -- perhaps even more so, since they tend to live longer.

So below is a rather unscientific, subjective analysis. I didn't include an assessment of Cosmo; I confess that outside of the "sexiest-ever naked centerfolds" of "Hollywood hotties, sporting heroes, cute comics, TV talent and pop gods," I really didn't take the time to peruse that issue much at all.

Common themes among them
I chose general women's magazines rather than niche publications. Though all six were purchased from the newsstand on the same day (June 22), five were July issues and two (More and Real Simple) were labeled "June." Several contain stories about grilling -- not surprising, considering that it's summer. Most devote the back pages of their publications to food ideas and recipes. All except two (again, More and Real Simple) hawk on their covers an article about getting lean, catering to our collective desire to have a great body in as short a time as possible, preferably without having to exert ourselves.

For example, the cover of Family Circle screams: "Easy Walking Workout, Get Slim in Just 4 Weeks" and "5 Spices That Help You Lose Weight." Good Housekeeping: "Get a Flat Belly Fast! Only Minutes a Day." Ladies' Home Journal: "Lose Weight By the Weekend! Here's How." Woman's Day: "20 Minutes to a Better Body."

Once you get past the cover, you discover the perfect body takes effort. Inside More magazine, you'll find the "Antiaging workout: The benefits of building muscles." And inside Real Simple: "Rate your fitness level," in which you can gauge yourself against peers of your age, according to how many push-ups and curl-ups you can complete in one minute, among other feats.

 
 
Next: "... some highlights of each publication."
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