Opinion: Women’s media companies must stop airbrushing our love lives
Harleen Kahlon is the founder of Bolde.com, a lifestyle site for millennial women
At any given moment, millions of women are having conversations with each other about one particular thing. It’s something we think, talk, text and post about all the time. What is it? Love, and how to experience it on our own terms.
Some of the topics are timeless: how to feel more attractive, how to figure out if someone we like is worth our effort, how to get over a useless ex. But more and more, these conversations reflect a world where our expectations about love, marriage and family are probably not going to be met. Commitment is getting harder to find. People worth committing to are few and far between. Having children is no longer a foregone conclusion.
So, we’re asking other questions too: Does marriage matter anymore? Do we actually want to have kids? Can our careers and best friends provide the fulfillment we once sought in a partner? In other words, we’re conflicted: We’re “liberated” just as feminism intended us to be — we out-earn men and can buy sperm from a donor bank — but a lifetime of watching rom coms and dreaming about The One means many of us still want marriage and a family, both of which appear increasingly elusive.
To figure out what we want, we need advice and role models for new ways forward, with or without our own biological kids, and with or without partners. But this support is nowhere to be found. Most leading women’s sites cover style, beauty, entertainment and celebrity comprehensively, but there’s barely any mention of the growing complexities around dating and relationships:
- Bustle doesn’t mention anything love-related in their navigation menu. They do have a not-so-easy-to-find Facebook page about sex and relationships, but the content featured on that page is hard to find on their site.
- Refinery29 offers a little bit of love content, mostly focused on sex, masturbation and STDs, but it’s tucked away within its “Health” vertical.
- Time Inc.’s Motto has three channels (Work, Play, Live), and love doesn’t appear to be covered anywhere within them.
- HelloGiggles, acquired by Time Inc. in 2015, has a love section, but the vast majority of the content is devoted to gossip about celebrity relationships.
- SheKnows, one of the larger women’s lifestyle sites, features just a couple of love-related articles per day, and they seem like an afterthought.
- Cosmo, though groundbreaking in the ’60s and ’70s, hasn’t been for years.
The bottom line: Women’s media companies have dropped the ball on addressing a huge, unmet need among single women. The oversight is noteworthy considering how sought after a demographic this group is: There are 35 million single women in the U.S. alone; they spend $1 trillion annually, including $22 billion on entertainment alone; and they’ve become more influential than married moms, the cohort once most coveted by brands. As a consumer group, single women are quite simply an economic powerhouse.
How have media companies managed to miss this opportunity? They’re either out of touch with their readers’ experiences or not nimble enough to deviate from what they’ve always done: ignore conversations that feel too provocative or controversial, opting instead to publish content that’s so basic, trite and sanitized that it couldn’t possibly be offensive — or meaningful — to anyone.
This failure to provide unique and helpful love content to women may seem inconsequential, but it’s not — it does women a tremendous disservice. Just as these publishers have created impossible beauty standards for us to live up to by depicting women as physically flawless, their conspicuous lack of attention to the challenges we face in our love lives has created another difficult standard for women to meet: that of the super strong, independent straight woman who effortlessly dates, finds boyfriends, gets engaged, then married, and has babies with her handsome husband, all while looking fabulous and succeeding in her career.
It’s a nice idea, but unless you’re Blake Lively, it’s not realistic. In fact, what’s happening is just another kind of airbrushing, except what’s being erased isn’t cellulite or wrinkles; it’s the complexity of women’s experiences around one of the most important areas of their lives.
The result is millions of single women frustrated with what feel like limited options, wondering if they’re to blame for not having the lives they always imagined. Of course, it’s not their fault — it’s just that the world is changing — and it would be nice if, in 2017, women’s media companies would start to acknowledge that. Publishers’ bottom lines would benefit because they’d be better positioned to provide advertisers what they’re seeking — deeply engaging environments where brand messages resonate more strongly. And women would start to feel validated through content that is honest and relevant, making them feel less like failures or outliers when it comes to love, and more like each other.
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